• Permanence, Changability and Online Publishing

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in WBN News & Events     Comments 2 comments

    I had an unusual experience recently in the middle of rolling out pieces for Anomalous #2, which we decided to parse out over the three months of the issue as I mentioned in the last post. Also in the middle of production for Anomalous #3, which of course takes a while (all the formats) and happens a month or more before the issue launch. I got an email from the founding editor of another journal (which we’ll call “Z” for ease of reference) asking me to make a change to an author’s bio in Anomalous #2. This author wrote that s/he was an editor at Z. Just before the Anomalous #2 launched, according to the founding editor, the author left Z. Apparently, from the way the founding editor wrote, under very unpleasant circumstances. So the founding editor of Z asked me to delete the reference to the author being an editor at Z.

    I found this request strange, and somewhat hostile, if not towards me at least towards my author. The founding editor said that the author was being disingenuous in including it in their bio. I wrote back clarifying that the information was true at the time we concluded production of the issue, thinking that it was an end to it. No one was lying to anyone, things just changed. But the founding editor persisted. Demanded I make the change. Again accused the author of lying to me, and then implied that we were lax in checking the facts of our author’s bios.

    So there are a couple of issues this raises. One is etiquette. But the other, perhaps more interesting, is about medium and changeability. Because the web is a medium in which information not only can but is expected to change, to keep up-to-date, does that mean that information in web-format publications should be changed when it becomes out of date?

    Before tackling that, let me just say for the record that I think it’s incredibly presumptuous to demand changes to someone else’s bio, no matter the reason. I also think it’s bad form to demand an editor make changes to their journal’s content, unless there is some major deception. For example, if in my bio I wrote that I founded Poetry Magazine and was an editor at The Diagram (both blatant lies); I could understand someone from Poetry or The Diagram asking for that information to be corrected. But the fact of the matter in our case was that the situation changed.

    Ok, so the question I found myself discussing with anyone who would listen was whether or not an online publication could be expected to make post-production changes to the information in their author’s bios. We go through production for five formats, only one of them is the website. We start with the website, using that as the copy for our four other formats. As a policy, we think of the issue as concluded two weeks before launch, because we need those two weeks for publicity (so important!). We don’t make changes to content for our authors after production closes, unless it’s a huge major typo and/or omission. But since we’re a volunteer-run multi-format pub (and boy does that take a lot of work) we just can’t leave the door open for ongoing changes. That’s our policy. Once production is wrapped, the issue is done, just as though it were being printed on paper and bound.

    My sense is even when it is possible in terms of labor and production, it isn’t quite right to make these kinds of changes. I like thinking of each issue as a snapshot of a moment in time. Technically, that moment is not (for us) the moment of the issue’s launch, but the moment we finish production two weeks before that. But close enough for jazz, right? There’s something wonderful about thinking that this issue represents the literary lives of our authors for that moment, that though that moment is passed it is still preserved. But this is, of course, a very print way of thinking about publishing.

    I wonder though, for online-only journals that don’t have quite the insane amount of production we do, whether policies might be different. Does anyone have any experience of things being changed weeks, months or even years after a work is published online? What do you think about the idea that journals could do this? Should they?


    Erica Mena is Founding Editor of Anomalous Press. She writes poetry, and translates, and makes hand-made books, and sometimes wishes she were braver. She moves more often than once a year, but never without her growing collection of mythical animals. She has been called Alluringly Short.


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    I couldn’t agree with you more, Erica. From a purely logistical standpoint, can you imagine keeping track of every single mention of you and your work in the infinite space of the Internet and updating each one every time you add a credit or make an advancement in your career? I have a hard enough time keeping my LinkedIn profile up-to-date. Additionally–and perhaps more interestingly–I resonate to the idea that “each issue [is] a snapshot of a moment in time.” I think it’s both that, and more than that: The bio itself is a snapshot of a moment in time… Read more »

    Erica Mena

    Justine, I have the same response when I look at my old bios! And even some of my more recent bios. Still, there’s a pleasure in the idea of permanence, even artificial and manufactured permanence….

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