Sometimes, I can’t think of anything to post about in this blog. It’s a distinctly anxious feeling, rather like the experience of the newspaper editor protagonist of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novel, TRUTH, when he looks at the giant printing press, just squatting there waiting, waiting for content. “I must feed it,” he thinks, half in a panic, and, grabbing his notebook, races out into the night in search of a story.
Gotta love Pratchett!
Anyway, this time when I couldn’t think of anything to post about, I asked someone in the Aol Authors Lounge if she had a suggestion. “Why not write about those sites that get people to post their work for free?” she suggested. “Write about how that can compromise their publishing rights.”
Great idea! Thanks!
There are tons of “post your work here” sites on the internet. Some are incredibly sleazy, others are a little nicer looking. The main things they have in common are these:
1. They will post anything, no matter how poorly written. There is no editorial gatekeeping involved.
2. They tell you that the feedback you’ll get from posting on their site will help you become a better writer.
3. They all ask for money from you, the writer (or reader). Either in the form of donations, or as a subscription.
4. Some actually go so far as to imply that posting your work for free on their site, or even paying to have it placed there, will increase your chances of finding an agent or a publisher.
5. They all post your work in such a fashion that it’s easily accessible to the public. Anyone can read and comment on it. When you post on such a site, most commercial publishers would regard your work as “published” even though you weren’t paid for it.
I reviewed a few of these sites in order to write this post: www.fanstory.com, www.blogit.com, and www.your-poetry.com. One site, www.voxtango.net, I’d run into previously, due to complaints from authors who’d posted there.
Here are the problems I’ve noted with such sites, and some advice regarding them.
1. If you think you might EVER want to try and sell a story or a book to a commercial venue, then DON’T post it on one of these sites, especially in its entirety. The feedback you get as an unpublished writer can be seductive, I realize, but posting on such a site can, if publishers want to be picky about it, “use up” your First North America rights. (Remember…publishing rights are NOT the same thing as copyright. See my earlier post on this subject.) If a publisher deems that you’ve published the piece, even though you weren’t paid for it, then the best that you can hope to get for it is the payment for a REPRINT. Which is a fraction of the money the piece would be worth as a first-rights sale. And since these sites don’t pay the authors in the first place…well, I think you see my point. If you want to get feedback on a piece that you have no intention of ever submitting, or a small excerpt, that’s probably okay, though IMHO it won’t be all that useful.
2. The feedback you receive is from other unpublished writers, even those who style themselves “reviewers.” In many cases, this amounts to the blind leading the blind, sorry. One of the pieces I reviewed on fanstory.com had five stars and was rated “publishable.” I beg to differ. The writing was purple, and the story logic just didn’t hold together. The chapter rambled, and the writer obviously hadn’t done his research into police procedure, ballistics, and forensic procedures. And yet this writer is posting every chapter of his detective novel, and getting these five star reviews. By the time he’s posted the whole novel (thus effectively rendering his book a reprint, see above), he’s going to think he’s really hot stuff. He’s in for a rude awakening. Also, some of these “reviewers” get their ego-boo off trashing the writing of other aspiring authors. Most distasteful.
3. When you put your writing up on a site like this, it may be hard to get off. I’ve been told by several authors that Voxtango.net, has refused repeated requests to remove stories or poems they posted there. The site owner seems to think they have the right to have the pieces there in perpetuity. When you consider that newbie writers might post there on impulse, then later change their minds and decide to try and submit their work elsewhere, this can be a real problem.
4. These sites often try to imply that posting your work for free on their site will not only help you become a better writer, but that agents and publishers could see your work there. Yeah, right. And Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny will offer you publishing contracts, too. I can’t stress too strongly that legitimate agents and publishers just don’t have the time to go searching for more slush to read. They have all the slush they can handle – and more – delivered straight to their office via the US Mail every week. Ask Miss Snark, and I’m sure she’ll back me up on this one.
Now, a word before I go. There are a number of legitimate online magazines. Some pay, some do not, but they are well respected for their content, and they do editorial gatekeeping.
There are also password-protected online critique groups that are NOT the same thing as these “we post everything for everyone to see” sites. Critters is one such group. I think Zoetrope has another. These sites are designed for writers to workshop pieces, just as they would in a real-life writing workshop. The public can’t wander by and access the stories, because they’re password protected. The purpose of these sites is not to allow just anyone to read the story posted, but for a select group of other writers to read it so it can be workshopped..
These sites are not the kind of sites I’m talking about.
I’m also not talking about fanzine sites. Fanzine sites are where writers post stories written in someone else’s universe. These writers can’t possibly sell their Star Wars, or Star Trek or Alien story, so they post it so other fans can read it. (This is in violation of copyright law, of course, but most franchises ignore the practice as long as the authors don’t try to make any real money off these writings.)
Fanzine writing can have its own problems for aspiring writers. It can be seductive, and so much fun that the author never does move on and write in his/her own universe, despite earlier avowals that that’s what they wanted. However, as a hobby, for those who either want to indulge themselves for a while and play in someone else’s sandbox, or fans who really don’t have any desire to establish a writing career, then fanzine writing can be fun and harmless. Just make sure you don’t make money at it! (Some fanzine writers, publishers and artists do actually make some money at it, but they keep it very much sub-rosa, lest the franchise holder find out and shut them down.)
So…write on, write well, and resist the temptation to give your work away!
-Ann C. Crispin
Author: STORMS OF DESTINY/HarperEos