Forum / What does it mean to "be published" now? What's your definition of "publication?"

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    David Ackley
    Sep 03, 02:27pm

    In another thread, Barry Friesen calls "previous publication," a "silly and irrelevant" proposition in the new world of internet publication.

    My question: Do the terms "being published," or "publication," have meaning any longer?

    If so, what do they mean?

  • Darryl_falling_water.thumb
    Darryl Price
    Sep 03, 03:11pm

    They mean people are aware of you. That your work is being read,discussed,passed around.That it is appearing on somebody's Facebook. That is currently making a rolling sound against the roundness of the bowl of now.It does not mean that you have bound together your work and placed it in a bookstore window. It continues to mean that you have inspired someone else with your choice of words, that a person other than yourself has found meaning in what you have written down that informs them of their own fears,hopes,dreams or senses of humor. It means you are lucky. You are being heard by someone somewhere.And that someone has told others or shared your works or even hung them up in their mind and heart as a reminder of the experience. A book is still a beautiful object--or it can be--but publication now is pure electricity.It can light up the night as always. But let's not forget the softer issues, it can always turn the tide with its oar,even if just for the moment.

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    Steven Gowin
    Sep 03, 03:42pm

    Very nicely put Darryl.

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    Linda Simoni-Wastila
    Sep 03, 08:02pm

    An editor reads it, accepts it, puts it out for the world. Peace...

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    M. F. Sullivan
    Sep 04, 06:13am

    To me, publishing means that my piece is out there to be read in a format where I am incapable of personally making changes to it. It can be in an electronic format, or it can be in a solid format, but it means either way that the piece is as finished as it will be, and barring publication of a revised edition or an expanded version, it will see no further changes to its text.

    I know perhaps it's an overly-simplistic definition, but I find simple is best in a situation like this--an easy yes/no answer that distinguishes venues like Fictionaut with a publication, 'zine, or publisher where an editor looks things over, or self-published works that are declared finished by their author. Even a piece that isn't published can still motivate discussion and move its readers: just look at half the stories here on Fictionaut, which is full of stunning literature from many great writers. However, I would not declare a piece whose presence is limited to a site like Fn to be published as such. In a sense, it's more generous to put one's work on such a website. Truly putting it out there for the sheer sake of putting it out there, without the added motivational factor of publication--not to say publication is a bad thing, quite the contrary.

    I wouldn't say previous publication is irrelevant at all. Publication is still very real with a great deal of meaning, and even having the shortest short story accepted in a small e-zine in some corner of the web can and should be a moment of great excitement. Publication isn't defunct at all, it's only evolved a little.

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    Barry Friesen
    Sep 04, 10:28am

    These are beautiful and lyrical subjective descriptions of the meaning of publication. I agree with them all.

    I'd been referring to "publication" as a term of art among legacy publishers, who were concerned with a consensus definition of a term within the trade (a "term of art") for the purpose of selling aspects of the copyright to written materials. "First publication rights" meant the right to be the first to make written work available to the public to read, versus, say, reprint rights, or film or television rights.

    So "publication" is still a term of art for the ezines not on David Ackley's list, as these don't want a piece if it's already been published on Fn or even a personal blog. But "publication" is extinct as a term of art for the ezines on David's list, who don't care if something's a "reprint" in the sense of already having been available to the public somewhere else, including Fn.

    As commodification of stories (being able to sell them to paying customers) becomes extinct because more and more stories are available to the public for free on Fn or free ezines, and there are more and more writers who never get paid anything for their stories anyway, (prior) "publication" becomes more and more irrelevant within the publishing industry, that's all.

    But getting a story published anywhere out there is still one of the great thrills of a lifetime, for sure. "Publication" isn't silly or irrelevant to any WRITER, just increasingly to publishers in the old sense of the term of art the word used to be.

    Discussing "publication" is a bit like trying to define "literary fiction," which historically was a simple term of art segregating the tiny fraction of liteary fiction from the vaster category of genre fiction, given that 95% of published paper books were non-fiction in the first place. But in the current context, "litfic" more often refers to so-called non-traditional storytelling, especially flash, which cares more about language and often doesn't bother with the traditional story elements of plot, conflict, stakes, character or climax. Both ways of using the term are meaningful, inside their own context.

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    Linda Simoni-Wastila
    Sep 04, 10:29am

    I would ask: what is the difference between publication and... marketing?

    Publication and... sharing?

    Publication and... public writing?

    Is graffiti publication?

    The nuances between these are similar to those in the author versus writier conundrum. Does anyone who self-publishes anything anywhere become an author?

    I am very excited about what electronic technology offers writers and readers. I am concerned that there is little quality control. In the end, having so much out there makes it more difficult to actually get your stuff read. It also makes it easier to be a writer.

    Not sure easy and writing should be in the same sentence, though.

