Sometimes writing to publish seems futile. Yes, I have published stories, but one wonders how many people read them/have read them? And if the only audience is my writing group and a select few others, why bother? I know the “correct” answer is, because I must. But must I sit and type and edit? Before I was a writer, I used to daydream stories. If I am not going to have an audience, why not do this again? It might be as personally satisfying and the editing can go on forever since I’m unlikely to remember what exact changes I’ve made. My house might be cleaner since daydreaming is compatible with vacuuming or dusting. It doesn’t, of course, accomplish two things; more than likely it won’t lead to growth as a storyteller or writer, nor does it do much for communication. As far as I know, no one is able to read my mind.
In the past, the first choice for publication was hard copy literary journals with their often dismal subscriber numbers. More prestigious, but how many people actually read each issue? Of course there are big-name journals with larger circulations, but the majority of these journals are less well-known and have small readerships. I suspect some of the students at the colleges, which publish the smaller journals read some of the stories and poems, but the I’d be willing to bet the largest audience is potential contributors. Yes, this may lead to readers, but I know I buy copies of journals, try to get engaged in a few stories, and then quit. One or two journals routinely published stories I read all the way through—StoryQuarterly being one—but overall I found only the occasional story interesting, and I seldom remembered the name of the author.
At one time I read The Atlantic, mostly for the fiction, so when they stopped including a story, I quit subscribing. Normally I purchase the fiction issue, although this summer I neglected to pick one up at the local newsstand. I also regularly purchased The Best American Short Stories. The stories in both these sources are usually more promising than those in random issues of literary magazines. In 2012, I didn’t buy the annual anthology as the stories, always well written, have taken on a sameness, featuring the same authors from the same sources. Besides, instead of being the best stories written, I feel they more accurately should be described as the best stories according to Heidi Pitlor; in most cases, this editor screens the stories before sending them off to the guest editor to pick. The truth is, I often found the comments on the genesis of the stories included, as well as the brief biographies of the authors more engaging than the stories themselves.
Internet journals, especially ten years ago, weren’t highly regarded, but there was a chance people would actually read the stories. Most of them were free. Many of them were short. And there were all those writers looking for places for their own work that either didn’t want to spend the money on the print journals or knew their material wasn’t exactly right for literary markets. Many of the online places made commenting easy, too. For me, the idea of readers on the Internet was tempting. I also liken these Internet journals to the “little magazines” that were published in the past.
For a while, a writer friend googled herself to see if anyone had commented on her stories. I’ve had a difficult time finding my stuff on the Internet, especially by writer name. Every variation of my name, except my married name, is very common. But one time my googling friend found a comment someone had made on one of my stories and forwarded it to me. I enjoyed reading this person’s reaction and commentary on my idea.
Even though the journal, Bewildering Stories, this story was published in has a very high acceptance rate according to Duotrope statistics, it pleased me that someone chose to comment on it and discuss it. Not sure I can ever find the comments again, though!
In case anyone is wondering about the genesis of this story, I wrote the first draft while driving home from visiting my in-laws in Roswell, NM.