Writer Wednesday: Print Publishing vs. Digital Publishing

Some writers count the print publications on their bookshelves like Shark Week producers count flesh wounds. Our print publications are our trophies, our proof that we walked through fire and succeeded. If a writer feels insecure about a snarky rejection letter or a bad review, one glance at the Shelf Of Glory restores the world to its rightful place.

But here’s the thing: The Shelf of Glory might be just a pick and trowel away from becoming an archeological heritage site. Sure, it’s fun to invite your new neighbors over for cocktails, with your proud panoply of publications on display in a tastefully lighted bookshelf. But in the larger global market, is publishing your work in print formats still the absolute and unerring best way to be published?

The digital vs. print debate has been raging for a while. But not everyone can see that this isn’t an apples-or-oranges situation. Before you publish in today’s marketplace, be sure you know these pros and cons!

Print Pros
1. Books rock. The Shelf of Glory is glorious. You can hold those precious bound pages in your fingers. And your printed prose is introduced to the world in the same way the words of writers from Austen to Atwood first saw the light of day. You're part of a great continuum. People might be inclined to take you more seriously if you’re in print. Your mom will be proud.
2. Libraries and bookstores can stock your book on their shelves—their actual, physical shelves. And your readers don’t need fancy technology to enjoy your work.
3. You can hold book signings. Because you have an actual, physical book. To sign.

Print Cons
1. Low print runs. Print runs are usually quite small for literary journals, and book publishers keep a miserly eye on their print runs too.
2. Un-Googleable. Printed poems and stories often don’t appear online. And you know that ancient credo: “I am Googleable, therefore I am.”
3. Print books are expensive; they can’t compete with e-books for pricing.

And now, let’s turn our attention to this corner: Weighing in at next to nothing, it’s...e-publishing!

E-Pub Pros
1. Viral-ity. When you get something published online, it can be emailed, shared via social media, etc. With a little luck, it may go viral, resulting in many unique visitors for your unique work!

2. E-book sales and online journal subscribers are unlimited because of low overhead costs to the publishers.

3. You show up on Google as a writer. That’s important—to agents, editors and your mom.

E-Pub Cons
1. Some people—and we’re not going to name names—have yet to acknowledge that e-publishing is, right now, a tremendous literary force. Which means that some e-journals and online presses are still fighting for literary legitimacy.

2. Your gram can’t bring a copy of your new book or poem publication to bingo night unless she prints it out. Poor gram! She wants bragging rights!

3. Lower prices. They seem great—unless you’re not selling many books.

The Gray Area

When you publish online, you can receive almost instant feedback via email or comments. When you respond, you build relationships with readers that might bring enjoyment, friendships, new ideas, helpful tips, constructive criticism and loyalty to your future work. (Readers can click to find your past work as well.)

But there are also Internet-interaction drawbacks, including the possibility of getting hateful comments (Not everybody in cyberspace has good manners!). And you may have less time for the solo task of crafting new creative work because you’re fiddling around on Facebook.

Also, while you often have more space to write online than in print, many (but not all) literary journals favor small word counts because online readers tend to favor shorter works. What a catch-22!

The Moral of the Story

In our opinion, the debate over e-pubs or print is outdated. Yep–it’s soooo 2008. However, as a writer, you owe it to yourself to know the pros and cons.

Now that you’ve got the lay of the land, check out this related blog post: "To Print or to E-Pub? That is NOT The Question." Learn how to avoid the pit of literary obsoleteness!

Hey, writers! Did you notice that our list is incomplete? What are some other pros and cons of print vs. online/digital publishing? Let us know in the comments!

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