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    March 11, 2008



    Obviously it's crazy for MFA students to be forced into online publication they cannot control, on work that may be damaging in - - how shall I say it? - - the prematurity of its author's potential. For most writers, of course, our first stories are practice, and embarrassingly bad. But it's also interesting how this whole "new media" angle is being played, especially as here in LA we've just enduring Hollywood's power-players scoffing at screenwriters' concerns about new media. While, you know, vying to control it.

    New media matters, and everyone knows it. It's a farce to pretend otherwise.

    When I was a student at Iowa, I specifically remember a friend looking up Kevin Brockmeier's thesis and his incredulity that a story collected there (near ten years earlier) had just that month appeared nearly unchanged in the New Yorker. Clearly it was better that the story was not in print online before that, or it would not have been eligible for the NYer.


    As a future librarian, I can't say that this is necessarily shocking nor does it concern me. Essentially, it means that I will have a job when I graduate--at least one that would include digitizing PhD dissertations. Although, I am really crossing my fingers for a cataloging job. No really. I'm nerdy like that.

    As a (future?) creative writer... I suppose if someone is reading my work now, I would wonder a) why they were doing so, b) feel a bit sorry for them, or c) think "Hey, that's kind of neat."

    Open source is something that is happening. More and more technology keeps pointing toward it, and while the humanity side of me really wants to fight this. The technologist side thinks, "No. This could be cool. It might be a bit clunky at first, but this could work."

    Kyle Minor

    KKB is right, and we worried about this at Ohio State, too, where, fortunately, only doctoral dissertations, not master's theses, were forced into electronic dissemination.

    For fiction writers, the best venues will only accept work that has not been previously published. These electronic rights agreements constitute publication available worldwide. It is a poor publication to be sure -- no built-in audience, no method for promotion, no participation in the monetary rewards for your labor. If my novella "A Day Meant to Do Less," for example, had been first made available through one of these library schemes, The Gettysburg Review would not have published it, and then it would not have been eligible for Best American Mystery Stories 2008, which will be, for me, an opportunity to reach the largest number of readers I've ever had.

    So, yes, the consequences are huge, and the people making the decisions are not mindful of the interests of the people doing the work.

    I should hasten to add that this does not just impact fiction writers, but academics, too. I know several recent Ph.D.'s, for example, whose dissertations would have been published as first books by scholarly presses if they hadn't already been available electronically. The consequence is that the work, which could have been used as currency for the pursuit of the jobs and tenure that would make possible more good work, has instead been devalued. It won't aid the author who gave years to its making; it won't appear between covers on library shelves; it will simply go away.

    This is a sad state of affairs, and what's saddest about it is that the very universities who ought to have the best interests of their graduates at heart have sold them out for the pittance (money, yes) that these compulsory digital rights agreements have netted the universities, in return.


    Sarah, I don't know why you say KKB is right, when you clearly disagree (and when he or she is clearly wrong!).

    It's a huge mistake to think of this in terms of open source (or, still wrong, but better, open content). It's about control of first publication.

    For example, The Gettysburg Review could decide on a policy of open content. That wouldn't have affected Sarah's decision to submit there, or her pleasure at her work being accepted, or the "Best Mystery" outcome, nor - and this is the key fact - the inability for all of that to have happened if the story had been published by her university first as part of an ETD policy.

    Of course it's cool and great that creative writing master's theses and everything else gets online, as part of a university archive. It would be permanently available and easily found. What could be cooler than that? I have any number of online acquaintances who might think to themselves, one lazy Sunday afternoon, "Hey, where did he say he graduated from? I think it was The New School. I think I'll just go check out his master's thesis."

    The problem is one of timing. The author of the work needs to be able to decide if that's its first or the second publication. That's the only issue here that anyone seems to have.

    Dan Wickett


    I just want to be clear here - it appears that you actually agree with KKB, and with Kyle, but wonder why Sarah (who doesn't appear to) agrees with KKB.

    Kyle, agrees with KKB, that to put these online is wrong, that it will harm his, and other author's chances of seeing these stories (or poems) they work on as their theses, ever having a chance at publication elsewhere.

    Sarah, as the future librarian, isn't very concerned.

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    Isn't publication of a thesis, creative or otherwise, a requirement for graduation? And come on, "library schemes?" Printed theses and disserations cost libraries money, and they're already facing extreme budget cuts. Also, it takes up needed space and hinders scholarly communication. In the old model, anyone could visit your institution's library, view your thesis, and photocopy it, image it, or write about it. The work is not yours to control, but a requirement for graduation. Why not have a longer embargo period?

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