Write on the Web
I have always perceived books and magazines as the vehicle to my immortality. There's just something deeply gratifying about having a tangible item bearing my byline, an item that will surely be praised for its cultural impact when discovered, completely preserved, in the 24th Century.
Seeing my name and words on the Web, however, somehow lacked seriousness. Perhaps in the back of my mind I believed that good writers make it into traditional print markets while everyone else has to settle for the Internet. But now I'm finding that the Web has a lot more to offer writers in terms of exposure, compensation, and maybe even respect. And for the written word, it's probably the most reliable vehicle to immortality, ever.
Personal homepage publishing
Whether you're a seasoned author or a small-time freelancer trying to get your foot in a few doors, the Web can be used to your advantage. Personal homepages are a good place to start even for the unpublished writer. Novices can present work in a professional-looking format, attract some traffic, and get feedback from visitors that can stroke the writer's fragile ego (or shatter it to pieces because it's just so easy).
"'Self-publishing,' or having your own website, doesn't have the stigma that it does in the offline world," concedes Durant Imboden, a veteran of print and Web publishing. But he adds that new writers typically gain very little exposure via personal homepages because their sites are rarely seen by anyone but themselves. "Unless you're writing for an established site or you know how to promote your site through the search engines or reciprocal linking," he adds, "you'll be exposing yourself to the online equivalent of an empty room."
Nonetheless, having a homepage with writing samples and a resume can be a useful tool for marketing yourself on the Web. Imboden advises even published print writers to be avid Web readers and to make use of Internet writing opportunities. Established writers can also generate ongoing publicity for themselves by making articles and books available for sale on their personal homepages.
Writing for webzines
Writers might also take advantage of opportunities to write for online magazines, some of which pay well. The nice thing about webzines is that you can e-query, e-submit, and get an e-response without all the hassle of traditional mailing methods for manuscripts. Then you can see your name in e-lights within a reasonably short period of time.
Webzines are also an excellent place for beginning writers to get experience. This is not to say that online magazines compromise editorial quality (though there is a bit of that going around), but the online market is generally less competitive than the traditional print market and there are literally hundreds of new electronic publications emerging on a regular basis. Writers may receive payments in subscriptions and memberships from less established sites, or monetary payments from a penny to a dollar per word from the more well-known sites. "It's kind of a crapshoot," says William Haskins, a former Web writer for computer game developer ION Storm. "Although ideally you should try to work your way toward the bigger sites that accept freelance submissions." Bigger sites (usually) equal bigger payments.
"Hosting" a website area or community is another way for writers to write what they love, get decent exposure, and perhaps even get paid for it. If your passion and expertise is cooking, for example, you might find an online community that needs a host for their food section. Providing a consistent service of this type can also help you establish a stronger online presence. This kind of arrangement usually requires entering into a contract stating that the weekly article you write is not being used elsewhere. Some writers may balk at this agreement, but many are taking advantage of yet another opportunity to get their writing and their names known on the Web.
Jennifer Kyrnin, the About.com HTML Guide, agrees. One of the benefits of her position, she says, is that she's forced to stay up-to-date in her field of interest. "I was moving into HTML and Web development in my career," she explains, "and this was a great way to keep writing while still doing Web pages." If you opt for this sort of arrangement, however, you'll probably be doing it for the love of writing more than the money.
Despite his day job in the games industry and over three years writing on the Web, William Haskins admits that he still has yearnings for traditional publishing. "I guess I want to know that my books are tactile objects that will sit on store shelves," he says. "A bit of an oversimplification probably, but pretty close to the truth." Haskins speaks for many of us hesitant to see the craft of writing go completely the way of the Web. Yet the Web awaits, and the Web needs writers.