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Publishing Preference: Online or Print?


When it comes to seeking markets for your work, you can be an omnivore who treats print publications and online ones equally or you can get fussy about your diet. There are advantages to each, of course, but lately I’ve surprised myself by drifting in an unexpected direction. Just don’t call me the publishing version of a militant vegan, is all.

Print journals are classic, traditional, and old-school—three adjectives I rather admire. As a writer, I like the appeal of print much in the same way I like print books in my hands as a reader. Kindles and computer-reading have their places, like on a plane or a trip where carrying books is inconvenient, but me, I like the heft and feel of a genuine book in my palms, not to mention the smell of paper and ink.

For the vast majority of literary journals, payment comes in the form of (wait for it!) the literary journal itself. The routine goes like this: You receive the journal in the mailbox, at first wonder what it is and why it is there, and then recall you “sold” a piece to this magazine a year (give or take) ago. “Payment” has arrived!

Holding your breath, you flip to your work, read it quickly, then read it slowly. The breath bit speaks to your fear that there will be a typo or missing line or mix-up on the bio or, as happened to me once, completely missing bio. (“I’m Nobody. Who are you? Are you Nobody, too?”)

Another unexpected hazard of print journals is the cover. Some covers containing your work are uber cool. You’d be proud to leave it face up on the coffee table, strut like Chanticleer in the barnyard and say, “Yep. That’s me in there.”

Then there are the other covers. These journals typically land face down or, more likely, get shelved such that spines show only. It’s aesthetically best for everyone, you figure.

One fellow published poet confessed to me that she reads her work and her work only whenever she scores a page in a journal. Then she shelves it. Is she alone in this practice? Rhetorical question, many writers would confess (sheepishly).

Finally, though I still send work to print journals, I’ve found a disadvantage I never thought I’d consider a disadvantage—shelf space. As if the hundreds of books that follow me and my credit card like groupies aren’t enough, I’ve seen precious bookshelf real estate used more and more by journals that printed my work.

How often do I reread my work in these poetry journals, you ask? And how often do others pull their spines to read it themselves? Don’t ask.

This is why I have found myself, curiously enough (for me), bending toward online markets of late. They do not take up expensive shelf space, squeezing the gorgeous Penguin paperbacks and New York Review Books (NYRB) that are already bickering for position like grade-school brothers.

Online work often spans into perpetuity, too. That is, if the journal lasts. Many upstarts have a short life and go the way of all fruit flies.

Plus you can easily share your work with people online. No one’s going to order a copy of the journal that printed your work, but most everyone will be willing to follow a link and read it (or at least pretend to).

In some cases, you even get to read your work aloud and include an online recording. That is, if you can stand your recorded voice (and I know many who cannot).

So, yes. The traditional prestige of print is still quite nice, but the convenience of online only has come up on the inside rail of late, making it attractive as well.

And who are we kidding, anyway? Any editor who says, “Yes!” to your work is the editorial equivalent of Maxwell Perkins, be he or she the steward of print or online.

Can we get an “Amen to that!”?