Sunday, 18 May 2008

Internet or Internot? - Joop Bersee

The discussion whether to publish on the internet or not will continue for some time, say two generations, then the dust will settle. The pieces of the puzzle still have to find their right positions.

With computers being part of the world of publishing, it is not a surprising outcome. Online publishing is still very new compared to the centuries of using paper and ink to manufacture a book. We have to get used to this new medium. In South Africa internet publishing has only made its first steps. It rattles and shakes the established way of publishing. So the mud throwing began and it will continue till we know better.

The self-publishing of hard copies has been attacked in the same way. If internots (those who don’t like self-publishing on the internet) were interested in literature they would welcome the alternative options to publishing because publishers are often tied hand and foot to their bank accounts. A publisher must make a profit. This means that manuscripts, no matter how good the contents, are turned down because there is no market for them. The internots also claim that the flood of online publishing will corrupt our literary taste. This same argument was being used a few hundred years ago when machines were invented to print books in large quantities. This was not seen as an advantage as a lot of bad writing would be in mass circulation (have heard that before).

Printing in England in the seventeenth century was distrusted, restricted and considered to breed seditious libel. Printing was only allowed in London, Oxford and Cambridge. It was printing and learning that brought disobedience, heresy and sects. Printing had divulged them. Even in this century writing poetry using a computer is seen as an evil deed. You do not write poetry using a computer! Believe it or not, but that is the opinion of a well known South African poet.

The fact that good manuscripts are turned down because there is not enough of a market for them should make these gatekeepers/internots/editors/publishers concerned. Strangely enough this is not the case. We thought that the problem was solved by using self-publications, blogs and websites. But their gate-keeping attitude tells us what is good for us and what isn’t.

If the gatekeepers do their work so well, why has the literary connoisseur been relentlessly bombarded with 375-million Harry Potter books? Thanks a lot. You have done us a great favour. Are you feeding this to your kids? I don’t have to mention other crap books which no one buys and will eventually rot away on shelves or disappear into recycling.

We’ll publish our work the way we want to. Mainline publishers try to silence countless voices which will go into history no matter what. This freedom allows authors to produce books that are more expressive, for wonderful books to be written that would never have been considered by the mainstream publishing houses. In the end, it comes down to what authors want.

I publish all my work on my website and have done so for a number of years. I must have done something right as I was approached, a few years ago by the National English Literary Museum (NELM) in Grahamstown for a copy of one of my A4 self-publications in a nice plastic folder, a so-called hardcopy. I must have been really lucky because someone wrote a positive review. In total I have been approached three times by NELM asking for hardcopies of my self-published, online (only) work. So was that a mistake on their side, or do online publishers have something worthwhile to offer?

Other Voices (USA) approached me for a few of my drawings from my website complete with the captions underneath. First they would publish it online and then it would be published in a book. I was also approached by the editor of Sibila, a Brazilian e-zine/journal for a drawing and two poems from my site. This would have been impossible if my work was in print only.

A few of my poems were published online by Poets against War founded by poet Sam Hamill after refusing Laura Bush’s invite to read poetry at the White House. Another site called War Post which began as a research weblog for the Ford Scholar Program at Vassar College USA used a few of my poems on Poets against War for their site. Amateurish rubbish perhaps, according to the internots, but I find myself surrounded by poets such as Dunya Mikhail, Harold Pinter, Robert Pinsky and Adrienne Rich, among others.

Finally, after visiting my site, someone in India asked for my permission to translate a few poems into Malayalam, and ended up translating sixty poems which were published in a book. Quite a number of poems were also published in magazines.

We all know that a writer needs exposure. Magazines and journals have their limits when it comes to exposure. Only the subscribers will read the poet’s work and the issues disappear on shelves. Literary magazines have a limited lifespan, and then they are gone, but online, you can potentially keep reaching readers. A website can advertise itself using search engines and its archives are only a few clicks of the mouse away. The readers are not trapped on an address list. Online sites get readers from all over the world, readers and publishers perhaps looking for new poets, writers of short stories etc. And you can lead others to your work once it is online.

I take my hat off to the smaller literary paper-based publishers who despite the wrestling to find funds continue to publish what they think they have to. Often they have a blog or site to advertise their publications. It is great when the reader can sample a few poems online. They too publish what does not bring them a great fortune. Their treasure is the words they found. And I thank them for that.

Joop Bersee

Check out Joop’s poetry on

1 comment:

john said...

Print will eventually phase out as it gives way to new tools that are more interactive and rich. Readers are giving up flat printed pages for online, interactive, participative, collaborative and rich media content such as Online Portals, Blogs, Social Networks, RSS, Mobiles and Podcasts.

Here’s few useful links on digital publishing / delivery