Tuesday, February 21, 2006

A.C. Crispin - 40 - Giving Your Work Away?

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.”

Well, BINGO!

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 The feedback you get as an unpublished writer can be seductive, I realize, but posting on such a site can, if publishers want to be picky about it, “use up” your First North America rights.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
www.accrispin.com

31 comments:

gugon said...

Thank you! It's refreshing to hear a voice of reason and experience in a cyber-world where everyone is free to say anything they want (whether they know what they're talking about or not)!

I want to be clear on something, since I'm new to this. Are you recommending against using ANY blog to post a story (in a serial format), if the writer ever intends to publish it conventionally?

Another question: Are there copyrite issues with posting original material on a blog?

http://www.necromerica.blogspot.com

A. C. Crispin said...

I recommend against posting the ENTIRETY of any story on a public site or blogsite if you think you might want to sell the story at some point.

I post excerpts from my novel on my website, and there's a short story there, but it was a short story I wrote with Christie Golden for an anthology on the subject of "Highwaymen." There's not much chance I'll get to sell the story again, so, with Christie's permission, I put it on my website.

Unless the work you post didn't originate with you, there are no copyright issues that I know of regarding such postings. I know AOL has spouted some hot air about everything posted on Aol being their property, copyrighted by them, but I suspect this would not hold up in court if someone posted a story or novel there.

I've heard of a few cases where published writers have posted stories serially on sites for pay, as Stephen King did, for a while, with "The Plant."

Lawrence Watt-Evans did an experiment of this type, and some readers actually did pay him to continue posting the story. But they were fans of an established universe Lawrence had created.

I hope that answers your questions.

-Ann C. Crispin

Linda Adams said...

Thank you for the comment on fan writing. I ran into a writer who wanted very much to be a professionally published writer. But she was a fan of a TV series and started writing fan fiction. She got lots of praise from the fans for poor quality stories and continued to write more of them to get more praise. Eleven years later she's still writing fan fiction.

Anonymous said...

I'm posting anonymously since I am an on-again off-again member at Fanstory, and I don't want to be outed. I agree with you 100% about high ratings for poor writing. I think I've read only a handful of pieces (prose and poetry combined) that I could envision in a professional publication, and yet the site is awash in "professional" ratings.

And most members there don't take the idea of losing the first rights seriously. Every time I see a member say that she wants to eventually publish the novel she is putting up for critique, I want to tell her, "Then, for Pete's sake, don't post it on the Internet." *sigh*

AKJ said...

One site I see mentioned a lot in LJ land as a work repository is FictionPress.

A. J. Luxton said...

One thing which hasn't been touched on: there are password-protected means of blogging, such as a locked LJ whose creator controls the reader access list. I imagine that this would fall into the same category as any other password-protected site?

Dave Kuzminski said...

a.j., my opinion? Still published because that's just like limiting distribution by subscription.

A. J. Luxton said...

Dave: I've heard the arguments on both sides, but by that standard, isn't a writer's workshop also a limited-distribution publication? You print out multiple copies of your story, you give them out to a select list of people.

gugon said...

Thanks for the response!

You know, I have to say this. It is very much NOT like me to gush.

However, after weeks of searching the internet for useful information, I stumbled on this blog. I read the current posts, then dove into the archives and began reading those. The information here is so useful, straightforward and B.S.-free that it actually almost brought tears to my eyes (and that's not hyperbole).

I can't thank you enough for the work you're doing here - and for caring enough to compile this information and get it out to those of us who can really use it.

http://www.necromerica.blogspot.com

Michaelc said...

In response to a controversy over Baen's Universe's policy of workshopping new writers' submissions, password protected workshopping was discussed in SFWA's private newsgroups. The conclusion reached was that, while it's theoretically possible that some publications might consider this first publication, in the real world it rarely is.

--E said...

None of the major SF mags object to work that has been workshopped in limited-access sites (I am most familiar with the sales of folks from sff.onlinewritingworkshop.com). Considering that a limited-access blog is even more exclusive, I can't see how that could possibly be construed as a problem.

