Imagine that you are an editor of a literary journal. You pore over hundreds of submissions over a number of months in an effort to find a handful to publish. You fall in love with many dozens of submissions—perhaps more—but painstakingly whittle down your favorites to just the few you have room to publish.
With hopeful anticipation, you contact those writers whose work you’re accepting into the next issue, and then you really get to work. After organizing a cohesive issue that will awe faithful readers, you browse your contributors’ bios, checking out their credits online and visiting their websites. And that’s when you discover this: Those pieces you were so proud to showcase in your thoughtfully organized issue have already been plastered across the Internet.
Here at Writer’s Relief, we’ve made it our goal to show writers how to use the Internet to enhance, not hurt, their publication endeavors.
While we have spread the word on what “previously published” means to writers in its literal definition, we realize there still may be some confusion about what actually occurs when a writer submits previously published writing to literary journal and magazine editors. Because of that, we want to call attention to how the issue regarding what “counts” as previously published work affects editors too.
The main objective most editors have when they start a publication is not to install themselves in a position of power but to help writers reach readers. And with that motive in mind, many editors use their unpaid personal time to:
– Read hundreds of submissions
– Contact writers whose work has not been accepted
– Correspond with writers whose work has been accepted
– Proofread, edit, and format the accepted pieces to prepare for publication
– Release the issue and spread the word—helping those poems, short stories, and essays find an audience
When considering the time, effort, and personal sacrifice that goes into composing each journal issue, we think it becomes obvious: If we were all in editors’ shoes for the time it takes to publish just a single issue, we’d most likely choose to publish pieces that aren’t easily found in a Google search, and we’d feel our time had been better spent because of it. Publishing work that has already been seen, read, and shared on Facebook pages, personal blogs, and workshopping sites just wouldn’t feel as gratifying.
Being published in a literary journal is not (or should not be) a completely self-serving practice on the part of authors. Instead, in a best case scenario, the agreement to publish is a mutually beneficial partnership between writer and publisher.
As writers, we can get caught up on the difficulty and intricacy of our craft, and upon receiving rejection letters, we tend to think of editors as “gatekeepers” who keep people out—rather than the champions of our work.
But editors—many of whom are writers themselves and have experienced rejection—offer their time not to tout their own writing, but the writing of others. They present our poems and short prose beside other talented artists, giving us a sense of accomplishment and pride.
When an editor chooses our work for publication, he/she is putting his/her personal seal on our work as a supporter. So help us spread the word about previously published writing, and share this article with your writer friends. Next time you, or other writers you know, prepare work for submission, you can confidently proceed knowing that if an editor offers to do right by your written work, you’ve also done right by that editor.
Photo by Antonio Mantero