An Interview With Gary Gach

by Editor
The Internet Writing Journal, August 1997

Gary Gach is the bestselling author of the books A Pocket Guide to the Internet and Writers.net, published by Prima Publishing. He is a former freelance journalist, and is a noted expert on the Internet and its effect on journalism and writing as well as on China, its politics and its society. He has taught about the Internet and its use for writers in his popular classes at the University of California at Berkley Extension program.
Gary Gach Picture
Photo by Danna Schaeffer, BookRadio.com
In Writers.net, he gives writers of every medium valuable insight into using the Net in many aspects of their writing. His prose, poetry and translations have been published in more than a hundred magazines, and a dozen anthologies, including American Book Review, American Cinematographer, American Poetry Review, American Reporter, New Asia Review and The City Lights Review. He recently created a five-hour video teaching the Internet for use in China. His forthcoming titles include The Last Emperor 2 and Adventures in Haikuland. We caught up with Gary just before he left for a trip to China.

How is the "electronic revolution" coming?

Well, I don't subscribe to the "Be part of the steamroller or you're part of the road" philosophy, but I do think we ARE in the midst of a revolution.

I see. Will books and magazines become obsolete?

Books and magazines are here to stay! Only, their use in relation to other media opens up new horizons.

What disturbs you most about this "electronic revolution"? If anything?

Well, the most disturbing thing is the question of Information Haves vs. Have Nots. But it may be premature.

Could you elaborate?

An ambassador showed me a map with the countries that are "wired". You could see Africa was clearly not in the running.

Really? Who is in the running?

Apart from people who "self-amputate" and just don't want to use the new technology, there are nations who decide that their people won't be allowed to use it, such as in Iran or many nations of the "South." Here in the U.S. many people are alarmed by a growing Hour-Glass-Shaped society (rich vs. poor) and the introduction of Information Revolution into THAT perspective might only exacerbate the hourglass. But, I don't know, that's my worst-case scenario. Although there are pitfalls and dangers, I remain an enthusiastic pessimist and am absolutely sanguine about the Internet.

(laugh)

Let's talk about writers.net for a bit. In your book you coined the phrase "megasource jumpstation". What is a megasource jumpstation and how is it useful?

Well, I don't know if the neologism is original to me. Simply, it's the idea that there are spots on the Internet that are like all-in-one spots with multiple launch pads -- like Writers Write is becoming.

Thank you :)

Thank YOU!

Writers.net Cover
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One of the marvelous things about the Internet is the way people create valuable resources for other people starting with "Cool Links" at the bottom of a person's home page and, moving up the ladder of complexity sites like Yahoo!, WritersWrite, etc. For a "cartographer" like me, the challenge is to sort out the different options which often overlap as well as to define the different options themselves. Offline bookstore vs. bookstore online, for example. So "jumpstation" in the sense that the hypertextual nature of the Net is like a mall in which each room connects to any other room, and megasource in the sense that each store can be a mall I guess. Maybe there will be a better word soon.

Should an author publish his work online? What are the advantages?

The first thing an author might consider before publishing online is how work on the Net can gain value through distribution rather than possession.

How do you mean?

Setting it loose on the 'Net creates the exposure that even Name-Brand Big Authors seek (Oprah!, NY Times Book Review, etc.) To have your name and work known by six or even seven figures -- well, that's part of the process, even for poets, I think. But then getting money (greenbacks) for doing that, is a different matter.

In your book you talk about how in the non-Internet world self-publishing is often seen as a sign of desperation with scant hope of success.

Real world, yes, the vanity publisher -- who many authors think are REAL publishers ...until they get the bill!

Yes, so true! Whereas on the Internet self publishing is the norm. Why the dichotomy?

"The first thing an author might consider before publishing online is how work on the Net can gain value through distribution rather than possession."
Well, there WILL be economically viable publishing on the Net more and more. This "revolution" is still gradual. It's like the Gold Rush when the people who made the money were the people who sold the tools to the prospectors, the saloon keepers who waited for a railroad to come through town. The railroads WILL come through, and ARE. But, to dot the "i" on SELF-publishing, I think the Webtop revolution really ratchets the desktop revolution into a whole new order of magnitude that's positively fantastic!! Here, on a computer, you or I, or any one reading this online can create, edit, collaborate, publish, publicize, and sell -- all from the same location. So it's different than paper-based self-publishing.

That is revolutionary...

Yup! And WE, the users, are able to have a say in what's happening with this transformation.

We have lots of questions from aspiring authors about companies offering to publish their works offline for a fee and agents offering to read their work for a fee.

