‘Lily’ editor on blog-posted poems

Susan Culver is editor of Lily, which does accept poems previously posted to a personal blog.

Susan writes:

First, to clarify Lily’s position on previously published work: The guidelines – as of this moment – state, “Regarding all submissions, previously published work will be considered as long as you still hold the rights to said work and state where it has previously appeared so we can give credit where credit is due.”

No, there’s nothing currently mentioned there about blogs and online workshops. Should there be? Well, yes, there probably should be and could be. And modifying the guidelines when it becomes apparent to myself and/or my editorial staff that they should be modified is not something that I struggle with.

Even though the guidelines already mention that previous publications are considered, the question then becomes whether, as with previous journal publications, it’s necessary when submitting to Lily to list that the work has been posted to a blog or workshopped online.

My personal feeling is this: I hope that every submission I receive has been workshopped in one way or another, prior to submission, whether it be through a physical reading group, an online workshop, a blog or even via email with an honest friend.

Why? Because if the work wasn’t meant to be read, then I dare say that there’d be no reason for publishing at all.

I believe it is the author’s right (and responsibility) to test the readability of their work with a smaller group of their choosing before offering it on a larger scale to the readership of a journal. It is the author’s right (and responsibility) to confer with other creative minds. To receive feedback that not only can improve a specific piece of work but can also hone the writer’s general skills and broaden their views of what they are hoping to achieve through their words. In a time where there are so many published writers and so many places in which to read good writing, it is the author’s right (and responsibility) to be a partner with the publisher in sharing their work and garnering a strong readership for it.

Workshopping, in my experience, makes for polished submissions. And polished submissions make for good reading. And – to answer my own question regarding Lily’s guidelines – no, I don’t really need to know whether you’ve workshopped prior to submission or not. I’m assuming you have.

Now, as for Mr. Melbye’s response, I’d like to reply to a few specific points, if I may:

1. “Journals with a small circulation and readership (usually created by individuals, often writing outside of the world of academia) accept previously published work regardless of where it originally appeared much more frequently than large-scale, academic/commercial journals do.”

I can’t speak for all small circulation journals, but as an “individual, often writing outside the world of academia”, I can say that it is my opinion that there is a whole world outside the world of academia. And, in that world, there are lovers of poetry. There are those who seek words not for their academic value, but for all the images and feelings they create. Somewhere, someone works a lot of long, hard hours and sometimes, beyond the basic act of survival, it is the dreams that come from a single, beautiful line of poetry that keep them going. That give them strength.

Somewhere, there’s someone who believes that they are alone. That no one has ever felt the way they’ve felt. Until they read a poem offered by a stranger and it speaks to them. And it tells them they are not invisible and they’re not alone.

I’ve been, and I am, one of those people. And there are thousands of situations I could list. Thousands of reasons for ordinary people to read poetry outside of the classroom environment, to want poetry and – yes – to write poetry. Academia often has little to do with the need for beautiful things.

2. “I’m guessing editors of such journals are in love with being editors and with the seeming authority that comes with that title, or they’re interested in sharing literature with the world regardless of whether it’s already been shared or not.”

No. And yes.

I’m not in love with the title. In fact, it often scares the heck out of me. With publishing comes this notion of publishing responsibly. Of having editorial standards. Of taking on the act of deciding – for the readers of one journal which has readers from all over the globe – what will be published. What I can offer the space to. What the readers will find in that space.

It means saying no a lot. Often when I want to say yes. It means saying no to people I admire and often not because I don’t appreciate the work but simply because, with limited space and time to work with each month, someone else’s work impacted me more.

It means saying no when I, myself, hate to be told no. It means sending out rejections for work to people who probably feel the same way I do when my own work gets rejected.

But then again, month after month, I also get to say yes. I get to present work that has touched me. Work that has conjured dreams and given strength. I get to say, “Wow, that was so good that I’ve read it a dozen times and I’ve gone to sleep with it running through my mind.” I get to hope, along with the writers of the work, that the readers feel it too.

That is what I’m in love with.

