For Better, For Worse

Musings on the future of writing and publishing in the digital age.

by Ed Robson, Fiction and Poetry Reader

There’s good news and bad news for writers in the digital age, that much is certain. What I’m trying to sort out is, which is which?

Publishing is easier than ever. Getting published is harder than ever.

Everyone can write. Anyone can write.

More people are writing poetry. More people are reading poetry. Fewer people are buying poetry.

The opportunities. The competition.

The technology.

We’re doomed, it seems, to live and write in interesting times. Still, I do see some signs that to my mind look encouraging. For instance:

  1. The Internet can monetize your popularity. The digital marketplace for literature, as for other forms of art, is tough. Most people who upload their work, even if it’s really good, will never see a cent for it. But platforms are appearing now that make a point of rewarding content creators who get hits. The first few poems, blogposts, or stories you post may not make enough to buy a sandwich, but if you are persistent, and if your writing is appealing to an audience of primarily millenials, and IF TODAY’S YOUR LUCKY DAY, the next one may tweak someone’s fancy and you’ll start to build a fan base.
  2.  Micropoets. Atticus is only one of several poets whose haiku-length musings regularly reach six-figure fan bases in Instagram and other platforms. I’m not saying we should all start posting 6- to 12-word poems on our social media–it must be harder than it looks, right? But I think it’s safe to say, there are niches yet to be discovered in a world where billions of people seem to live with eyes locked on their cell phones.
  3.  Print on Demand. Everybody knows you can’t make money selling books made out of paper, right? But a few publishers have started taking advantage of the new printing technology that prints and binds single books, one at a time, never more than have been ordered and paid for. POD is still utilized more by the vanity publishing industry, but little houses are appearing now that can say “Yes!” to any book they really like. It’s still largely up to authors to do most of their own marketing, but with waste of unsold books eliminated, publisher and author both make money on every single sale.
  4.  The Opportunity for Digital Litmags. The literary world continues to need journals that select and promote good writing, but publications must adapt to digital reality. Consumers reading on their phones want easy access to searchable content that allows them to select one item at a time. Internet readers will be loyal to journals with specific niche appeal. The Arkana staff, you can be sure, is paying close attention to these trends.

Ask a writer why they write, they’ll tell you it’s just what they have to do. For better or worse, we’re married to those words upon the page, whatever form that page may take.

And that’s good news, because the world–now more than ever–needs that thing we do.

Ed Robson is a retired clinical psychologist from Winston-Salem, NC.  His poetry has recently appeared in The Hungry Chimera, Right Hand Pointing, Failed Haiku, and Perfume River Poetry Review.  His current works in progress include novels, short fiction, and creative non-fiction.  Between writing assignments he enjoys cycling and cooking.  Past pursuits he hopes he’ll someday have time to reactivate include camping, mineral collecting, gardening, woodworking, and silversmithing.  His role models are mostly teenagers, especially Emma Gonzales and Malala Yousafzai, and he secretly suspects the Hokey Pokey may in fact be what it’s all about.

Page or Pixel

An exploration of how, because of technology, times in the publishing industry are a-changing.

by C.F. Lindsey, Fiction Reader

Fellow Arkanasans, let’s talk digital. We, in case you were unaware, live in a world of pixels. Life is defined by our online presences and the content which we post. Your life—as of this moment—is consumed by the words I am presenting to you on your computer screen. Let’s take a moment to marvel in this amazing process: my thoughts are being presented to you, from far and wide, via a piping of digital content through space and time to compile in front of your face in the form of constantly-firing-pixels, delineating visual expression to your cognitive reality. This is an amazing process, beyond my meager comprehension as a mere purveyor of words; however, it presents a question to me as a curator of the literary form: what is the future of literature within this digital age? Editor of the journal AGNI, Sven Birkerts—in his article “Reading the Tea Leaves: Notations on the Changing Look of the Literary”, states “Change itself is changing” (3). What does this mean for our futures, dear writers? One thing is for certain in that the future is quite simple: we can adapt to change or be swept underneath the rug of society. In the words of the Nobel Prize winner in Literature Bob Dylan, “for the times they are a-changin’.”

