Transcripts

"Writing for the Web" with Kristi Holl

Thursday, May 31, 2001

Kristi is Kristi Holl, author of 24 books and 150+ articles. She is also the web editor for two writers' web sites, where she buys articles and also writes weekly supportive articles for writers on a variety of subjects.

Interviews begin on Thursday evenings at 9 p.m. Atlantic/Canada, 8 Eastern, 7 Central, 6 Mountain and 5 Pacific

Kristi: Hi, everyone! This is Kristi Holl, and I will be talking on the subject of "Writing for the Web." I have an administrator who will be helping me conduct the interview tonight. I'm excited to be sharing this information with you.

Moderator: Kristi, what are your experiences in writing for the web?

Kristi: Like many writers, I started out before electronic publishing was much of an option. My 24 books and first 30 or so articles were in print publications. But now I write weekly supportive articles for writers on a variety of subjects, like getting started, creating a writing life you love, and dealing with family and money issues pertaining to writers. Three years ago I became the web editor for The Institute of Children's Literature and after that, the web editor for the Long Ridge Writers Group. For both sites, I buy articles on the writing craft, reading e-mail submissions, sending contracts, and posting material on the web sites.

Moderator: What are some advantages of writing for the web over writing for print magazines?

Kristi: I think there are about six big ones. Let me split them up A, B, C, etc....

A. Contact is usually made through e-mail. You may query, submit, receive contracts and be published all without licking a stamp or buying paper or envelopes. That in itself is a huge savings of money. I know that when I began writing twenty years ago that I operated in the red for a couple years before I made enough money from the magazine writing to pay for postage, paper, ink and envelopes. Being able to submit stories and articles and books electronically means you can submit all over the world--not just within your own country--for free! Huge savings!

B. We are told to study copies of magazines before we submit. It used to cost me $4-6 to send for sample copies of some magazines. That was a huge sum, but sometimes I couldn't find the magazines at the library or our tiny news stand. Now more and more publications have an online edition that you can read and study for free. They often post back issues as well. It's free--and it's much faster than waiting weeks for that copy to arrive in the mail.

C. E-mail can save lots of telephone charges. While you may seldom talk on the phone to an editor, you may be doing research and need to interview an expert. Many experts prefer e-mail interviews so that they can write out their answers when they have the free time and they have more control over what is said--and they are quoted correctly.

D. Being able to submit your requested material by e-mail extends your deadline by a week or ten days. My last four books have been sent as e-mail attachments, and that meant I could write and revise till late afternoon on the day of the deadline. Before, I had to be sure the ms. was in the mail at least a week or more before deadline to insure that it actually arrived on my editor's desk on time.

E. You are more likely to hear from readers when your material is published online. I don't recall ever hearing from a reader when my stories and articles were published in print magazines. However, because contacting the author is usually made very easy online, you are much more apt to get feedback from readers. It's a wonderful benefit! Otherwise, I used to wonder if my stories were actually being read by anyone! Or helping anyone! But once I began to be published online, rarely does a week go by without several nice notes and thank-you's from readers. I've made many new friends this way.

F. Editors are more likely to see your work and ask for reprint rights. I know, as a web editor for two sites, that I often read a good article that I think would be appropriate for our sites and e-mail the author and offer a contract. I have had the same thing happen to me with the articles in my Writer's Support Room and my Surviving & Thriving pages. It happens more often, and without my having to send out mss. and try to sell the reprint rights myself.

Moderator: What about disadvantages of writing for the web?

Kristi: The one fear I hear most about is losing copyright of your material, and how easy it is for people to pass around (via e-mail) excerpts from books, whole articles, material from a critique group, etc. I think this is a real concern, and it's still "muddy waters" on whether e-mail letters constitutes "publishing" or "reprinting"--or not. Bear in mind that you can still face this issue even if you only sell to print media. If they buy all rights, that includes electronic rights and the ability to use your work online or with CD-ROM.

Moderator: If you sell electronic rights, what exactly are you selling?

Kristi: You're selling the right to have your work posted on a web site. When you are selling your article for the first time (your original work) most paying electronic markets will ask for exclusive electronic rights for a certain specific period of time (maybe one month, or six months, or a year). They may also request the right to archive (or store) your material online after it's published. Once your material is stored or archived, you can usually sell it again for reprints or post it somewhere else online. Also, and this is important financially, many online markets don't even ask for your print rights at all--which leaves you free to sell the same article or story to a print publication at any time you choose. When I buy articles for the web sites, I buy the right to keep them online for 12 weeks, but there are no archives.

Moderator: Do you automatically sell all electronic rights when you publish online?

Kristi: No! At least, you don't have to unless you choose to. "Electronic rights" is rather a foggy term for a collection of various online rights. Let me break them down for you. Electronic rights includes the following rights:

The Internet: this includes online forms of print magazines, e-zines, and e-mail newsletters. The articles and stories might be archived when they are removed from the site's pages.