Friending 10 people for access to that blog is no different from printing out ten copies and handing them to a face-to-face group. Or, for that matter, emailling it to 10 people so they can read it before going to a regular f2f meeting.

Anonymous said...

So--is posting a story in the Baen's Universe slush forum a good idea or a bad idea? Not clear about SFWA's verdict on this.

Michael Capobianco said...

anonymous asked: "So--is posting a story in the Baen's Universe slush forum a good idea or a bad idea? Not clear about SFWA's verdict on this."

SFWA did not take an official position. Most pro writers that I've talked to say they think that a submission workshop is problematical, and feel that the critiques would not be all that valuable. They are very happy that there's a new professional magazine and wish it well, but believe the tried and true method of submission is best.

YMMV and depends on how confidant you are about your writing and whether you feel that the denizens of the Baen website can give you the feedback you need.

Anonymous said...

Michael said: YMMV and depends on how confidant you are about your writing and whether you feel that the denizens of the Baen website can give you the feedback you need.

The point is not really to get feedback; the main purpose for posting a story or portion of a story in the Baen's Universe slush group is primarily to snag the attention of the BU editors, who keep on eye that area looking for promising stories that "rise to the top." This is the recommended method of submission to BU for unknown writers. It has an advantage over the traditional method because your story, even if not chosen, is never actually rejected either. It can be rewritten and reposted and get another chance. But I can't help but wonder how other magazines and SFWA view this practice. Will other mags consider your story "published" if it's been posted in full in the BU slush forum? Though I suppose one doesn't have to mention it...

Victoria Strauss said...

The point is not really to get feedback; the main purpose for posting a story or portion of a story in the Baen's Universe slush group is primarily to snag the attention of the BU editors, who keep on eye that area looking for promising stories that "rise to the top."

I'm really skeptical of such promises. This was the premise of the Del Rey novel workshop (was it Del Rey? One of the major SF/fantasy imprints, anyway) which is now called something else (can't remember what). Supposedly editors watched the workshop, and would request the manuscripts that got the best feedback. Never happened, as far as I know.

The ill-fated iPublish had a similar workshop setup, with the top-rated manuscripts supposedly getting a chance of publication--but of the few books that were actually published, I don't think any of them came from the workshop.

Michael Capobianco said...

I think that you may be missing the point that Eric Flint is also reading the slush that is submitted the regular way, and it does him a disservice to suppose that he's going to regard material posted online any differently from material submitted normally. Presumably it's the quality of the submission that counts, and not the way it's submitted.

One good thing about the whole set-up, though, is that it's extremely transparent. You (or anyone else who signs in to the Baen slush workshop for that matter) will be able to see firsthand the whole process of submission, rewriting, and purchase of beginning writers' stories, and you'll be able to make up your own mind as to whether the process works.

I do have to say that there's an unpleasant assumption that new writers should be treated differently from writers who have been published numerous times. The other magazines publish new writers all the time, and often the new writers' stories are better than those of the old pros. If the editor is unbiased, many new writers will "rise to the top" in a standard short fiction slush pile.

My original comment was about how other magazines will regard the Baen online submissions. Probably they will not view it as first publication. But the idea that your story will be in limbo for as long as you want to try to fix it, neither accepted nor rejected, doesn't appear to me to be a good thing. In fact, it sounds like a nightmare.

A. J. Luxton said...

Baen's Universe actually does grant some priority to stories from new writers in the interactive slushpile, according to their guidelines.

Quote:

At least two slots in each issue will be reserved to introduce new writers. Submissions wanting consideration for the "Introducing" new writers slot in each issue must be submitted via the Universe Slush conference on Baen's Bar. http://bar.baen.com There are no exceptions. A writer can only be introduced once.

New writers may submit directly to the "regular" slush pile at submissions@baensuniverse.com, if they choose. However, those stories will not be considered for the "Introducing" slot and are competing against everything else in slush. We strongly recommend that new writers submit their stories through the Baen's Universe Slush conference in Baen's Bar.