Naturally, writers play an important part in that revolution. Oh yes, vanity presses and agents' fees. Those are common topics elsewhere in Writers' Chats on the Net.

It seems as if there are a lot of people trying to take advantage of writers. Have you seen instances of this and do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Yes. I don't recommend that aspiring writers pay an agents' "reading fee", no. And I have had to revise one of my own online listings, but it is associated with one of those offline vanity presses, which many aspiring writers ("pre-published" writers) think are "real." However, most competitions charge readers' fees. So I'd stay clear of the agents and publishers who want to make a buck off of someone's newness to the arena.

Good advice.

There's much more detail online and, also, periodic "heads up" announcements about various companies and people "out there" to watch out for. There is a sort of collective Early Warning System for writers ... like on misc.writing newsgroup, for example .

Let's talk about some specific types of writing online... which areas do you see as growing markets?

News. 80% of "internauts" polled say they like News online.

Has the Internet changed how Journalists do their jobs?

Gad, yes!

How so?

I devoted 50 pages in my book to this huge topic...

Yes I know :) Just some highlights. What can the Journalist do to not get left behind?

"the Journalist needs to be Net literate in a number of ways: gathering information from the Net as well as usual sources, being HTML-literate, of course, and providing sources and more information..."
Well, the Journalist needs to be Net literate in a number of ways: gathering information from the Net as well as usual sources, being HTML-literate, of course, and providing sources and more information, syndicating work through new outlets, paper and electronic, self-publishing for more "reach", exploring different styles of writing online, the possibilities of "civic Journalism" as well as alternative angles to the news. Those are some of the major roadsigns along the way, as well as staying up-to-date with this quickly evolving field. I recommend being a subscriber to at least 2 or 3 mailing lists, such as CARR-L, and JourNet, and IRE-L. Of course, there are still many newsrooms that are not computer-assisted yet and so the floor has to argue the case to management why they need spreadsheets, etc. But many Journalism graduates today are going straight into online news without ever "apprenticing" in paper-based news. This week, in fact, we see the figures for this subject (online news) with the incredible amount of interest in the Mars Pathfinder photos.

For fiction writers, has the market online developed for their work?

Has the market online developed for fiction? You mean online publishing ... as opposed to using the online world to break into paper?

Yes

Well, there are many many many outlets where an author can be published, read and even interact with his or her readers as well as a few sites that pay (webzines). And a few sites that are already recognized as "having arrived" such as Atlantic Online. But still, there is less for fiction than non-fiction, I think. But, then, too, online fiction can be hypertextual and multimedia. (See "Word" magazine, for example...)

I would like to change subjects now, if I may. You are a noted expert on China and its role in the future, and I hear you are writing a new book on China. Tell us about your new book.

I've been writing about China for some time, actually. I began in May of 1989, with the beginning of the Tiananmen Movement that spread to 180 major cities in China and had about 50 reports online a day, each more exciting than the last catching many people by surprise. As did the brutal crackdown thereafter. And then, later, the country continued its economic growth, surprising many who thought it would stumble over its communist party. And so the book describes that process, using those key moments to create a perspective for people to get a grasp of where China has been, where it is now, and where it is going.

You have stated that 1997 will be a turning point in U.S. relations with China. Why is that?

Well, we're at a turning point insofar as China and the US could sit down ... and discuss where each of us wants to go and where we might work together. But with the current brouhaha about Presidential campaign funding, I think that window of opportunity might be lost. Also note that in addition the Hong Kong handback/handover (depending on what you want to call it), which just occurred this year, there will be a big Plenum, this fall, where China will shape much of its own future policy.

How big is the Internet in China? Is the content censored?

Big in terms of numbers, but it may not be as big in terms of its impact. I think you might take a step back and consider that whereas 11% of U.S. highschool students go on to college, in China it's only 1%.
Gary Gach Photo
That is, there is still a kind of elite that really does influence things that way, rather than here. Giving them the opportunities to access databases at foreign libraries is great. And the Internet also exposes its users (even Western ones!) to new ways of thinking! So, in a nutshell, I think its impact will be very great. True, you have to register your modem the way, a decade or two ago you had to register your typewriter. But what you can do on the Internet can be different than what you do with a typewriter because of its interactivity. As to censorship, well that's a big issue here as well as China, isn't it?

Yes, it certainly is.

It's different than here, of course - but the whole CDA brouhaha here wasn't a pretty picture, in my opinion. Anyway, I'll tell you more about Internet in China when I get back from my upcoming trek.

Ok, we would love that.

Sure.

Gary, that's all I have for today thank you so much for coming.

Thank you for having me!

Our pleasure!
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