I make a habit of reading other web magazines. Sometimes I've felt like I was reading the same poem over and over again. You know what? I was.

I entered a line from one such poem into a search engine and found that the poem had appeared in four different web magazines. So the poem's popular. Great! But none of the republishing magazines had credited any of the others -- none of them had noted the poem's first publication. Oddly, none of them is said to publish previously published work; some specifically say they do not. Most indicate that they acquire first rights and that (though this does not need saying when first rights are acquired) subsequent publications should be acknowledged to them. Finding a poem published over and over again in several different magazines without a first publication acknowledgment, one can only guess whether the oversights are of the editors, the publishers, or the writers. But one can certainly contemplate the conditions of republishing in general.

When writers send submissions, they enter into a trust. Submission guidelines exist to elaborate the parameters of that trust. In sending work, writers imply that they have read and accepted those parameters. To avoid misunderstandings some magazines also require signed contracts. Finding work that was first published in my own magazine featured in another magazine without proper first publication acknowledgments made it much easier, for me, to appreciate the use of such contracts; amazingly, those agreements are sometimes still broken. This sort of disregard is disheartening, and may begin to sour even the most vigorous editors on the idea of spending their time and resources promoting new work.

I've experienced some pretty cavalier attitudes when it comes to guidelines. I've also seen editors(!) knowingly skip including the first publication acknowledgment provided by writers with the work. I know a few writers who keep no records. I know others who consciously simultaneously submit -- and most are conscientious enough to write to magazines to let them know when a piece has been accepted. One of the writers whose same work I'd seen repeatedly published without acknowledgments by different magazines is also an editor whose own magazine guidelines state that they do not accept either simultaneous submissions or previously published work. What?!?

Perhaps magazines will find it necessary to be more explicit in their guidelines, spelling out exactly what rights they take and how that effects republications, etc.; perhaps editors will have to take time to more seriously study their obligations regarding those rights. Perhaps it is because there is such a proliferation of magazines on the web and on paper that writers figure no one will notice these little slips from trust. Perhaps it is simply that the writer doesn't have enough work to go around -- but if that's the problem, I'd recommend more writing and less submitting. People aren't perfect and an honest mistake will be made here and there, but a multitude of such mistakes unaddressed can only harm our community. A thriving artistic community is built and remains happy on the simplest of principles: quality, respect, and trust. I'd like to see more examples of those principles.

Dancing Bear
Disquieting Muses

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