BY NATHANIEL TOWER
We all like having our name up in lights. But what happens when some of those lightbulbs burn out?
Over the course of the past ten years, I’ve had around 250 short stories published in various online and print venues. I won’t kid myself or stroke my own ego; most of these publications are pretty minor. While I’ve managed to earn a few bucks here and there, all these short stories haven’t amounted to anything close to a living. Still, I’m proud of these publications, even if many of them are just ‘meaningless’ writing credits that probably never saw more than 100 readers. Besides, no matter how many times we see our work published, every acceptance is still exciting.
Let’s go for an even deeper reality check now. Many of these publications don’t even exist anymore. I recently ran a broken link check on my list of short story publications. This is something I do about once a year, and it’s pretty easy to do. Download the Check My Links extension for your Chrome browser. It’s free and incredibly easy to use. There are plenty of other free tools available, but this isn’t a how-to-check-for-broken-links post.
The results were pretty sobering. Twenty-three of the venues that have published my short fiction have closed during the past year. That’s almost 10% of my published work, gone from the Internet forever. And that’s just one year. At that pace, I won’t have any publications left in a decade (Note: I’m intentionally using fuzzy logic for effect.).
Unfortunately, just running a broken link check isn’t enough. This will only show which websites no longer exist. But what about those domains that were picked up by someone else? For example, one venue that published my work is now an all-purpose blog that posts things about heat pumps and gastric bypass. Another is a blog about tree services. Both of these websites are likely part of private blog networks now, domains bought up by someone trying to cheat Google’s search algorithms. Yes, this is what is becoming of our lit mags. The only way to discover these defunct magazines is to visit each one. Depending on how many publications you have, this can be a rather time-consuming (and depressing) task.
What are we supposed to do about all of these disappearing publications?
Well, the first step is to remove any broken links from your publication list. Having broken links is bad for your website, both from a usability standpoint and for search engine optimization.
Next is the unenviable task of trying to find a new home for all these orphan stories. Unfortunately, many venues don’t accept reprints, so the options are pretty limited. Some writers try to cheat and pretend these aren’t reprints, but this is never a good idea. If you get caught, you may end up blacklisted from publication. Once a piece is published on a website, first rights are gone and can never be returned, even if that publication closes up shop.
At this point, before you go on a quest to find a bunch of venues that publish reprints, it’s probably a good idea to evaluate a couple things:
1. Which of these pieces would I actually still want published?
2. How can I be more careful about sending out my stories to more sustainable publications? (I did a blog post on how to find sustainable lit mags a few months ago.)
There’s a good chance that some of your stories don’t really need to be republished. Weed out the bad stuff and focus on your best ‘no-longer-published’ stories.
Once you’ve determined which stories you really care about, now you need to find new homes for them. Here are a few possibilities (in no particular order of importance):
1. Post the stories on Fictionaut. I’ve taken this approach with several of my unpublished stories. This creates a permanent home for them, and you might even find they get more attention here than they did in the original publication.
2. Post them on your own blog. This is a less desirable option than a place like Fictionaut. People generally don’t want to read a blog that consists of nothing but your own short fiction.
3. Find a venue that takes reprints. These venues are much rarer than publications that don’t want any previously published work, but they still exist. You can easily find venues that take reprints by using Duotrope’s advanced search feature (although you have to pay for it). For a free option, use The (Submission) Grinder. The database isn’t quite as extensive as Duotrope’s, but it still gets the job done. If you do decide to go this route, look for magazines that seem to be around for the long(ish) haul. No lit mag is guaranteed to be around forever, but if you’ve seen enough go under, you can start to see the signs ahead of time. If you aren’t sure a magazine will last, don’t waste your time sending in your reprint. Otherwise, you’ll just be in this boat again in a few months.
4. Compile a short-story collection and shop it around (or self-publish). If you are really proud of these stories that have vanished off the face of the interwebs, then put together a short-story collection. You could even be clever with it and call it “Dead Stories.” (Okay, you should probably be more clever than that.)
5. Link to Wayback Machine. They say that nothing is permanent — except for what is put on the Internet. There is some truth to this. Much of what goes up on the Internet stays there forever, even after the website is taken down or bought by someone else. The Internet archive known as Wayback Machine has over 435 billion web pages saved online. There’s a pretty good chance you’ll be able to find your once-published story in those archives. I tested four of my publications that have been removed from the web, and two of them were available on Wayback Machine. It may not be the ideal reading experience, but at least it keeps our writing around.
You should also check out The Rookery, a project from Literary Orphans designed to preserve dying lit mags. The Rookery wants to create a permanent library for these venues that are at risk of disappearing from the Internet for good. If you are aware of a lit mag that might be going away, contact The Rookery to see if they can preserve it.
It’s an unfortunate reality in today’s publishing world, but lit mags are dying off about as fast as they are popping up. That means there is no shortage of new opportunities, but much of our old work is disappearing.
Don’t let your stories die out for good. Do your part to preserve your writing history.
NATHANIEL TOWER lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and daughters. After teaching high school English in Missouri for nine years, he decided to move north and pursue writing and marketing. His short fiction has appeared in over two hundred online and print journals. Twenty-four of his surreal tales about the married life are compiled in the short-story collection, Nagging Wives, Foolish Husbands (Martian Lit, 2014). Nathaniel is also the founding and managing editor of Bartleby Snopes Literary Magazine and Press. Find out more about Nathaniel at nathanieltower.com.
Post originally published on 1/20/15