by Gabrielle Linnell
In the pursuit of publication (a pursuit one might liken to American Idol or traditional English foxhunting), it's a temptation to get too eager. For writers of novels, sometimes vanity presses ("publishers" that take your money and your rights in return for a few copies of your book) look so easy when compared to the real deal. For writers of short fiction, critique or sharing sites can be equally tempting. Don't give in!
When I say critique/share sites, I mean places where anyone can post their story, without monetary compensation or editorial management. Why should you avoid these?
Plagiarism bait. If your story is really good, it's easier for people to swipe it on the internet. It would be terrible if your magnum opus appeared in XYZ mag under someone else's byline. This would also be very hard to prove because most sites have authors use usernames (like krazyfrog123.)
Bad critique. Random critiques are almost never useful. You will get either snarked at or be told you're the next Big Name, all by people who aren't doing it for your best interests. If you want a good peer critique, ask two or three friends who love reading and love you enough to be honest. This can be helpful-- and there's no risk of plagiarism.
Get published already. If you want to be a published writer, you need to focus your writing energies on that by becoming a better writer (improving technique, style and voice) and pursuing publication (understanding the business and acting upon knowledge.) Don't waste your stories on places where you won't get paid or acknowledged!
Now, don't freak. There are many good small e-zines that are perfectly legit and won't hurt your career. How can you tell a small e-zine from a snarky critique site? Ask, does it have an editor? If there's somebody who reviews submissions before posting, chances are it's a goodie (if there are set editorial guidelines and highlights, that's good too.) If anyone can post anytime, look elsewhere.
And also, have people heard of it/written for it? Say there's a Star Wars SmallZine. Do people refer to SmallZine on Star Wars blogs? Have other young writers been published happily there?
Fan fiction sites are an anomaly because they sometimes have editors and submissions review, but they are not real clips. Write for them if you want, but please don't list them in a query as an example of publication. Please! I beg you!
Gabrielle Linnell has written for Cobblestone, FACES, New Moon, Byline and other magazines. Her fan fiction writing is limited to an attempt at a Harry Potter book. In her defense, it was like seven years ago when it was totally cool and unique to do so. I think.