Monday 28 October 2013

Why Literary Journals Should Accept Reprints & Simultaneous Submissions

What’s the benefit of literary journals not accepting reprints? And where is the logic behind it?

As writer and manuscript assessor, Roslyn Ross, said to me the other day, "That's like saying you can't win a cookery competition if you have cooked a dish for someone in the past and they have eaten it.”


As the co-publishing editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal, where we do allow reprints, I do not understand the reasoning behind such a restriction either. A writer’s work is a writer’s work. And when it's published by another journal, it does not become the journal’s property (unless you sign your rights over in a contract). So why should the fact that a piece of work appeared on an author’s blog in the past, or another literary journal, or even in a self-published book, deem it ineligible for submission to someone else?

Surely it being available to read at a variety of sources is better for both the author and the literary journal regarding online discoverability and visibility.

I respect the choices other editors make. And it's not my place to tell them how they should run their journals. But because I can't find any logical explanation for not permitting reprints, I can't help but wonder whether such restrictions are put in place out of greed. I suppose some editors might feel if a piece of work hasn't ever been published before, they will be the first venue people come to read it, and therefore garner their journal the most attention and recognition. But isn't that a little hypocritical? Doesn't that defeat the real purpose of literary journals? For writers (not editors) to receive more recognition for their work? That's my knee-jerk response to this. Do correct me if I'm wrong.

When I got talking to Roslyn Ross on Facebook the other day (the conversation which spurred this post), and I told her why I believed reprints weren’t permitted in journals and magazines, she said, “Makes sense. There is always a reason, although my understanding of 'spiders' in terms of Internet search engines is that in fact, if the work had been read by some, then the site which reprinted it would be more readily accessible through any search containing any of the words involved.”

I think she’s right. Could it be that literary magazine editors aren’t aware of this? And if not, could not permitting reprints actually be achieving the complete opposite of what they intend to achieve?

And what about not allowing simultaneous submissions (submitting the same piece of work to multiple journals at the same time)? This, I find, is rarer nowadays, but there are still a few out there who expect exclusivity.

Roslyn Ross pointed out that it does seem rather “counter-intuitive and counter-productive” to prohibit simultaneous submissions because it demands that someone write a piece of work that they will only submit to one publication. And then the author’s hands are tied. They cannot use it for months, or however long it takes for the journal to respond to the submission. Some of the "greats" can take up to a year to respond to a submission. Do we really have the right to expect an author to sit on their hands for this long? As a writer and an editor, I don’t think it’s ethical.

Perhaps some editors think that their time will be wasted if they choose a piece of work that is also accepted elsewhere. But you know what? If they accepted reprints, then this wouldn't be an issue, would it?

The big guns like The New Yorker and Tin House can easily get away with expecting such strict submission rules to be followed. They are prestigious journals, and such strict rules would prevent those less-than-serious writers from submitting a piece of work they didn't believe in. It's quality control, and I understand that. But for all the smaller magazines? I’m sorry, but I find these limitations completely unacceptable.

We should be encouraging writers of all stripes. Even if they are simply testing the waters or trying to get a bit more exposure. That's what we "smaller" journals are here for. We're another step up the ladder toward a writer's success.

Writing is hard work.
Let's not add to that by making it hard to read.

Why do you think some literary journals have these sorts of submission rules in place? And do you agree with them?

PS: I'm over at the blog of author C. S. Lakin today answering the question: What three key bits of advice would you give new writers that you wish you'd known when you started writing? Would love to see you there!

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  1. Thanks Jessica for putting it together so succinctly. I will be interested to read further comments on the issue. It would be even better if there is feedback from some literary journals who enforce such conditions explaining just why it is so.

  2. I didn't realize so many of them wanted exclusive rights. Do the authors have permission to publish their works elsewhere eventually?

  3. Cogent, timely and extremely well stated. I would lone to see this posted to the Comment or Feedback section of a large number of small print and e-zines. Very nice and Vine Leaves has the open policy to back it up!

  4. The restriction on simultaneous submissions makes sense, especially if a piece is published in a larger publication. I think being the first and exclusive source of something is perceived to be important in most quarters. However, not allowing reprinted material to appear doesn't make a lot of sense. There are so many publications out there that articles are very easy to miss and if an article deserves to be read then it deserves more exposure.

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  5. "We should be encouraging writers of all stripes. Even if they are simply testing the waters or trying to get a bit more exposure. That's what we "smaller" journals are here for. We're another step up the ladder toward a writer's success."

    That's the way I see it, too. But, . . .

