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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The New Publishing

My blog-buddy Beth has gotten the idea of putting more of her writing on her blog. I think that’s a great idea, but of course I would! She’s posted excerpts from some of her writing in the past, and I for one thought it was pretty good. In last night’s post, she brings some good insights to the difficulties writers (as performance artists) face:

…it isn't as though we can sit on a street corner and read our work. Kind of loses something if a person walks by and just hears a couple of sentences. Can't sell unpublished books at art shows or craft fairs. I guess we could convince a coffee shop to let us read our work, but unless you're a poet, that's a hard sell.

A lot of local or regional art shows include a writing segment or competition, but it can be difficult to put the entries on display. I think the Grand Rapids (MI) art festival has the closest thing to the right idea, putting the best entries in the Press. But unless it’s flash fiction (less than 1000 words), it’s not likely that you’ll see many people reading a story at a kiosk the way they’ll view paintings or photos in a gallery — or sit in a dark room to watch a short or long video. I suppose the closest thing to a display case for writing is a literary magazine… many of which have a readership in the low hundreds (my high-end estimate for this blog, so I’m not sneering except to say I don’t need a budget to do this).

But, as Beth points out, blogs can provide a place for writers to perform. Sure, it’s not a place where you can get immediate feedback like a musician gets in a venue (as Beth says: no one's going to stand up and cheer and clap after they read this, and chant, "Five more posts!"), but I’ve had plenty of feedback and encouragement on both FAR Future and the new White Pickups story in comments and email. Indeed, I got an email yesterday to correct a typo in FAR Future #45 (hi Alan!). You can also find a few short/flash stories down-blog, although I daresay they’ve been buried under the weight of 104 FAR Future episodes — I should probably re-tag them.

I’m certainly not the only person putting works of various lengths on a blog, and I’ve even plugged a couple of them in the past. Some of ones I keep up with include:

Carnacki — among the general news of the horror genre, and his own life, you’ll find vampire novellas and novels featuring the vampire Lucy Westenra and a band of humans fighting both Nazis and more supernatural forms of evil.

Apocalypse Blog — an alternative world, in which World War Three has come and gone and left a remnant struggling to survive in the ruins. The narrator tells the story as it happens in her world.

Dorlana Vann — a published novelist and short-story writer who still thinks the blogosphere is good enough to see some of her work.

Star’s Reach — by John Michael Greer, aka the Archdruid. This is a less-optimistic peak-oil novel than FAR Future, set several hundred years in the future.

Several authors have released their novels as audiobooks — or podcasted them, if you prefer. Scott Sigler is one of the best-known, but there are plenty of others. Thanks to sites like ourmedia.org, it’s not difficult to store an audiobook then release it through iTunes.

The web is a great leveler for the arts — it presents text, audio, graphics, and video with (almost) equal aplomb. I’m sure there were people posting fiction to Usenet back when the 'net was pretty much all text, but I don't remember seeing any. Each format has its strengths and limitations when brought to the web, and each requires modifications to work with the limitations of online publishing:
  • You can read serialized novels on a dialup, but anything much over 1000 words gets pretty long on a computer screen. Novels work best when written in 800–1500 word segments.

  • Photos have to be downscaled to load reasonably quickly and be viewed on a typical monitor.

  • Audio and video can take a long time to download unless they're compressed heavily enough to impact quality. Thanks to MP3 and more modern encodings like AAC, music might require the least amount of modification compared to more traditional publishing. Video, of course, is a tradeoff between length, quality, and download time.

You can even have a tip jar; I've thought of two kinds. One is the straight PayPal thing (which The Homeless Guy does); another is to turn on ads and encourage people to click the ads if they like the story or fragment. I suspect the latter would provide a more steady trickle of coinage… people are often happier to spend other people's money than their own. :-)

Those of us who write (or create other forms of art) for the love of it have the ability to reach a much wider audience than ever before. It’s up to us to make the most of it.


  1. Thanks for the plug and the compliments, Farf! Lots of ways for us to get our work "out there" - and who knows what the future holds?? Til then, we'll keep plugging along writing words that "nourish the soul," as CF says.

  2. Yup… we can write & let the rest of the world take care of itself, right?


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