In a Different Light: Shifting Stories from Web to Print
by Zine Union List Member
Zine Union is an informal coalition of Star Wars fanzine readers, writers, editors and publishers. For further info, please see:
This is in response to Lucy's column about net stories in print zines... And before we progress to the bottom of the outrage scale, we should say that we're avid readers, writers, editors and publishers of zines. (We hesitate to say that that's a completely a-political statement, since there's something about the forming of fannish communities in zine circles that seems more productive and inspiring to us than the communities formed across mailing
lists and virtual spaces -- but that's a topic for another rant.)
Unfortunately, Lucy's column starts and ends with venting her frustration, without much or any thought given to the writer's reasons for moving a story, or zines in general, or why there might be a point to pulling a story off the web once it goes into a zine. She just ranks her different levels of frustration and complains about having to wait for things that she'd like to read now.
For most of us in the Star Wars zine community, an informal policy of waiting one year after zine publication until Net posting is followed. (Some editors do not agree with this and state so in their submission guidelines.) That informal policy may change as more Net fiction makes its way into zines without the negative perceptions that previously posted stories are not marketable. For now, the feeling is that people won't pay for stories in a zine that are/have been/ will be on the Net. The old 'net is free' fallacy exists. But, these policies are fluid and ever changing.
The fact that Lucy has never purchased a zine probably explains her lack of understanding for the appeal of zines and the way that they're produced. So, give us this chance to say why we enjoy print zines and how we handle things.
Mostly, it's the tangible *love* that goes into so many zines that attracts us to them, and the sense of intimacy and attachment that comes with being able to carry them around and read wherever/whenever we want to. While we read fanfic online, or off a screen, or printed out, there's a different quality to the reading experience that appeals to us and makes it worth the few dollars the publishers are asking for it.
On to the sticky issues then... Why take a story off the web when it goes into print?
First and foremost, we're acknowledging that there's a whole lot of effort involved before the story actually appears in print. Editing, proof-reading, layout and illustrating are time-consuming work.
Zines become a collaboration between the writer and the editor. It's a two-way partnership where each plays an integral role in the process. The ultimate goal is to strengthen a story and present the best version possible. The editor wants a seamless anthology of stories while the writer wants the best representation of his or her work presented. Quite simply, quality is put above quantity. It is a time consuming yet rewarding process for both involved.
All of it ensures -- at least in theory -- that the printed story will be presented in improved quality, and we mean that in the comprehensive sense, involving all the above-mentioned factors. Once the publishers/editors have invested that kind of effort in a story, we think it's well within their rights to claim exclusive publishing
rights for a limited span of time. Remember, it's going to be shared with a wider readership again after that period, and at that point editors and proofreaders might not ever get any credit for their work. Readers who can't afford to buy zines, or aren't interested in accompanying artwork and such will simply have to
wait a little while.
Yes, we all need to recoup our costs, and most of us stretch hard to finance a print run in advance. It's risky business at the best of times. (Publishers run an additional risk of losing buyers by including material previously posted online. Potential readers may pick up the zine, recognize the story, and might lose interest before they've even appreciated any improvements the editing/publishing process may have made.)
But that's not even the main reason why exclusively presenting a story in zine format makes so much sense. It's not as if sales will depend on a single story that might still be available online -- in fact, if there were no other production values to the zine than the attraction of a single story, there would be reason to question the entire project.
What we're talking about here is the difference a collaborative effort and integration into a collection of stories can make, and that goes beyond the collaboration between writers and editors and any resulting improvements on individual stories.
When we publish anthology zines, we don't just accept and print submissions as they come in. It's always a matter of assembling stories and art in a way that will make each piece shine within a very specific environment. So, for a while, the web story becomes part of an integral whole, it operates within a concert and a dialogue of different writers' voices and adds its unique
tone and presence to it. For that limited time, the story isn't what it was -- or will be again -- on the web. It accrues the flavors of the stories and artwork that surround it and lends its own shadings to the collection in turn.
So, no -- the reason why the story is pulled off the web for the duration is not the hope for added purchases. It is far more likely that including net stories will have a negative effect on sales. But, just like works of art that are pulled from museums all over the world to become part of an exhibition somewhere else, it contributes to a new context which will allow the audience to perceive both the individual pieces and the connections between them in a new way. You could argue that empty showcases in museums are an inevitable nuisance because these pieces can't be shown in two places at once -- stories can be. But it's a matter of focus too. For a limited time, zine editors, as much as organizers of exhibitions, want to draw attention to a story in a very specific way. They present it in a way that demonstrates their love and appreciation, within a context that may enrich and change the readers' perceptions and might even lead to a different interpretation of the story itself.
All of this can be done on the web as well, and we would love to see
more e-zines with quality standards similar to print zines, in addition to fanfic archives. Once e-zines appear in greater numbers, it will be interesting to see if that raises related issues of exclusive availability of stories in a single place.
Ultimately, the decision to pull a story from the Net lies solely with the author. No one holds a gun to an author's head and makes her submit a story to a zine. By submitting, authors have an implicit contract with the editor with regards to content, rating, character focus and yes, for many, a one-year moratorium on Net posting. For many of us, the issue of Net posting is moot because, though this point may seem obvious to some, it apparently is not- not everyone has Net access! Zines are an additional outlet and for some, the only outlet for fan fiction.
There also seems to be a common misconception that zine editors/publishers make profit off their publications while fanfic is free on the web, so let us restate here that we don't make *any* money with it. We're fortunate if we come out even, and we're publishing for love just as much as every writer or archivist on the web does. Secondly, fanfic on the web isn't exactly free either -- at least not for everyone. Most of us pay in hard cash for our Internet access. And while there's a lot of excellent fic on the web, it can be quite time-consuming to seek it out, which is another reason why we appreciate zines as a format where a certain quality control is in place. It's a service we appreciate and gladly pay for.
Yes, spending money on zines involves trust. But don't base your decision on the fact that the editors/publishers might have included a story that was pulled off the web. Base it on the look of the zine itself, on the combination of works, on the love and diligence that went into producing it. And then you'll hardly be disappointed.
Members Zine Union