The interminable nature of the thing is problematic, though, and it's why I've been leery of dropping anything in there.

Michael Capobianco said...

The only real way to evaluate this process is to watch it in action and read the results in the magazine. I seriously doubt that Eric will turn away a good story by a new writer because it was submitted normally, but, as editor, that's his call. It could be that the slush workshop is designed as a promotional tool for the magazine as well as a way to find new writers. Considering that some large percentage of the magazine's subscribers will be unpublished writers, perhaps this is a smart thing to do. Only time will tell. To me, though, it seems obvious that you would do the slush workshop thing only after you had submitted the story to every other pro market.

Dave Kuzminski said...

Victoria, I recall there was one, possibly two, manuscripts in the Del Rey workshop that were accepted and produced. One was, I believe, Warchild.

LJCohen said...

I am the head moderator of a poetry workshop site on the net. We require membership to post poetry and critique, but anyone can read what is on the board. I'm not sure I've ever worried about giving away my first rights by posting publicly for crit. We don't archive the work and it ends up disappearing off the board within a month or so.

I think poetry is a different 'animal' than other writing in that there really is no market for it. (Can't imagine giving up my day job to live off my poetry income! LOL--I've probably made a total of $200 over the past 20 years, considering the vast majority of poetry mags pay in contributer's copies!) And I've never had a potential magazine or ezine consider the workshop previous publication.

best,
lisa

Dave Kuzminski said...

Lisa, you don't have to archive for it to remain on the net. The search engines archive many millions of web pages. When you use Google, try the cache link below any of the links and you'll see a copy of the page captured for your reference should the original go the way of the dodo.

There is a way to avoid that, but you need to code it into your pages.

Jim Miller said...

Hello and thank you. I had been with Fanstory for over a year, but had never posted, read or reviewed anything until about a week ago. I had started to post a manuscript--stopped after three chapters and reading your blog. Saved!
As well, I see that this site is really just a mutual admiration society for those who cannot really write and are afraid to offer constructive criticism. All my posts were getting five stars and I thought that my readers were discriminating, sophisticated and CORRECT! :)
After giving a piece three stars and then seeing that the rest of the reviewers had given no less than five, that I began to wonder. I entered a contest where, in my opinion, there were only two half-decent entries out of six. Since my entry was one of the two (of course) I voted for the other one. Then I saw that it was getting fewer votes than the others and mine had received only one. No, not my vote -- not permitted to vote for your own. Anyway, I am glad I found this site before I paid for a hard-core subscription.
Thanks a lot,
Jim

Anonymous said...

Do you anywhere an unknown writer can post their work and maybe get read and become a know writer. I don't wont my work took by someone else and then claimed as their own so I need to know of a safe place if there is such a place to post my work.

JR Tomlin said...

Since this comes up fairly high on a search for Baen's Slush Bar, I wanted to address a few of the concerns regarding it. While Victoria's skepticism was understandable, JBU has for the past two years published two short stories from the Slush Bar submissions with every issue. A lot of authors during that time have gotten their first pro sale there and the "slush readers" are excellent about advising submitters. The feedback doesn't come only from other authors.

Just something to think about. Not only is it not the last place I submit a new short, it is the first and it invariably improves as has my writing. (Thanks to Gary Cuba and Edith Maor)

Anonymous said...

Let me just say.....Ann follows a blog about "giving your work away" with a blog about "finding someone to read your work". It's just another contradictory, self cancelling example of Ann's need to pontificate. I contributed to Voxtango.net for several years, some twenty short stories in all, had some fun, met some nice people, grew as a writer, and I'm a better person for it today. Ann isn't so much about writing as she is about selling. She spends the majority of her waking hours in an AOL chat room, trolling for acolytes. She's rude, condescending and grandiose considering her mediocre literary abilities.

Bridget23 said...

