Writers Can Reach
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.
There's a lesson here for every writer, political or otherwise.
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 a
$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, etc. If none accepts it, I
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"
My last article, on the rapid rise of Americans who don't attend
church, appeared on 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
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.
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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
email@example.com, by phone at 304-348-5199 and by fax at
304-348-1233. His Web site is