TEN WAYS TO MAKE IT AS A DIGITAL WRITER (AND THEN FADE AWAY)
Some of us wonder, why isn’t my work appearing in more museums, galleries, and festivals around the world? I’ve worked long and hard, I’ve produced the works, so where are the publications? Where are the accolades? Where are the reviews?
For those of us who seek fame and glory, or residency in its suburbs, there are ten ways to make it as a digital writer (and then fade away):
(1) Ok, I’ll admit, you’ll need some skill to succeed as a digital writer. Note, I did not say “talent.” My belief is that talent is overrated. I don’t believe people are born with an innate talent in anything but learning how to do something well.
But whatever that thing is, whether digital writing, or teaching, or knitting sweaters, you need to practice. Creative work really is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration, as most practicing writers will attest to. So if you want to succeed as a digital writer, you have to write. And write. And write. And write.
(2) The second way to make it as a digital writer is to submit your work to every possible venue you can think of. Where do you find calls for work such as ours? My personal favorites are Rhizome.org, NYFA.org, ChrisJoseph.org, and Artservis.org, but there are many other places online where you can find calls for New Media. And yes, make no mistake, digital literature falls into the category of New Media. Don’t be dismayed if the call does not specify New Media–often, I have emailed curators who are looking for “any media” and asked if they would consider my work, and many say yes. They are often ready to experience something new.
While you’re searching for calls, it’s also helpful to look for themes related to pieces you have produced, but even if the theme seems to exclude your work, there is usually a way to write up a description of your submission so it more or less matches what is being called for.
The point here is to submit widely and often. The worst a gallery, museum, or festival can say is no, and even though that might hurt your ego, you can find solace knowing you have a dozen other submissions out there where someone else might say yes.
And how hard is it to submit to these calls? If your work is online, it is not hard at all. Usually, a submission involves emailing a brief description of the work, a link to the work (plus, when required, a description of its display needs), a brief bio, and you’re done. If the submission process requires a CD of the work, you simply burn it and pack it off in the mails with the customary customs disclosure.
Do not worry about submitting the same piece to multiple venues. For offline exhibitions in galleries and museums, there is little chance that a curator is going to have a problem with your piece appearing in their gallery and also in some other gallery half a world away. For online festivals and galleries, it gets a bit more restricted, but it is rare that the time frame of one online venue will overlap with another. Online journals are the most restrictive of all: usually, they require the piece to be unpublished, but that does not necessarily mean the piece can not have appeared on your website, blog(s), or even an offline venue. When in doubt, check with the journal.
One last thing: use good etiquette. Follow the rules of engagement, and be pleasant. Most of these venues will be receiving hundreds, if not thousands of entries, and they like being treated with deference and respect. They may not be artists themselves (although some of them certainly are!), but since handing out rejections is part of their job description, sometimes they are berated for their choices and subjected to hatred and ridicule. So treat them nice.
(3) Do #2 again, and again, and again until you see how, if you kept it up, this could be a full-time job….
(4) If you have a website (and shame on you if you don’t!), add a subscription box that allows people to join your email list. If they do, have it set up to automatically send them an email thanking them for joining. Then create a master email list in Entourage or some other email program and blast a message whenever you have published a new work or have something important to share.
(5) Another handy strategy is linking with other sites. (I don’t do this nearly enough, so let me take this opportunity to say right now, if you want to trade links with me, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.) Beware of websites that offer you high rankings on Google or other search engines–the best way to get traffic to your website is through dedicated links.
(6) Use a traffic statistic counter like sitemeter.com to monitor how much traffic you have and where it is coming from. This will give you a good idea as to who is visiting your site, what organization (if any) they are affiliated with, and what pieces of yours they are looking at. On a number of occasions, because of my statistic counter, I have discovered mentions of my work on the web, or have seen where a piece of mine might be appearing next. Sometimes, when I discover myself on a blog or a class syllabus, I have reached out to the instructors or writers, just to say hello and tell them how appreciative I am.
(7) Promote yourself. I know this is a dirty concept. It’s like the smelly, alcoholic aunt you keep locked in the attic, but it’s good to bring her out every once in a while to mingle with your guests. Throw a cocktail party and let your aunt pass the hors d’oeuvres. Let her romp around the room breathing sweet nothings into people’s ears and refilling their drinks. Let her praise YOU and describe in glorious detail what YOU have done that makes her so proud. Of course, you are your aunt, but it may make your self-promotion easier if it’s only a simple matter of cross-dressing.
But if you’re going to promote yourself, when you can, throw in a plug for your friends or for digital literature at large. If people think you’re just in it for yourself, they might figure you don’t play well with others.
(8) Get involved with organizations or causes which promote digital literature. It doesn’t have to be the Electronic Literature Organization or the Electronic Poetry Center. Try curating an exhibition of digital literature (online or off). Try emailing a journal or gallery or museum and asking them if they would like you to collect a few samples of elit to show on their site. Try reaching out to radio stations, magazines, newspapers, and local arts centers and cajoling them into looking at what digital writers have to offer. The worst they can do is say no. And if they say no, have their lack of interest merely strengthen your resolve to bring the avant-garde to the mainstream.
(9) Don’t wait to get your work in front of the public. Interest in digital literature is growing, and now is the time to get in on the action. Over time, with a growing pool of works, the competition will be stiffer, and there will be fewer opportunities to have your work accepted.
In other words, do #4 –¬¬ #8 again, and again, and again….
(10) Or don’t do any of the above. Don’t do anything at all. Wait for your fans to come to you. And wait. And wait. And wait.
If you wait long enough, I can almost guarantee you will fade away and never be heard of again.