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Rick Moody, what does online publishing mean to you?

7 Dec

Here’s to the holidays. American Short Fiction is celebrating the season of light with a feast of a discussion by some of our favorite literary voices.

The topic of conversation: What does online publishing mean to you?

Here’s how the conversation started:

Recently editor Rick Rofihe (whose fiction has been published multiple times in The New Yorker, among other places, and who has collection of short stories from FSG ) said, on fictionaut, “the print book is not long for this world.”

He goes on, “‘Three Point Back’ was a story that I published on and I had more feedback on that story than the nine stories I had in The New Yorker. It was also in print, it was a good-looking journal and they gave me six copies and that was nice but I was like, what am I going to do with these? Send them to people? Why not just email them a link?”

As web editor of American Short Fiction, I got to thinking of writers’ senses of the importance, usefulness of online publication. Does “instaneousness” trump “sancrosanctity”?

I set a single question to a number of stars of literary fiction, including some familiar and guiding lights and others new and brightly shining. From writer to editor and from email newbie to Twitter king, they form quite a constellation.


This week we invite you to feast for eye and ear to this conversation of luminaries. Just the thing to add a thoughtful extra sparkle to your pre-holiday reading. . .

ASF’s Stacy Muszynski asks: Rick Moody, what does online publishing meant to you?

Rick Moody answers:

Hey Stacy, I agree with Rick Rofihe that the immediate feedback of online publication is seductive. I really like, in the case of my work on The Rumpus, that I can get a few responses to the work within a couple of days or even a couple of hours. But just as the work I do there is slightly rushed, never as fully cooked as, for example, I would prefer a book publication to be, so do I worry the reactions are hasty, without the kind of premeditation that I associate with the carefully considered reader responses.

I’m reminded therefore of Derrida’s ideas about writing versus speech and the way in which writing is always feared by Western metaphysics because there is a space between composer and reader, a space that often, in the texts Derrida likes to cites, is compared to death. What I imagine Derrida is trying to do when he talks about this space, is to celebrate these poisonous or fatal qualities. Writing, he seems to say, should revel in its difference from speech, in its lacunae. This kind of thing, this revelry, happens best with the book, it seems to me, with the printed thing that takes years to write and months to produce—so that the prose is already out of date by the time it gets from writer to reader. Out of date, what a wonderful concept. A concept to be celebrated! Out of time, out of date, outmoded, obsolete, useless to popular culture, arcane, elite, etc. All positives, as far as I’m concerned.

Online publication, to me, is of interest because it’s cheaper and easier to produce, thus emboldening people who want to bring their vision out into the marketplace of ideas. But that doesn’t mean it’s better. Best of all is written on stone, and if that doesn’t work, whatever is nearly as long lasting as stone. Parchment, goatskin, vellum, and so on. Or acid-free paper, which is still a better and longer lasting storage medium than anything digital.

Literature is for history, after all. Who gives a shit, in the end, about what people think now? It’s all a passing fad.

Rick Moody’s print work includes novels, short story collections, memoir, film adaptation, and much, much more. Then there are his contributions to the digital world, including genre-crossing in, to his ongoing commitment to a music blog at The Rumpus, and last week’s three-day, 153-tweet serialized short story, “Some Contemporary Characters,” at Electric Literature.

Check back tomorrow—we’ll be posting up new thoughts from writers on online publishing all week.

12 Responses to “Rick Moody, what does online publishing mean to you?”

  1. Richard Thomas 07. Dec, 2009 at 4:31 pm #

    Great ongoing conversation here Stacy. I recently had a debate with Larina about print vs. online, so feel free to check it out as well. I won’t echo it all here in my comment, but it seems the times are a changing, eh? Online is no longer the great stigma it once was, but I think print will still exist, for at least the immediate future. Keep up the great work.


  2. L. Lee Lowe 09. Dec, 2009 at 1:26 pm #

    Why isn’t ASF asking the indie writers who publish online, not just those whose reputation is based on print publication? We have voices too!

  3. Robert Goolrick 09. Dec, 2009 at 7:14 pm #

    The question is not about whether or not the printed word is sacrosanct, or even preferable. It’s not about immediacy or the gratification of being tweeted about how great you are. The question is about copyright. Pure and simple. At the moment, you can’t file-share a Kindle download, but the day will come, and come soon, and then what? The same thing will happen to publishing that has happened to the music industry. Has anybody been to a record store lately? Has anybody even SEEN a record store? But writers, unlike musicians, writers don’t get paid to perform. They get paid because they sell books. Imagine Limewire for the printed word. Any writers like that picture?

  4. Beverly Akerman 09. Dec, 2009 at 8:49 pm #

    it heartens me that Serious Writers are pondering this question. and i am so heartened by mr. moody’s response–because when i heard he was posting a story on twitter, my heart fell…really, i can’t get over the thought that twittering is for bird brains. and will anyone ever feel truly comfortable taking kindle in the bath, or to the beach? have you ever forgotten a paperback in an airport lounge…or even left it on purpose, for unknown others?

    there’s a reason books have been around for thousands of years. they’re not just some flash in the techno pan. they have weight and heft, they have gravitas. and i want to have mine published!!

  5. asfadmin 14. Dec, 2009 at 9:25 am #

    @L Lee Lowe: We also talked with Matt Stewart and Matt Bell, two writers who publish (and edit) a lot of online material.

  6. Rick Rofihe 01. Nov, 2010 at 10:07 pm #

    ONE MORE THING: I was a hard-copy book publisher many years back, and I am somewhat affiliated with a hard-copy literary publisher even now — certainly the pleasures of holding a well-printed, well-bound volume in one’s hands are undeniable. Yet, a poem or story online needs not only neither ink nor paper, it also doesn’t need warehousing, shipping, billing, etc. As a writer myself, of course I’m interested in money, but, as an experiment, I decided a few years ago to put nine short stories of mine, each of which originally appeared in The New Yorker magazine, together as a “book”, under the title “BOYS who DO the BOP”, and make it easily and freely available in e-form at so anyone, anywhere, anytime could read it on a computer (or, more recently, on a smartphone.) Now, while I can’t really make any money off such a venture, I don’t really lose any either. So, yes, there was a time when I was paid $2500+ by The New Yorker for my fictions, but, as an editor there at the time, Daniel Menaker, said to me, “You can’t expect to make a living selling short stories.” This, I think, is and will be increasingly true, both for writers and for publishers.

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