Saturday, September 17, 2005

Online Publishing

Today, I want to talk about Online Publishing, and how it can help those of us numbered among the Unpublished Masses to expose and sell our work.

Again, the advice I give is not the advice of a professional, but of someone not published and exploring the alternatives to "traditional" publishing. Am I an amateur? No; I've studied the so-called literary market for years, which is pretty much why I chose to abandon attempting to publish by "normal" means.

Often, online--or electronic--publishing is applied to journalistic websites. For example, the Online Publishers Association says in their mission statement that they are

"...dedicated to representing high-quality online content providers before the advertising community, the press, the government and the public..."

Online publishing also applies to hosting multimedia works of social, cultural, artistic , audio, educational, or historical interest. Likewise if you operate an online journal, weblog or post regularly to one or more discussion boards, you're already part of the fast-paced and exciting world of online publishing.

For our purposes, online publishing is all about finding a server, site or archive that will host our work.

So, what is the difference between self-publishing and online publishing? Well, my research--and my opinion--is that there's not one hell of a lot of difference between the two. Unfortunately, that also means there's not much difference between online publishing and vanity publishing.

There are a couple of things that distinguish self and online publishing from one another. First and foremost, of course, is the media. Instead of being printed, of course, it is hosted online, either as an HTML page or pages, or in one of any number of text formats: *.pdf, *.txt, *.doc, *.rtf.

Likewise, with online publishing you have a little bit more control over the style and format of the document. You control layout, font, graphics, pretty much all design aspects, really.

Unlike self-publishing, if you publish online, it's a little harder to make money with your work. Essentially, publishing online means you're giving it away for free.

My personal recommendation is that if you go with online publishing, you should publish in *.pdf format. Adobe Acrobat Writer allows you to embed all kinds of protection into your document, making it quite securely read-only.

Adobe offers a downloadable "trial" version of Writer, but in my opinion, the full version of Acrobat Writer is--at $299.00 USD--a sound investment whether you intent to publish online, or to self-publish.

Mac users are fond of reminding me that they have the ability to save their word processing documents in *.pdf format because Apple Computers and Adobe have certain licensing agreements that Microsoft doesn't enjoy. So if you own a Mac, once again the advantage is yours.

Anyway, back on-topic.

Online publishing is dangerously close to vanity publishing; much closer in fact than it is to true self-publishing. Because once again, it is the author who is responsible for the quality of the content.

This means if you're a JRR Tolkein who doesn't believe your work needs to be edited down to be readable, it means your work won't be edited down against your wishes.

Sadly, it also means that like Tolkein, you can end up with a lot of totally superfluous and redundant words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters and volumes in your work.

(That's right: I spit on the sacrosanct Lord of the Rings story cycle: the goddamn thing had so many irrelevant subplots and extraneous details it makes it a plodding, pendantic read!)

It also means that a truly awful story can be hosted just as easily as the Great American Novel.

Let's assume you've got a good work written; one that you can deservedly be proud of. You can't afford to self-publish, but you still desperately want to expose your story. What are the options?

The first option is to set up your own website. While most internet service providers allow you a certain amount of "free space" on their server for a web page, it's usually so miniscule an amount of space and bandwidth as to be completely useless.

Likewise, the free web page services offered by sites like GeoCities or Yahoo! or MSN aren't generally reccommended for a plethora of reasons.

That means you need to register your own domain name, and find a web-host. If you enjoy doing HTML you can handle the website design yourself, but chances are you'd want to either pay for website design or get a hosting package that comes with design assistance.

There are numerous advantages and disadvantages to having your own personal web space; the benefits usually being the amount of control you have over the management of your page, the content and the marketing; the disadvantage being the expense, the maintenence, etc.

The second option is to host your work, either from a paid service or a free service, and then link to your story from other sites. This is what I've done with The Artifact. Because I keep this weblog as well as one on LiveJournal, and because I post regularly to the Free Writers' Forum and to other discussion boards, I am gambling that my existing presence on the Internet, as well as word-of-mouth will be enough to get exposure for the story. While my cost outlay is essentially nil, it also means I am limited in my ability to market the story.

Once a story is posted in full to an internet archive, file host or to a personal web page, it is no longer going to be considered "publishable" by conventional means. The "first rights" to the story have been destroyed. It is now online, archived, downloaded and distributed in such a way that no publisher will touch it. Why?

Well, suppose Dan Brown had decided to put The DaVinci Code online, before it got sold to St Martin's Press. So, after selling it, DaVinci Code becomes the insanely huge success that it has been. When everyone who hasn't bought a copy discovers that all they have to do is download it from the Web, sales of the book could potentially plummet, and Brown could be sued by his publisher for having falsely sold them the first rights to a book already available online.

While Online Publishing or Electronic Publishing is a means of getting your work out there, you have to be very sure you know what you're doing. You have to consider issues like copyright, libel, licensing and subsidiary rights. You have to know exactly where you stand, and what risks you are taking. This is likewise true of self-publishing.

I'll be looking at the importance of registering for the copyright, licensing and subsidiary rights, as well as issues such as libel, fair use of another's work in relation to yours and related problems in future articles, so stay tuned.


WTL said...

Good post! You should post a list of inexpensive places to get domains, hosting for your site, the importance of domain names.... This could go on and on and on... ;-)