Now, I want to start with addressing the groaning feeling of despair that some of you, if you are anything like me, might be feeling when it comes to this subject. As someone who studies classic, canonical literature, and has an extreme love for the feel of paper between my fingers, this concept of a digital take-over can seem quite bleak. What does this mean for the classic practice of leafing through a novel or the sleek, glossy pages of your favorite lit mag? Birkerts, on the one hand, would lead you to believe that this is an abysmal move that surely spells out the doom of the literary arts as we know it. The key phrase here is “as we know it.” Is the changing of literature a bad thing? I particularly think not, but you have your own opinions, dear readers. In his article, Birkerts discusses a subway trip on his way to the airport while thinking on the matter of change. He says that this digital change “…was already in place. Every person in that car was either staring at a phone or reading pad, or standing with a faraway look in her eyes and a wire in her ear” (6). The change is happening or already has happened, friends. The way we communicate, disseminate information, speak, hear, see, the very fabric of human operation is changing. On one hand, this is exquisitely exhilarating in the means that we are breaking down barriers of differences and emerging in a world without definitions and classifications. We, the world, are becoming a community through the push of technological advancement. According to Birkerts, however, the one area that is lacking in this technological push is the literary. Birkerts discusses a 2014 article from the Washington Post by Matt McFarland discussing this lack of transformation when it comes to the publishing industry. “Technology has reshaped everything from how we communicate to how we find a mate or a job. Yet the experience of reading books remains largely untransformed, and the popularity of books has suffered in the face of flashier media formats that are perfected for our busy world” (9). Birkerts continues his discussion on this subject by stating how, without changing the way literature is presented to readers, the future will be bleak for writers and readers alike. The article, sadly, continues on this sorrowful tempo for the remainder of Birkerts discussion.

I don’t know about you, but I’m about ready for some good news right now after delving into such a pit of sorrow. There is hope, dear readers. Three articles discussing the same subject—from authors Matthew Stadler, Sandra Beasley, and Sian Cain—put a more positive spin on the moves of literature in the digital age. Beasley’s article, published through Poets and Writers, discusses the growing number of online literary journals, such as Arkana itself, versus the print journals that have always occupied the literary spectrum. This growth, as Beasley states, is not only visible in the number of online lit mags popping up, but how the “prestige” of publishing is shining through the scope of these online publications. In the past, let’s say 10 years ago, the game of publishing was dominated by print with the opportunity of online publishing being scoffed at as for the amateur writer. If you wanted to play in the literary game, you aimed to see your name in print. Today, however—according to Beasley, “…modern writers are increasingly defined by the work they have available online. Those serious about developing a career have to think about managing that virtual dimension” and the best way to accomplish this is to “…read online journals, evaluate them, and send them work you’re proud to have associated with your name” (Beasley 2).

There is no doubt that literature is shifting with the times, despite the beliefs of some, and this is good news for us. Another question to be considered, though: is this shift permanent? Matthew Stadler, in his article “The Ends of the Book: Reading, Economies and Publics,” believes in another possibility. He touches very minutely on the shift to online, instead tending to focus on reading/publishing versus shopping mentalities and how we, the literary community, have to abandon the latter to protect the former. His solution to the falling popularity of literary publishing is to implement an on-demand printing system. This seems to coincide with Sian Cain’s findings that—through a survey—62% of 16-24 year olds prefer reading from print, breaking from the rising popularity of online media. Whether this model will be of any effect on the literary community seems unlikely, but is yet to be determined.

Despite anyone’s preference between print or digital publishing, one thing is certain: the scape of the literary world is changing. Magazines, such as Arkana, are at the forefront of this movement by supplying a place for marginalized or unheard voices to make their opinions and beliefs known through the literary arts. No matter the shifts in the landscape of our community, I am confident that literature will thrive in magazines like Arkana, and many others, due to the passion that is put forth by the authors and publishers alike. I look forward to seeing where the future, and the growing opportunities in publishing, will take us. Until then, happy reading, my friends.

C.F. Lindsey is full-time writer and part-time fly fishing guide pursuing his MFA in Fiction at the University of Central Arkansas. After shirking a promising law career, C.F. hopped a train before landing on a riverbank where he began writing fiction. His works have been featured in The Wilderness House Literary Review, The Wagon Magazine, Heavy Feather Review, Nebo: A Literary Journal, and other online and print publications. He resides in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains with his wife and two dogs.

Can We Make Money Like Web Comics?

A conversation paraphrased in comic form.

by Shua Miller, Scriptwriting Editor

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I formed all of my opinions from reading these articles:

“Web Comics Send Readers Looking for Books” by Douglas Wolk

“Web Comics: Page Clickers to Page Turners” by Heidi MacDonald

“Inside the Economics of Digital Comics with Todd Allen” by Rob Salkowitz

“Trotman Talks Templar” by Brigid Alverson


Shua Miller is a candidate in the Arkansas Writers MFA Workshop and a producer/director/actor/designer/tech guy at The Lantern Theatre. He writes a little of everything, including about himself in the third person. You can follow his tweets of nonsense.


