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Editors-Wiki: Reflections on Electronic Publishing


Welcome to Editors-Wiki, http://transpositions.pbwiki.com/, a special feature in Reconfigurations: A Journal for Poetics & Poetry / Literature & Culture, Volume Two (November, 2008): http://reconfigurations.blogspot.com/


Reconfigurations is an electronic, peer-reviewed, international, annual journal for poetics and poetry, creative and scholarly writing, innovative and traditional concerns with literary arts and cultural studies.  ISSN: 1938-3592.  This collaborative project was facilitated via a Wiki from pbWiki, http://pbwiki.com/.


Editors-Wiki collects postings from editors and publishers of electronic literary arts journals and presses who agreed to contribute to a conversation about the various matters they are facing today in the field.  Some of the questions they considered are:


  • How do you see your own projects contributing to the larger field of electronic publishing?

  • How and why (or why not) do you want your journals/presses to engage with print media?

  • Who are (and are not) your audiences?

  • How important to you is the relationship among digital design, content, and audience?

  • How do you handle simultaneous submissions?


What you’ll find here (below) is a slightly reconfigured presentation of that dialogue from August to November, 2008.


If you would like to offer a comment in reply to this conversation, you may do so on the journal’s site, http://reconfigurations.blogspot.com/, by using the “post-a-comment” link at the bottom of the page that introduces Editors-Wiki as one of the special features in Volume Two.

Editors-Wiki: Reflections on Electronic Publishing




Joel Chace, Poetry Editor, 5_trope, http://www.webdelsol.com/5_trope/

Eric Elshtain, Editor, Beard of Bees, http://www.beardofbees.com/index.html

Jonathan Minton, Editor and Publisher, Word for Word, http://www.wordforword.info/

Andrea Rexilius, Editor and Publisher, Parcel, http://www.parceljournal.org/


Curator: whow

EE: The front page of Beard of Bees states that copyright is a "revolting fiction," and so the idea of simultaneous publication is of no matter to us.  All we ask is that we be acknowledged as the first place something's been published, if that is indeed the case.  If the chapbook has also been accepted by a printing press, by all means, let it get inked.  We might however ask for a polite amount of time between our posting and another on-line publication of the same chap.  There is a certain decorum one might adhere to that's not as totalist as copyright.  However, the allowances Beard of Bees might make are moot as simultaneousness is not allowed or is at least frowned upon in the larger context of publishing.  The ideological kerfuffle over simultaneous submissions begs the question: what must the cultural context be for such a practice to matter so much?  Then: shouldn't publishing perhaps try to work in resistance to that type of proprietary context?


JC: I am intrigued by Eric's philosophical position regarding copyrights.  I believe there would be genuine value in our group of editors exploring what alternatives to traditional copywriting could be effected and beneficial.


AR: Regarding simultaneous submissions, Parcel pretty much has the same policy as what Eric described for Beard of Bees.  Basically, acknowledgment of first publication, and either a gap between the two publications, or an agreement, for the sake of discussion, between two journals that reach fairly distinct audiences. 


JC: This is my 10th anniversary year as Poetry Editor for 5_trope; over that decade I have become more open to simultaneous submissions.  Why?  As a writer, I have had quite a fair share of frustrations with zines and editors who (mostly print, though it can happen with on-line publications, still) do not respond to submissions for unconscionable lengths of time, or even ever.  And I wonder how many editors these days really believe that writers—whether admitting or remaining silent—do not engage in the practice.  I'd much rather have poets interested in our zine be right up front about the whole matter.  In fact, I do feel that most of our submitting writers are quite honorable about this and are quick to inform us if their poems are accepted elsewhere during our process of consideration.


EE: In terms of copyright, other forms of artistic ownership range from Creative Commons to the notion of Copyleft.


JM: I think an on-line journal’s engagement with print media is an important and complex question.  I started Word For/Word seven years ago as a print journal with an on-line supplement.  That lasted for only a couple of issues before I realized that being on-line was far more than a mere accessory, but actually offered some interesting opportunities in terms of the kind of work I could publish.  For instance, Word For/Word has carved something of a little niche for itself in that it’s one of the relatively few venues that routinely features visual, sound, as well as textual poems.


AR: Initially I started the on-line journal Parcel because I wanted to create a conversation around painting, sculpture, sound, film and writing.  I received my MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and what I appreciated most while I was in school there was the interaction among departments.  As a writer you were able to collaborate with students in a number of other fields.  This made it possible for any project you were working on to expand artistically.  If you wanted a performance photographed you could ask a photography student.  If you needed a set design you went to the fiber or sculpture department.  If you wanted to have a sound installation you could train with a digital audio student to use the equipment.  If you wanted something filmed you could ask a filmmaker, etc.  I think it's incredibly important to keep those cross-genre communications open and accessible outside of the walls of a university.


JM: I’ll echo Andrea a little bit and say that I also think cross-genre communication is incredibly important.  It’s always been healthy for literature when this happens, as the histories of about any important art movement—from Futurism to the New York School to Flarf—will attest.  Word For/Word has become, I think, something of a strange, hybrid creature, which I’m very happy about, and I don’t think that would have happened outside of its on-line medium.  I think being on-line offers some interesting alternatives in terms of publication schedules as well.  I’m still a bit of a traditionalist in that I publish two issues per year, but I admire journals such as No Tell Motel that deviate from that because they’re on-line.  They have a near-daily publication schedule, which is something you couldn’t do in print.  And with current technologies, such as RSS feeds, there are even more possibilities available to on-line editors.


