Not long ago a friend of mine gave a reading, after which she was approached by the editor of a prestigious print magazine. Admiring one of the poems she had read, he asked if he might include it in a future issue. She was flattered, but explained that the poem had already been published. He asked where, and she told him: a relatively young journal that publishes twice a year—online.
"Oh," he said. "Don't worry. That doesn't count."
Most of us share the goal of finding a good home for our work. But where is that home nowadays? Where will our work "count" and have the greatest readership and impact? Creative writers stand at the edge of a digital divide. On one side: the traditions of paper. On the other: the lure of the Internet. As glossy magazines die by the dozen and blogs become increasingly influential, we face the reality that print venues—despite their traditional connotations of prestige, permanence, and physical craft—are rapidly ceding ground to Web-based publishing.
Yet many of us still hesitate to make the leap. "Online journals just seem so evanescent to me," one poet confessed in an e-mail. "They continue to multiply madly, so it's hard to distinguish any from the crowd. Who reads them? Are the editors literate? Are they all just out of MFA programs? I can't defend these suspicions with facts. I feel, privately, as though my work—if published online—would drop into a black hole. I'm no Luddite, but I still hanker for hard copy."
I would have agreed with this sentiment six years ago, when I was just out of graduate school and beginning to submit my work. Online journals were a pale imitation of print, marred by amateurish fonts, garish backgrounds, and the lack of editorial accountability. Even as recently as three years ago, I still would have agreed—online journals were where you sent the misfits, the work that couldn't quite make it into print.