DEBBIE RIDPATH OHI
An Exclusive Interview

By
Carol Givner
This month WORDSMITH is delighted to welcome Debbie Ridpath Ohi, Founder and Editor of INKSPOT and INKLINGS, as our esteemed guest for our Women in Publishing series. Ms. Ohi, Inkspot.com is one of the most respected sites on the web. How did it come about? Thanks for the kind words about Inkspot. I started Inkspot in early 1995 as a hobby. When I first got on the Web, there was very little available for writers, so I began collecting useful resources for children's writers on a webpage for my own use. In Apr/95, however, I was chosen as Infinet's "Cool Site of the Day" (back then, this was the only real web award around) and received about 10,000 visitors in one day. The resulting publicity spurred me to start expanding Inkspot so that it would be more useful for writers in general. INKLINGS has an impressive 45,000 subscribers. What prompted you to become involved with an online newsletter for writers? As Inkspot grew in size and complexity, there reached a point where I realized it was difficult for users to be able to surf the entire site. In Sept/95, I decided to start an electronic newsletter to highlight resources I thought especially useful to writers, the "best of the bunch". Inklings was originally just a collection of URLs with brief descriptions. Since then, I've added market information and articles. Which literary needs are most fully addressed in each issue? I focus on the craft and business of writing. Inklings is geared more towards writers who have already started to submit material to markets than complete novices, though I still include some material for beginners. What inspired you to become an editor? It just happened. I've always been an editor of some sorts, I suppose. When I was a child, I was the "editor" of a publication I produced just for my family, called FAMILY WEEKLY. I recruited my young brother and sister as staff. In university, I published a small-circulation newsletter called The Electric Penguin for my friends. At the cottage, I'm still the editor of a homemade newsletter I type out on an ancient manual typewriter I bought at a local flea market. It's called THE OUTHOUSE DAILY NEWS. :-) Which books, read as a child, influenced your career choice? Ooo, good question. I read voraciously as a child. Here are a few of my favourites: A WRINKLE IN TIME by Madeleine L'Engle HALF MAGIC by Edward Eager DANDELION WINE by Ray Bradbury THE BLUE SWORD by Robin McKinley THE SHIP THAT FLEW by Hilda Lewis NARNIA books by C.S. Lewis and all the other books with four English siblings who go off and have magical adventures together. Epublishing is a new and powerful force. How do you see it shaping the marketplace in the next ten years? Twenty? I see the new technologies and potential of epublishing reshaping the publishing industry over the next 10-20 years. Traditional publishers will no longer be able to ignore this new industry development; they will have to integrate it somehow, or risk falling behind the competition. Have you written an ebook? Do you have any advice for those who have? No, I have not yet written an ebook, although this is a definite possibility in Inkspot's future. I have a contract with Writer's Digest Books to write a book about online markets for writers, due out next year. As for advice, I can just strongly advise writers to read Moira Allen's FAQ about E-Publishing (see http://www.inkspot.com/epublish/), which contains a checklist of questions for writers considering approaching an e-publisher. I also have a list of e-publishers who have customers willing to answer questions about their experiences with a particular e-publisher. Also, writers should be aware that although having a plan for actively promoting one's books is always a good idea, it's -essential- when going the e-publishing route. How can the new or experience writer make the best use of the web as a teacher and publisher? My first piece of advice would be to become extremely familiar with a couple of search engines. The internet allows great freedom of expression without demanding uniform adherence to set rules of publishing. How will this influence quality? Will the reader decide instead of the submission process? Quality varies widely on the Internet. Anyone can become "published" by simply posting their writing on a website. However, readers will tend to gravitate towards those venues with higher quality content. When I first got on the Web, websites were a novelty. People would read almost anything available, and there was a lot more casual websurfing. Now, however, the Web is huge. Fewer people randomly websurf; it's too frustrating trying to wade through the overwhelming amount of information. It's tougher to make your website stand out, to attract repeat visitors. What is the most egregious flaw a web site can display? What is the most important characteristic of an excellent site? I think one of the worst flaws is static content. There are far too many websites out there that haven't changed in a year or more. A good site is frequently updated. Young writers have a place in INKLINGS' and Inkspot.com's collective heart with market offerings and encouraging advice which nurture the creative process. What prompted the inclusion of such a generous and genuine attitude toward an age group that is usually ignored when it comes to artistic acceptance? I've always had a soft spot for young writers. I remember what it was like, and how a few words of encouragement back then made all the difference. What is the most difficult editorial decision you've had to make? Turning down articles whose content was good but whose style (mainly because the author hadn't bothered proofreading or reading the guidelines) was inappropriate. Some writers might argue that I could work with the author of this kind of article, to help him or her improve it. I did try this at first, but found the process too time-consuming and frustrating. What is the most ludicrous expectation a writer has requested? I've had parents asking me to write a poem for their child to read in school ("Preferably with a religious theme"). The most inappropriate submission was an article about how to identify the aliens that are in disguise all around us ("I know this isn't specifically for writers, but on the other hand -everyone- should be interested in this! I will even throw in free alien stickers for all your subscribers!"). I've also had a marriage proposal from a writer I've never met (I declined). What's in the works for Inkspot.com? INKLINGS? Lots of exciting plans in the works (more newsletters, discussion forums, chats, user-contributed content, help center, online courses, contests, etc.)...the main problem is finding the time to devote to these new projects! I'll also be looking for more articles from freelancers since I plan to start building up the feature articles library in Inkspot, linking to related articles from appropriate resource sections. What is the greatest opportunity for writers on the web right now? I think that most writers underestimate the powerful potential for self-promotion. There are so many ways to promote oneself and one's writing online. If WORDSMITH paid for a huge billboard overlooking a major city and asked you for words of wisdom, what would you like to tell us? As enthusiastic as I am about the potential of the Internet for writers, I also feel compelled to warn writers to not lose sight of their goal. It's sometimes too easy to let the Internet suck up valuable time that could be spent doing actual writing. Hmmm...I think I already have too many words for a billboard, don't I? All right, how about this: The Internet can be an invaluable tool for writers. Use the Internet; don't let it use you. Remember that writers WRITE. :-) Watch for Debbie Ridpath Ohi's upcoming book, WRITER'S ONLINE MARKETPLACE (tentative title), Writer's Digest Books, late 2000. Visit her at Inkspot Inklings Debbie Ridpath Ohi