Voxtango.net and .com have both been deleted, along with all the various contributors' works! If the site returns, it will be created from ground zero. Many writers - who had no idea Vox would hold their work captive for YEARS - are breathing a sigh of relief. The only thing left is the guest registry and it is static - closed to new postings. FINALLY. It only took ten years to get this scab of a website removed from the skin of the internet. It will come back, I'm sure, but it will be without the help of the many former AOL Authors Loungers! On a different note, I'm cramping really bad. Prolly need some magnesium, vitamin D, and calcium. It's that time of the month! Bye bye Voxie! Don't let the door slam you on your prodigious thieving ass! We are FREE! FREE!

Anonymous said...

I have been a member of FanStory for 2 1/2 years and I love it. There are many talented authors there, and they are very generous with their time in offering suggestions for improvement. I have had nine stories published in ezines and I'm working on my first novel. Without the workshop environment of FanStory, I don't think I would have grown as much as a writer.

FanStory has some safeguards. You have the option to turn off sharing so your stories can't be found via search engine. You can block reviews from standard (non-writer) members. And you retain complete control of your creations--you can always disable or delete any of your stuff.

True, there are the insincere members who hand out empty five star reviews, but that can't be helped. I pretty much ignore them. What I love is when I get an indepth, detailed review with suggestions for improvement and observations regarding plot and characterization. I've never found another writer's site where I could get help like that.

I'm not saying FanStory is perfect. Any site run by imperfect humans is going to have its flaws. But if you approach it in the right way, it can be a place to learn the craft of writing for a reasonable fee.

Creature said...

Thank you so much for posting this. You've saved me a lot of money and time. I was just about to sign up for fanstory's paid service but decided to research them first to see if it's worth it. This is how I found your blog post. Thanks again!

Tedisking said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
endfinity said...

I joined FanStory recently at the suggestion of a writer acquaintance.

Basically, it's a pay to play site. Members can earn 'member dollars', in the form of *pennies* for reviewing others' works, and the reviewer is warned that the review must be constructive. Any responses to reviews must be constructive, and the writer cannot defend his work. Reading some works there, I've wondered if writing a review with, "Trash it, learn basic grammar, take a couple of courses in the mechanics of writing, and start over," would be considered constructive criticism.

Some reviewers, hoping to amass the pennies for membership dollars, post, "Good job," for every review given.

Anyone can join for free, but free members have limited access. Here comes the pay for play. You can buy a monthly contract for about $7. That $7 fee buys you seven 'member dollars'. The seven 'member dollars' doesn't really buy a lot. Or you can pay $100 for a three year membership, and you have 100 member dollars.

There are contests, and there is usually a fee for the contest, $2 - $5. Some contests do actually pay $100 cash, in the form of PayPal or a credit card. Also, you can pimp your entry by paying member dollars.

The top writers, and most people want to be a top writer, actually work for the site. That sounds contradictory to me. They give workshops on writing. These writing workshops cost (are you ready for this?) $100 cash.

Many of the top writers and workshop 'teachers' claim to be published; however, there's no way to verify that they are published. One 'published' writer uses the ellipsis frequently and generally has very poor punctuation.

I tried to read a few short stories. All were very flat, no character development, lacking in any kind of description, and juvenile story lines.

Ninety-nine percent of the poetry is really, really bad. It's at grade school level, but grade school students might take offense at the comparison.

There is a child on the site. He just turned five. He has his own membership, but I don't believe that he is a paying member. His father claims that the son speaks his poems, and the father transcribes it. I have serious doubts that a child of four can pronounce the word irreparable, much less use it in a sentence. Some of the thought patterns are extremely advanced for a four year old. The members on the site are gushing about this new prodigy.

In essence, it's for people who want to be in the company of creative people and cannot do so in real life.

Anonymous said...

Hello all...I've been on FanStory for over three years, have worked my way up to the first spot on shorts, and am still learning. It's helped me a lot, tho I'm still not perfect. I would love to be published but feel I'm not ready, and btw, I do not work for FanStory. I don't know about posting complete stories online. I thought FS was a safe site...and I may be the one using too many ellipses...lol! And trying to improve my punctuation too. FS is fun. I hope it's safe.