How Can Good Writing Survive Online?
A year-end letter from Electric Literature’s executive director
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As I prepared to write this letter, in which, full disclosure, I will eventually ask you for money, I did what I always do at the end of year: I reflected on all the shitty things that happened in the world and all the great things Electric Literature did in our corner of the literary internet. We reached over 5 million page views, launch a Read More Women campaign that inspired our readers, and published exceptional writers whose work is urgent and necessary.
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This achievements are significant, and worth bragging about. But this year, as a more websites shuttered, and as we prepare to launch our own newly designed website in 2019, I was preoccupied by another question. How can literature not only survive, but thrive online?
A few days ago, one of our Recommended Reading contributors, Michelle Hart, shared her story “Hiddensee” on Twitter on the occasion of her birthday. I dashed off a quick comment: “This story is incredible and everyone should read it.” But something about it didn’t sit right with me. “Hiddensee” is incredible, yes, but it’s not true that everyone should read it. It’s a story about a young woman’s affair with a much older woman — her professor — and how the relationship both damages and engenders the young woman’s world view. It’s a tremendous piece of writing — the humor is harsh and unforgiving, the ethics ambiguous — and it’s not for everyone. No story is.
Literature thrives on direct, one-to-one connection. No matter how many people read a certain book or story, the experience is always personal. The markers of success online are not designed to reward writers for making people think, or cry, or miss their subway stop, but those are the benchmarks we continue to chase. I’m proud of our 5 million page views this year, but what I’m most proud of is something harder to quantify: how much we care about the people behind those page views. We’re not just here to rack up numbers; we’re here to convene a literary community that is exciting and inclusive, and to publish work that entertains, comforts, and challenges the members of that community.
Sometimes this ethos makes it harder to survive. There’s money in doing the least for the most. But we wouldn’t be able to thrive without attention, appreciation, and contributions from you, our literary community.
This year, we hope you’ll include us in your year-end giving by making a contribution to Electric Literature today. (It’s tax-deductible, so if you’re looking for a way to offset your massive freelance earnings, this is the perfect opportunity!)
But no matter what (if anything) you’re able to give, please remember that support is not only financial. It means reading what we publish, sharing it with friends, and submitting your work. It means making it to the end of this very long email. So if you’re still with me, thank you.
Executive Director, Electric Literature