WRITERS CAN REACH MULTITUDES, MULTITUDES

 

(Writers & Authors, Author magazine and FirstWriter, all Fall 2011)

 

By James A. Haught

 

In 2002, elderly Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia gave fervent Senate floor speeches against the looming U.S. invasion of Iraq. But the Washington press corps ignored him. He drew little coverage nationwide by newspapers, television news or wire services. Byrd's voice was mostly lost.

Then an amazing thing happened. That global marvel, the Internet, took command. War opponents began e-mailing Byrd's speeches to friends, who forwarded them to others. Before long, they had spread to thousands of Americans, plus more thousands overseas. His words blanketed the planet, spontaneously, spread by avid readers. They were posted on many Web sites for everyone to read. Byrd became an international hero to war-questioners. His speeches were assembled into a book, Losing America: Confronting a Reckless and Arrogant Presidency. Since Byrd's 2010 death, the book remains a testament to the power of his mind.

There's a lesson here for every writer (not a politics lesson, but one regarding how to deliver your words to the world).  It's a new ball game. The Internet is the mother of all outlets. Editors (like me) still decide what is printed on paper and broadcast on airwaves, but we don't control the wide-open, gigantic, all-reaching, worldwide conduit in Cyber Land. Traditional channels of information still exist, perhaps still dominate, but they aren't the only route. A brand-new way for writers to find multitudes of readers is available at the click of a mouse.

There's no money in it. You must be willing to donate your work, just for the satisfaction of communicating with many. But that's immensely rewarding. Let's face it: There's little cash in freelance writing, anyway.  In addition to running West Virginia's largest newspaper, I've written nine books and seventy magazine essays. The books have modest sales (9,000 max) and I never got more than $1,500 advance for each.  I tell people that my private author career pays ten cents an hour.  Thank heaven for my day job.

However, like most writers, I have a compulsion that never stops. I can't quit articulating ideas for people to read.  And now I'm funneling part of my output through the Internet. Here's how:

My private writing is mostly in the skeptic-agnostic-freethought-doubter-anticlerical zone. When I hatch a new essay, I offer it first to specialty magazines in that field: Free Inquiry (where I'm a senior editor), Freethought Today, Skeptic, The Humanist, American Atheist, Secular World, The Freethinker, Secular Humanist Bulletin, UU World, International Humanist News, American Rationalist, etc. If none accepts it, I turn to a huge array of Web sites pushing the same mission.  It's almost effortless -- just hit "send," no postage required. I e-mail it to fifty, eighty or more. (There are so many I can't count them.) Numerous sites post my pieces, then other sites post "mirror" copies.

My last article, on the rapid rise of Americans who don't attend church, appeared in nearly a hundred Web sites, plus a couple of printed magazines. My latest, on the baffling enigma of zealots who kill themselves to commit mass murder, has spread to more than thirty sites so far. The essays draw comments, and readers send them to friends via "social networking."

The Internet contains hundreds of "online communities." In addition to skeptic sites, there are others for every imaginable interest: parakeet-lovers, human rights crusaders, backpackers, antique car buffs, Latvian-Americans, chess fiends, feminists, cigar aficionados, ex-convicts, Renaissance troubadour experts, spelunkers, the deaf, Pentecostal church members, gays, muzzle-loader gun shooters, archeology fans, poetry-lovers, families of murder victims, skydivers -- you name it.

Whatever your focus in writing, a ready-made outlet awaits. If magazine or book editors don't want your work, just fling it into the brave new digital realm. Search for sites that address your topic, then click the "contact" spot, and offer it to the world. In doing so, you escape the insolence of office: the arrogance of print-on-paper editors who never answer your inquiries or demand endless rewrites.

I'm chiefly absorbed in the nonfiction marketplace of ideas: the eternal tussle of beliefs, ideologies, social causes, worldviews. But the Internet offers just as many opportunities for fiction and feature writers. Hundreds of short story and poetry sites exist, along with all those topical groups -- each awaiting submissions.

Moliere said: "Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for the love of it, then you do it for a few friends, and finally you do it for money."  If you limit yourself to stages one and two, forgoing stage three, the Internet will let you reach multitudes, multitudes.

(Haught is editor of The Charleston Gazette in West Virginia, and also is a senior editor of Free Inquiry magazine. He has won 20 national newswriting awards and is listed in Who's Who in America and Contemporary Authors. He can be reached by e-mail at haught@wvgazette.com, by phone at 304-348-5199 and by fax at 304-348-1233. His Web site is http://www.wvinter.net/~haught.)