    Pros and cons. Not sure where the balance is. All I know is that with few exceptions, every piece of mine touched by an editor is better than what I float on my blog, a friend's blog, or here.

    Hmm... I sound cranky. Don't mean to. Maybe coffee will help. Peace...

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    Barry Friesen
    Sep 04, 10:46am

    All great points, Linda.

    With anybody being able to put up their novel for sale on Amazon Books in five minutes flat, and anybody being able to put stuff on their own blog at will, publishing's become fully democratized. Ha.

    But as bookstores die out, and agents and editors get laid off and legacy publishers fold like Kodak, gatekeepers are becoming extinct, as are book reviewers in newspapers who won't employ them anymore.

    So we're left with a tiny literary community of writers who read each other's stuff, and a drillion stories out in the marketplace, invisible in all the static and noise.

    There's so much wonderful writing that the public never gets to see, because there's no model yet, during this long transition, to attract eyeballs to specific work.

    I think it's a real rough time for writers. I grew up going to movies in theatres. Now every passerby with a cellphone can upload a movie to YouTube. For now, writers are stuck in a sort of YouTube reality, too.

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    David Ackley
    Sep 04, 01:38pm

    Not so terribly long ago, writers, even of "literary fiction " were paid by magazines for their work. Esquire, Saturday Evening Post (under the great Rust Hills as fiction editor), The Atlantic Monthly, Harpers, Redbook, Playboy, of course, The New Yorker, then. now virtually the only one left. So, for a short story writer, this was the zenith of "publication," to have work accepted for one of these and actually get PAID. There was no doubt you had been "published."

    Next below, but not to be sneezed at, the honored Literary Quarterlies, The Epochs, The North American and Paris Reviews...etc. Many still in existence in one form or another. Here prestige might be the main coin, but here too there was little doubt that having been selected to appear, you had been "published."

    Now comes self-publishing on Amazon ( Where it appears you can even SELL your book and make some MONEY), Fictionaut( is it or isn't it?) the 800 or so changing list of literary magazines many here today gone tomorrow on the Internet, The Tumblirs, the blogs your own and other people's. Along with in Barry's word "legacy" publishers of printed literary magazines. Many of these, to complicate the matter even more, differently define what is meant by "previous publication."

    (This, at least the self-publishing aspect, is not entirely new by the way: Walt Whitman self-published the first few editions of LEAVES OF GRASS.)

    It seems to me that all this has put the definition of publication somewhat up for grabs, becoming close to one of those terms that means whatever you want it to. But if anyone has a right to define it, it ought to be us, the writers. So I put up this thread because I was curious to hear from others how, in this curious time, what the term means to them--in large and flexible ways.

    The replies, so far have been instructive and a pleasure to read.

  • Photo_00020.thumb
    Sep 04, 05:27pm

    For good and ill, I came to writing fiction after working in book publishing (non-fiction, alas, philosophy/religion/science titles) in Chicago in the 1990s. Barely witnessed the industry death of "galleys" (remember they?), saw typeset page proofs as the editorial substance to measure against the copyedited manuscript (remember manuscripts, type- or hand-written?). Whatever flux the US publishing industry remains in, the gold standard hovering in my mind as I suspect in those of many Fictionauts is PRINT. (I will never escape my paper fetish, and of course very little of my work has appeared in print.) The winnowing of ezine culture has not even come close to beginning yet, though. Since print publishing in the US (books, magazines, journals) is no longer robust, can we look to other models where it is surviving or thriving? I have no idea where to find these models, but I'd at least look at circumstances in Russia of all places (where samizdat culture was absolutely VITAL for decades and where I suspect it still somehow survives or thrives); look also at France (whose literary culture and history is somehow not enormously well reflected here at Fictionaut), where literature is still regarded seriously enough, I suppose. Look even at the UK: bookshops thrive there, at least I found Foyle's stuffed and crammed with titles late last year, and Edinburgh just finished hosting its 2012 Book Festival. Id est: what are we writers doing to enhance literary culture itself? Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

  • Photo_00020.thumb
    Sep 04, 08:20pm

    Additional consideration(s): Prof. Cowen at Marginal Revolution has a fresh graph up showing CPI numbers for textbooks from 1978 to 2009: the cost increases are lower than those for college tuition but higher than those for medical services. (No figures for fiction or trade publishing.) I haven't even seen a copy of LMP in years to know the status of trade publishing vs. textbook publ. Otherwise: Press 53's POD model looks to be working for it so far. Academy Chicago was a going concern in living memory but I don't know their present status. Another private publisher I like is Green Integer, which must save production and shipping costs with reduced format publishing (c. 4" x 6"). How much competition do private publishers face from university presses? What health does the ABA enjoy these days? Do ezines have any industry representation within the ABA? (Do ezines even have their own trade association yet?) Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