    Simultaneous subs and reprints do give more exposure to the author, but by using an article that has been pubbed before means that another story, new, unpubbed and not a reprint will probably not be accepted.
    So what's best? As long as reprints are identified, I have no problem reading them, but I'd be annoyed if the anthology said New Authors and a reprint was in the bunch. Why? Because I'd expect new authors. Just an alternative take on the problem.

  6. Disallowing simultaneous submissions is just silly. First of all, the lawyer in me can't help but think that it's impossible to police. Second, with the acceptance rate most writer's experience, it's not practical to expect them to submit, wait a year and then submit again.

  7. Well said Johanna. Yes, I did wonder how they could know if a poem had gone onto your blog without actually wading through the blog to check. I have been blogging for years and have thousands of poems - how could they find out that the poem I have submitted has been published on my blog four years ago? I don't necessarily mind them demanding that work not be published elsewhere but I don't believe that should include a personal blog. To my mind the blog is not publishing - it is just writing online in the same way people in the past wrote in a book or on a typewriter and as often as not, read their poems to friends, which is what the blog allows, or read out their poems in groups, private or public, which is what the blog allows.

  8. I have no problem with exclusivity. I'm sure it's somewhat of a money issue: why should I pay you to publish your work while you're publishing it for free or for a smaller fee someplace else? I do have a problem with tying up a person's work for a year or more. Exclusivity should mean a quick decision and quick payment and, ideally, quick publication.

    1. That's an interesting perspective, Richard. While I wouldn't have an issue with paying a contributor for their work regardless of where it's appeared, I can see why others might. Thanks for chiming in!

    2. Good point Richard but it does not explain what I see as the core issue - why is one's own blog included? There is no payment.

    3. Roslyn, not sure I have an answer for that. Perhaps the editor thinks of a blog as a published work competing for the same readers and doesn't want to share content.

    4. Perhaps Richard but given that the personal blog is the equivalent in essence of the poetry group of times past, or present for that matter, it would be a difficult one to argue morally or legally. One presumes, if they want absolute rights they should include a clause saying poems are not allowed to be read in public.

  9. I always figured it was a matter of Google fingering you as a plagiarist if you reprinted an article previously published on the web. As such, your site's Google ranking would drop, and that would be bad for an online literary magazine like mine. As for print mags, who knows what the reason is?

    1. As every editor and journalist knows, you cannot be accused of plagiarism if you have accepted work from a writer and of course the submission and acceptance constitute a paper trail which is easily shown so it is not about plagiarism, which is where someone uses material WITHOUT the permission of the writer/author/poet.
      Demonstrably, if someone accepts my poem and it has been on my blog, and more than happy to admit that then their publishing is with my permission - otherwise, why would I send it?

    2. That is true, Roslyn, but I meant that Google's system basically takes you down a peg AS IF you were a plagiarist, regardless of the true definitions of the word. If any article appears, word for word, one two different sites, Google penalizes the publishers of those sites. So that's the main reason I don't like to accept previously published work - whether it has appeared on someone's blog, the New York Times, or wherever. It's all the same problem, as far as Google rankings are concerned.

    3. See, we don't have that problem in Vine Leaves because we design each issue as a PDF for download and the text within it is unsearchable.

    4. Fair enough Laura although as Jessica says, there is a way around it.

  10. This really gets my dander up. Has done for decades. I want to be read. I want to be read by as many people as possible. If I post a poem on my own blog then maybe a hundred people will click on it and maybe even read it and I’ve a decent readership for my kind of blog. And that’s it? Only those one hundred people will ever get to read that poem. Or the one of two over the years who stumble on that post over the years. That’s just awful. Now let’s play Venn diagrams. How many people who read my blog read, say, ‘Ink, Sweat & Tears’? Maybe a dozen, two at the tops? What harm would be done if they did happen to stumble across an old poem of mine there? Assuming the read every post of mine and every post of Helen’s faithfully. Who says a poem only gets to be read the once? I’ve been reading ‘Mr Bleaney’ for forty years and I’m still not fed up of it. There are hundreds of small press magazine and webzines and no one is reading more that a … I dunno, do you read more than a half-dozen faithfully? … and what’re the odds that you’ll find the same poet in two of them let alone the same poem? And who’s to say you would even remember? It’s stupid. I had a poem turned down recently because the site discovered it in the comments on a blog. How many people will have read that comment? I wasn’t publishing it. I was sharing with a friend. Good writing doesn’t go off any more than good music does or good theatre. People still go and watch Shakespeare’s plays and you’re not telling me they don’t know how they’re going to end. A magazine should want to bring the best poetry to its readership, not the newest. Anyway I could rant about this all day. You get the idea.


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