AR: In terms of film and sound, it makes the most sense to have the journal on-line.  Finances were also an issue, and time.  Ideally, I'd like Parcel to be a print journal of image and text, with CDs or DVDs of sound and film art included in each issue, but I can't afford to do that now.  The compromise was a temporary on-line journal that would allow me to tinker with format and to build a community that hopefully extends beyond the strictly literary.


EE: In some sense, on-line publishing mirrors print—there have always been meaningful, important print journals and magazines: work-a-day, mid-level print journals (like many of those out of universities); and stapled-together, perhaps highly (geographically) localized magazines, zines, pamphlets.  Similarly, on-line there are those journals that have become necessary to be published by (by which I mean, one gains repute by having poetry there); those that have, by way of endurance and reputation, become cv-worthy; and blogs (the latter two are often also highly localized to a particular group of poets or 'school' of poetry).


None of those categories are fixed—a blog may become a necessary or an important one and raise a level or two.  This begs the question: should on-line publishers worry about this sense of hierarchy or ‘legitimacy’?  Is there something to be gained by the journal or on-line publisher if having a poem or poems or chapbook published by that journal or publisher becomes meaningful for the author; that is, the author gets something out of the publication—cv-fodder, reviews—other than just the fact that people are reading his or her work?


The great advantage, of course, about on-line publication is the availability of readers and the fact that readers don’t have to pay to read good poetry.  A poetry site can bank on dozens if not hundreds of viewers/readers per day without relying on any paid advertising.  A web-based press gets to have its liberation cake and eat it; it doesn’t need advertisers and gets a much bigger readership than most print journals, oftentimes without having to do anything other than simply exist.


AR: That brings me to questions of accessibility.  Parcel is an on-line journal and that makes it more accessible in some ways and less in others.  It is more accessible in that it is free to the public.  Anyone can download the PDF, print it out and read it, or they can read it on their computer screen.  However, I find that I am still aesthetically attached to physical books.  I imagine they're more accessible because I can touch them.  I actually really dislike reading off of a computer screen.  To me a book is more like a sculpture or a painting than anything on-line is.


EE: What we seem to have established is the new ease with which one can start a small literary journal or press if one decides to use the Internet.  It’s easier to reach, not necessarily a wider audience numbers-wise, but certainly a wider geographical base of readers.  Using Google Analytics, I’ve noticed that Beard of Bees has readers in India, Iran, New Zealand, &c.


I don’t know that web-based journals foment small coteries any more than print journals have done and do, but using the web means at least the possibility of wider distribution and ease of publication.  There’s no way financially and time-wise that Beard of Bees publisher Jon Trowbridge and I could do monthly chapbooks other than existing on-line.


One interesting reaction to on-line publishing is the renascence of small, high-quality journals and chapbooks that use letterpress, impressive covers, hand-stitching, high-end papers, and so forth.  These tend towards local authors, the publishers knowing full well that to sell these chapbooks and journals means keeping geographically local, though many do use a web-site for promotion and distribution.


One thing I’ve noticed, too, about Web publishing is that it promotes an older style of editorship—in that, I can immediately respond to submissions and easily communicate with authors, and authors are far more willing to cut poems from a manuscript, change the order of poems, or even revise poems.  Many of the chapbooks on Beard of Bees are the result of such a back-and-forth between the authors and me.  Being on the Web also facilitates my ability to write short notes to each author expressing why I may not have taken his or her chapbook (though with an ever-growing number of submissions, this type of response is getting untenable).


It’s nice to be not just a reader with privileges, but an actual editor.  It’s difficult to get away with such an editorial philosophy, especially with poets (even though this type of editing is so commonplace within every other genre of writing) when they've sent to a print journal.  (I base that observation on the fact that I once attempted, during my five-years as poetry editor of the Chicago Review, to ask for very small edits in poems and those poets got very pissed).  There's an understood fluidity, I guess, regarding web-based publishing that, on the one hand, has made it take a long time for poetry published on-line to be taken as a professional accomplishment, but, on the other, relaxes the boundaries of both genre and editorship/poetship.


I often wonder, though, how much time people spend reading poetry on-line—most everybody I talk to likes Beard of Bees b/c we do .pdf’s that can be printed out.  I think there is, at least within my generation, a style of reading poetry that demands sitting with the printed page.


JM: I suppose there’s still something of a stigma attached to on-line publishing, but it’s diminishing, especially, I think, as people are seeing on-line journals as fulfilling some of the same functions as the classic little magazines of previous decades.  It’s true that on-line journals have the potential to tap into much larger audiences, but I find them even more intriguing in the way they can create or encourage smaller communities.  For instance, I was invited last week to speak to a high school creative writing class, and the students’ questions kept returning to how they could get their work published.  I gave them all the standard bits of advice, but then told them that, if they’re serious about their writing, they should consider publishing their own on-line journal, starting with the work they’ve been doing in class, and then start slowly expanding.  They were shocked at the idea that they could give themselves permission to do that.


I’d like to think that’s what on-line journals are all about.

Editors-Wiki: Reflections on Electronic Publishing, http://transpositions.pbwiki.com/, Reconfigurations: A Journal for Poetics & Poetry / Literature & Culture, Volume Two (November, 2008): http://reconfigurations.blogspot.com/.  ISSN: 1938-3592.


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