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    Darryl Price
    Sep 05, 11:50am

    Back in the day a great bookstore was the cultural center of any given city. It was democracy in action. Everything was represented, the good, the bad, and the ugly. It was the ultimate act of freedom of expression to go in, look around and choose something. I've spent the better part of my life as a book buyer for bookstores and as a Trade dept. manager. I watched as all my good friends in publishing, including authors and reps, got thrown under the bus in the name of bullshit commerce. The people who took over the book business did not love books, they loved the idea of owning a bookstore.Half of them didn't even read books. They told me so to my face. These two things cannot rightly coexist. You have to love what you are selling, believe in it with all your heart, to make it work. Instead what we've got now is the modern store where they might as well be selling hamburgers--it's all about the numbers--quantity over quality every time.Books became glued instead of sewn, xeroxed instead of printed, and the price kept going up. We got a cheaper,shabbier product with a lot less heart and soul put into it,a lot less care that went into its final purpose in the first place. Predatory business practices wiped out all the mom and pop bookstores and then prices strangely enough continued to climb.Bookstores have to sell everything from tee shirts to toys and puzzles now just to stay afloat==maybe that's different in France.The romantic idea of the bookstore as one of the most interesting places to find yourself may still be true in our hearts but the reality is much, much darker and different.So writers are going to have to be a lot more creative in this day and age to once again make the cultural impact that they once were capable of. Do I think they'll do it? Of course!But the best model has yet to be seen.

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    Michael Gillan Maxwell
    Sep 16, 03:58pm

    I'm relieved to find that I am not the only one who has been pondering this issue ~ and I am humbled and awed by the thought provoking and articulate posts in response to this thread. This very question has been on my mind a lot lately, as all my recent work is floating around out there in submission never never land, sometimes (mostly) coming home to visit after it's been passed over for consideration. I feel frustrated by what seems to be the acceptance of the current definition of "previously published" which includes forums like Fictionaut as I muddle through all this. Consequently, I have stopped publicly posting anything here, as well as on my own site and Facebook ~ that I might otherwise hope to have "published" elsewhere. Anyway, as I said, I'm still muddling through all this. Again, thanks for sharing your insights in this really fascinating and rich conversation. It's really fascinating. I'm writing this from a room filled with books and magazines, so I guess I know where my heart is.

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    Marcus Speh
    Sep 16, 06:14pm

    Sadly, I missed most of this discussion last week. While I'm affected (and saddened, though not terribly) by some of the experiences shared here, I don't agree with the negative views on the demise of either publishing or on bookshops.

    I just spend a couple of hours in an English bookstore 5 min. from our doorstep in Berlin. It's a Sunday. In Germany this means everything is closed, or is supposed to be and I presume the bookstore gets to be open because they also sell coffee and muffins. The store was stuffed with people sitting in the comfortable chairs using it evidently as a place to meet, read and relax in the midst of books. This is not an established bookstore: it's run by a Czech couple and was opened only a year ago. In our neighborhood, which used to be bohemian and has become affluent over the past 10 years, 3 bookstores have opened in the last 2 years alone. Small bookstores, sometimes specialized, but no chains, run by exactly the type of person that Darryl describes. Now, this is Berlin, it's a special place with a great influx of artists and young people from all over the world. It's a trendy neighborhood within Berlin. But when I go to other parts of the city, the picture is similar. At the same time, the big book selling chains that supposedly choked all the small stores, are full, too. These are just observations but what else do we have it in the other day, especially with regard to contentious issues that no 2 people can agree upon?

    I could go on in a similar vein on the topic of publishing. Take a look at Gissing's "Grub Street" for a taste of the ancient, traditional vampirism of publishers and the literary world. To follow up on David's story about Walt Whitman: who published his Proust's masterpiece? On Wikipedia, I read about Joyce's experiences with publishing "Dubliners" (not an example of experimental prose):

    "Between 1905, when Joyce first sent a manuscript to a publisher, and 1914, when the book was finally published, Joyce submitted the book 18 times to a total of 15 publishers. The book's publishing history is a harrowing tale of persistence in the face of frustration."

    At the same time most of the books that I see published in the literary fiction market and, while consistently technically better written than books for the mass market, are of low quality. They are not good books to my mind: they do not lend wings to my imagination. The books in the market on average (the very few exceptions confirm my inference) do not cement my pride in the print-based publication industry. They make me hungry for change, which is coming as sure as eggs is eggs.

    I spend a fair amount of time listening to, talking with and blogging for younger writers (even though many of them are less “beginning” then I am myself), who embrace the new e-publishing paradigm rather naturally, perhaps with a tad more conceit for the old ways than necessary, but entirely not without respect either. Doing that has sharpened my understanding for things to come.