Art: There’s an App for That

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Musings on multimedia storytelling, art, and apps.

 by Cassie Hayes, Fiction Editor

On Monday, publishing house Simon & Schuster, partnered with Paragraph, launched a new campaign to let readers spend time with characters from beloved books. Using actors and technology, such as smart phones, apps, and recent breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, this new initiative will focus on bringing literature alive and creating a more intimate storytelling experience. “We use to invite readers to enter into a book’s universe,” said Stephen Bedford, Senior Marketing Manager for Simon & Schuster. “With the ‘Meet the Character’ initiative we are inviting the book to enter our universe, forming more personal connections between reader and text. Have coffee with Captain Ahab. Go bowling with Harry Potter. Explore a haunted house with Jane Eyre…”

Okay, okay, the above paragraph isn’t completely true. There’s no ‘Meet the Character’ initiative, no way to tour New York with Holden Caulfield or go to a movie with Jo March—not outside your imagination, at least. That’s what you get for trusting a fiction writer.

But that’s not to say that what I said was completely false, either.

Take a look at the app Crave, for instance. Simon & Schuster, partnered with the company Paragraph, really DID launch Crave back in 2015, and the app’s point is to create a more intimate connection between authors and readers of romantic fiction. In the article “Simon & Schuster Launches Serial Fiction App for Romance Superfans” on bookbusinessmag.com, Crave is described as a subscription service in which “users choose the author they want to subscribe to and receive daily installments of her latest work before that novel is sold to the public. The subscription also comes with extra content that enhances the story, like video featuring the main characters and messages from the author.” In this age of Twitter and algorithms, readers want—dare I say, crave—to be personally connected with authors and texts. Apps that offer exclusive extras, like Crave, or apps that create interactive storytelling experiences are some of the ways in which publishers are adapting to and taking advantage of digital technology to engage readers.

Book apps are also in the business of engaging readers with interactive, multi-modal storytelling, and, at least for picture, coloring, and comic books, business is booming. Picture book apps offer games, sound effects, music, animation, and narration for to hold kids’ attention when mom or dad allows some screen time, as long as it’s educational.

But, when pondering stories told through apps, I’m always reminded of Rudyard Kipling’s lines:

When the flush of a newborn sun fell first on Eden’s green and gold,
Our father Adam sat under the Tree and scratched with a stick in the mold;
And the first rude sketch that the world had seen was joy to his mighty heart,
Till the Devil whispered behind the leaves: “It’s pretty, but is it Art?”

So what, we can entertain kids with picture book apps? Kids are actually pretty easy to entertain. I mean, when I was a kid I played with cardboard boxes, bubble wrap, and tin foil. So we can add animation and sound effects to comic books? Hollywood’s been doing that for years. So we can color in pictures on our phone while waiting in line for coffee or while trying to avoid conversation with a coworker? We’ve always been pretty great at wasting time.

Sure, apps that offer interactive storytelling experiences are interesting, maybe even educational, but are they capital-A Art?

Or, perhaps the more important question is—do they have the potential to be Art?

In the article “Picture Book Apps and the Case of the Vanishing Author,” writer Sandy McDowell bemoans that picture book authors don’t adapt their talents to help app designers tell better stories with apps. She points out three ways in which picture book authors are already primed to help develop apps—picture book authors are already multi-modal writers, they know about user experience and design, and a lot about app development is the same as picture book development.

And, McDowell claims, “even the best animation or the most speedy download can’t save a bad story.”

Reading has always been interactive and personalized, and storytelling has always been multi-modal. A fascinating irony about all this new-fangled technology is that the more we get away from humans doing stuff on their own, the more we learn about ourselves—the more we can’t escape ourselves.

The more we can’t escape our stories.

Therein lies the Art. Yeah, a lot of apps in the publishing world are about bells and whistles. A lot of them exist to make money. A lot of them are escapist video games disguised as books. And a lot of them are going to have their heyday on the AppStore and then disappear. But as long as they are telling stories, there is the potential for an app to give a reader a burst of insight and emotion that forces him/her to look up from his/her digital daydreams and see the world anew.

There’s no telling where digital storytelling is going to take us in the future. Digital technology is blurring the lines between fact and fiction, casting into flux the idea of identity. Already with stuff like Comic-Con and Snapchat filters, we see people shape-shifting into their favorite characters or wearing digital masks. With alternative reality technology, people are finding new ways to escape into video games and the digital world. With apps like Crave, romance readers can now see and interact with their fantasies. So maybe before long you WILL be able to have coffee with Captain Ahab or go bowling with Harry Potter.

But hopefully the farther we escape the more we will come to appreciate reality, life, the human experience.

And perhaps that appreciation will come from a small voice whispering: “It’s fun, but is it Art?”

Cassie Hayes is a fiction writer and sometime taco-maker from Waxahachie, Texas. She graduated with her bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Texas at Arlington and now attends the Arkansas Writers MFA Program and interns at the Oxford American.