Databases: These are like the free archives mentioned above, except they cost money to access. Some periodicals sell their back issues to commercial databases who charge fees for a subscription or the ability to read or download their articles.

CD-ROMs: Several national magazines sell collections of back issues on CD-DOM. This is a physical object, like a book or print magazine, that the reader buys and has shipped to him. Authors sometimes argue that this is NOT being published electronically, and they should get royalties or a flat fee when their articles appear on a CD-ROM edition of a magazine.

Electronic books online, or e-books: Since e-books can appear in many formats (like e-mail files, disks, CD-ROMs, and editions for hand-held palm readers (like RocketBooks). Before signing over "electronic rights" to an e-publisher, be sure you know what formats may be involved, both now and in the future.

Electronic versions of print books: Books sold to print publishers used to automatically be granted all rights, or all electronic rights. No one believed the Internet would be much of a threat or a moneymaker. But with electronic versions of print books now being bought by kids and adults who love those hand-held palm readers, it's a big issue.

If you choose, you can sell specific electronic rights to a story or article so that you're free to sell other electronic rights to other media. You might sell an article to be used in an online magazine or newsletter for just 3 months, you might sell CD-ROM rights to have the same article used in a collection on a CD, and sell the right to have it included in a database. For more help on understanding electronic rights I'd recommend Moira Anderson Allen's book writing.com: Creative Internet Strategies to Advance Your Writing Career. I have it in print form, and got much of my information from that book. If you buy the electronic edition, you also get "1200 Online Resources for Writers"-- the best of the best -- available FREE. You find the online edition at http://www.booklocker.com/bookpages/writing.html

Moderator: How is the actual writing for the web different from writing for print magazines?

Kristi: If you read online at all, you've probably noticed that most web articles are written in an inverted pyramid style with dividers--bold headlines--every 2-3 paragraphs. This breaks up the article into smaller bites to digest. The Inverted Pyramid style is almost backwards from our traditional way of writing, where we hook the reader, then slowly build (giving facts and examples) to the result or satisfactory conclusion. Inverted pyramids are different because the article starts with a very succinct introduction--something that is often actually the conclusion you're working toward! (Such as "Just say no!" or "Overcome procrastination!" or "Beef up your dialogue!") This grabs your attention. Those little bold-face divider headlines serve the same purpose, hooking the reader into reading the next section of the article.

Moderator: Isn't this like writing for newspapers?

Kristi: Yes, it's a lot like that. You start with the conclusion you want to reach, followed by the most important supporting information, and end by giving any background. It is useful for newspapers because readers can stop at any time and will still get the most important parts of the article. On the Web, the inverted pyramid becomes even more important since we know from several user studies that most users don't scroll, at least not much, so they will very frequently read only the top part of an article. Very interested readers will scroll, and these motivated readers will get the full story. Writing on the Web is different from writing for magazines in this respect.

Moderator: What about e-mail queries and submissions? Can you give us some do's and don'ts?

Kristi: First, some DON'Ts: As an editor, I find a lot of slipshod queries and submissions, like many emails. They're often full of misspellings, like they haven't been proofread. Also, I get quite a few submissions that start out saying "I know this won't fit your categories, but..."

I also get pieces targeted for children instead of writers for children, like "I'm not certain that this piece will be of interest to you in some respects, though I'm sure that children everywhere would be interested."

I get things the wrong length ("I know this is too short but...") I will take "too long" before "too short" because I am getting more for my money. But if the requirement is l000 words for $50, it's not fair to pay that to most writers, but pay someone else that fee for 450 words.

I get lists of "publishing credits" that are simply pieces posted on the author's personal web site, newsgroup postings, or other non-paying "opinion" sites. Don't list as publishing credits pieces you've posted yourself. Most editors aren't impressed by credits for articles or stories donated for free elsewhere on the Internet unless they know they are high quality non-paying e-zines or web sites (and there definitely are some, just as there are some high quality non-paying print magazines).

Some DO's: Submit your manuscript in the body of your e-mail, even though it knocks out your italics and bold. I won't open attachments anymore--virus fears! Some writers put their italicized words in all CAPS and note that in a cover letter, like book titles and emphasized words.

Be sure you are writing the type of article asked for. Don't try to disguise a personal experience article as a how-to. If you don't have publishing credits, that's fine, but be prepared to do some digging and research for your article. I receive too many articles on a given topic (like writing dialogue, for example) that are actually personal experiences telling how a new writer used to have a lot of trouble with writing dialogue, their struggles, with maybe one concrete tip in the whole l000 words.