    The replacement of one paradigm by another, of one world by another, never is a pleasant process. It isn't pleasant for people on either side: those who are left behind feel left out and dismissed; and those who build the new world share all the discomforts, uncertainties and fears of the pioneer. One should think that Americans understand this more than any other people. Hence I am somewhat surprised at the (overall) negative tone of this discussion—facilitated in a medium and on a platform — Fictionaut — that did not exist 5 years ago.
    I say all this while looking forward to another meeting with a literary agent next week. An agent of the aging publishing industry of printed books, I hasten to add. It'll be the jolly meeting of two dinosaurs and I hope to meet someone I can drink with to the new age, to better books and more power for poets!

    I can't really say what "publication" means, but I do know that it's changing fast, and not to the worse, just to something more acclimated to the current weather. I also don't know where the balance lies between, say, digital and nondigital publishing for a writer, but I doubt that it was ever easy for a writer to straddle the fences that crisscross the reality of writing or to find the right way to talk to everyone who has staked a claim in the land of stories.

    In more than one respect, digital literature in digital publishing is alien to established readers and writers. This alienness may breed repulsion and it may breed respect. I'm reminded of what Virginia Woolf said about “The Russian Point of View”:

    “… the mind takes its bias from the place of its birth, and no doubt, when it strikes upon a literature so alien as the Russian, flies off at a tangent far from the truth.”

    Perhaps the mind is not the best companion when it comes to appreciating current changes in publishing.

    Just write.

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    Marcus Speh
    Sep 16, 06:56pm

    ...I couldn't help it: - post with pics and links.

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    stephen hastings-king
    Sep 16, 11:52pm

    I've been on a hiatus from making fiction for a few weeks because I took on an academic book project that's due at the end of the month. I'm publishing a version of my dissertation 12 years after I last looked at the thing because...well....there was a contract and I signed it. Then it ate my life.

    Anyway, I'm pleased that I clicked on Marcus' link to his blog version of his post above.

    This is a paper book that will have actual distribution. Which I think means that people I do not already know or who aren't related to me might plausibly see it. I hear there is a paperback version that will happen. I'll believe that when I see it.

    Publishing in literary journals--paper or electronic---seems like doing experimental music performances. Each brings a project to completion and sends it out into a tiny world. I'm cool with that. But the world the fictions travel does seem small. I have little sense of how one might reach an audience beyond it. I'd like to think there might be one out there somewhere. But I have no idea. Maybe it's better this way.

    What I learned doing music is that what matters is that one keep going. Work on the craft, work with different conceptual games, move around, do new things. Keep moving through the process. The making of things one does for oneself. Getting it out into the world is good.

    I expect that everyone would like to quit their day job and use their time to make stuff. I would. But it doesn't seem to be likely. I keep going anyway.

    Time to crawl back into editing mode. See you in a few weeks.

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    David Ackley
    Sep 18, 12:55am

    A recent winner of the Man Booker Prize said," I guess I can't be called an underappreciated writer anymore."A response suggesting that among our fraternity are reservoirs of bitterness and insatiable black holes of ego. Fortunately not that typical in my experience. Most writers I've encountered here and elsewhere are reasonably grateful for whatever they get in the way of readership and recognition. I suppose its only human to want to go one better the next time, print, a higher class of magazine, bit of cash, maybe. The risk in that, I think, is to always be chasing a moving definition of success.

    At base " to publish" simply means to make your work available to the public in hopes it will be read. In that sense, what happens here is as much publication as a contract with Harper and Row or a picture of your book cover on Amazon. But, I only reduce what Daryl Price eloquently said in one of the first postings in this thread.

    This continues to be an interesting discussion to me and I want to thank those, Stephen, Marcus, Strannikov and all of you who also found it so, and weighed in to make it even more so.

  • 0001_pabst_blue_ribbon_time.thumb
    Sep 18, 04:16pm

    What does it mean to walk in an age of cars?

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    Sean Pravica
    Sep 18, 07:07pm

    Weighing in late, David, but I want to expand on what you and Daryl said about publication simply meaning that work is available to the public. It is certainly an interesting question.

    I think the term "published" itself is inherently limited. I would not say that "previous publication" is silly or irrelevant. I would call that kind of description incomplete.

    Published has meaning only in relation to medium, such as saying, "I've been published in literary journals," or "I've had articles I wrote published online." The latter is a bit vague, but is the kind of statement that would usually be made in a certain context. As a personal example, I might say something like that in a job interview where that information would be relevant. It would usually be followed by an explanation that people paid me to write content for their website or blog regarding subjects x, y, and z.

    In many mediums, however, the accepted syntax safeguards against the confusion that the blanket term "published" can engender . People never say they "published" something on Facebook or even Fictionaut. They say they "posted" it.

    "Being published" as such, when said alone, is sort of an egotistical statement. It means nothing without context.

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