Also, please SUBMIT YOUR BEST WORK! I get half-finished mss pretty often. Why do writers think they can submit e-mail mss that are rough, not finished, not revised, not spell-checked or proofread? Perhaps it's because we're all used to firing off quick (messy) e-mail messages to friends and family. I recall my first editor years ago saying to ignore the odds against getting published. She said I wasn't competing with as many authors as the statistics would make you think because half the submissions were wrong or messy or handwritten or somehow unacceptable. E-mail submissions are sometimes even worse. Your submission to me stands out when these things are taken care of.

Moderator: If a writer wants to write for the web, a big advantage is being able to research on the Internet. But if you're a new writer, it can be very daunting. There are literally millions of web sites with information. Where can a writer start?

Kristi: There are several good places to start. Let me give you four.

A. Check out "Ask an Expert" if you're doing a report and need information to get started. This site "connects you with hundreds of real world experts, ranging from astronauts to zookeepers. These experts have volunteered to answer your question for free!" at http://www.askanexpert.com/indexframe.htm

B. Handilinks at http://www.handilinks.com/ links to a wide range of topics, organized by subjects.

C. Library of Congress at http://www.loc.gov/ is a wealth of information.

D. My Virtual Reference Desk/My Virtual Encyclopedia at http://www.refdesk.com is also a great site.

Moderator: What kinds of places online can I sell my work?

Kristi: There are thousands of electronic publications on the Internet, with more appearing weekly. I think the majority still don't pay anything, so do be aware of that. But higher quality paying markets are growing and you can find them in various ways (which I'll talk about in just a minute). These markets include e-zines (Electronic magaZINES), e-mail newsletters, and the online editions of print publications. Even those that don't pay much (or at all) can provide visibility for writers, so keep that in mind when choosing markets if you're a new writer. Several times when I've found an article I wanted to reprint and offered a contract, I discovered that the author had made little or nothing on the first publication, and the $50 I could offer was happily received.

Moderator: How do you find electronic markets for your work?

Kristi: If you look in Writer's Market, I think it has a little computer sign by online magazines, and it gives a separate name for online editors by the computer icon.

If you're a Long Ridge student, you should have the current 2001 The Best of the Magazine Markets. Look in the index at the back under "Internet" in the topics section for online magazines. Also, in the guide itself, online magazines have a little computer mouse icon by the name.

If you have favorite subjects, do a search engine search on topics you want to write about, like health or marriage magazines. (For example, enter "electronic health magazines" into your favorite search engine. I did that and got--among others--health.com and Womens-Health.com.) Click on your findings and check them out. If you like them, see if they have online guidelines. That will give you payment information. Some pay and some don't--check that out. If their guidelines aren't posted there, go to your favorite writer's market guide (either a print edition or something line writersmarket.com which is online) to look up their guidelines and payments.

Moira Anderson Allen is now the editor of a new biweekly newsletter for writers, "Writing World." Writing World more or less picks up where the recently canceled "Inklings" (of which she was managing editor) left off. "Writing World" offers professional information for writers, including paying online markets. Go here http://www.writing-world.com for more than 160 articles and 400+ links, plus her free biweekly e-mail newsletter.

For current markets, you can sign up for free/inexpensive e-mail newsletters such as THE e-WRITER'S PLACE UPDATE e-LETTER, published by The e-Writer's Place at http://ewritersplace.com

WRITING FOR THE WEB by author/editor Emily A. Vander Veer was a free bi-weekly electronic newsletter for professional web writers that recently ceased publication. However, you can find a HUGE archive of back issue articles on "writing for the web" and online markets here: http://www.topica.com/lists/writingfortheweb/read

Moderator: Can you recommend any books on writing for the web?

Kristi: I mentioned one earlier, writing.com by Moira Anderson Allen. This is a great place to begin. Her book covers, in a very easy to understand format, how to write for online publications, how to find those markets, how to protect electronic rights, uses for e-mail (queries, submissions, interviews, etc.), online critique groups (finding and using them effectively), having a personal web site, and more.

Moderator: What about information on the various ways authors can publish books electronically?

Kristi: The subject is too extensive to cover here, but I would point you to the Feb. 8, 2001 Long Ridge interview called "Electronic Book Publishing" with Sydell Voeller at http://www.longridgewritersgroup.com/rx/tr01/sv_temp.shtml She publishes with online book publishers like Hard Shell, booklocker.com, and New Concepts Publishing, I believe. Her interview is full of helpful information for those ready to publish books electronically.

The specialized server that supports the chat structure crashed at the end of the interview. The chat logs are not available so I cannot access the viewer questions and answers. However, the bulk of the interview was on a disk and is below. Kristi Holl, Web Editor

Moderator: I'm sorry, but we're out of time this evening. Thank you all for coming!

Kristi: I've really enjoyed myself tonight! Do come back in two weeks where popular writer and inspirational speaker Karen O'Connor will be speaking with us about "How to Keep Going When the Going Gets Tough." Now that's a subject we all need to hear about! Until then, good night, everyone!

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