3. “To be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t mind publishing work that appeared on a blog, or was previously published on a personal web site, especially if it was published years in the past. The problem is that that policy would create a slippery slope I simply don’t have time to navigate. I don’t have time to consider, on a case by case basis, whether a submission should count as a previous publication–I receive far, far too many submissions for that.”

I would venture to guess, admittedly without any hardcore statistics, that most “unpublished” work has actually been shared by the writer in one way or another before being submitted for publication. It has been emailed to a friend or colleague. It has been quietly workshopped and quietly polished in the hopes that you will find it worthy of being offered to your readership.

To say that you want something that has never been shared before so that you don’t have to decide on a case-by-case basis whether sharing constitutes previous publication is to say that you either want your writers composing their work in a vacuum or at least insisting to you that they have been writing in a vacuum. It is to say that you don’t want them – prior to sending it to you – trying it out on a readership or trying to find ways to make it better for your readership. I can’t reconcile that idea with the learning aspect of writing and publishing. Or with the real-world aspect of writing for publication.

While fully respecting and encouraging your right as editor to set your guidelines however you wish, I just wonder what ever happened to finding that work which takes your breath away and not caring whether it’s been published already or not. Only whether you can publish it now. Because it’s worth publishing. It’s worth being shared. Because the whole world should read it and you’re just thankful to have had the chance to be a part of that.

And, is the poetry community such a small one that your readers will see something in your journal and say – “Oops, I’ve already seen that in so-and-so’s blog or such-and-such journal and I can’t possibly fathom ever reading it again”? Is the poetry community such a pretentious one that it would dismiss you or your contributors if it ever saw the words “previously published” on one of your pages?

Yes, it takes time to read submissions. I have a staff of four volunteer assistants who spend a lot of their time helping me make sure that everything that is submitted to Lily is read and considered by more than one mind and one pair of eyes. That the work which amazes us doesn’t pass us by due to the number of submissions we receive. In this point, I think you and I agree. There is not enough time to consider on a case-by-case basis whether a submission should count as a previous publication or not.

I guess the main difference, though, is how we respond if it does, in fact, count as a previous publication.

Thanks again, Nic, for the opportunity to participate. Thanks, too, to Eric for his responses. There is much food for thought in this conversation.

Sincerely,
Susan Culver

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2 thoughts on “‘Lily’ editor on blog-posted poems

  1. In her response to my post, Susan raises a lot of interesting points that I think deserve some clarification on my part, and perhaps some discussion among others, as well. I hope I don’t come off sounding defensive/confrontational–that isn’t my intent at all.

    Susan wrote:

    “To say that you want something that has never been shared before so that you don’t have to decide on a case-by-case basis whether sharing constitutes previous publication is to say that you either want your writers composing their work in a vacuum or at least insisting to you that they have been writing in a vacuum. It is to say that you don’t want them – prior to sending it to you – trying it out on a readership or trying to find ways to make it better for your readership. I can’t reconcile that idea with the learning aspect of writing and publishing. Or with the real-world aspect of writing for publication.”

    I have to respectfully disagree with this comment. While there’s potential value in getting feedback on a draft before submitting to a journal, I don’t think it’s necessary. And as an editor, I couldn’t care less if a writer has tested his/her work with an audience before submitting. I assume the writer has taken the work through a careful revision process, but I don’t see where including other people in that process is necessary. As writers, we can share drafts of our work with others in a workshop all we want, but ultimately we’re alone with our work; we have to make our own choices about it.

    The issue of sharing work prior to submitting it brings up the issue of the value of workshops in general. I don’t want to completely discount the value of workshops; obviously they can be very useful. But they can be very harmful, too. Sharing drafts in a workshop forum–especially a large one, where participants are somewhat/totally anonymous, as we often see on the web–can be harmful. A writer lacking knowledge, experience, or confidence can be tempted to take the advice s/he receives without thinking about it, and eventually start revising the work to suit the workshoppers’ tastes. That’s bad. In addition, workshops that focus on fixing a work (which assumes the unfinished work is already broken) without any serious reflection/discussion of the advice being given is both harmful and lazy. Harmful because the advice can arise out of the advisor’s personal tastes rather than a real knowledge of what the work/author is trying to do/say. “I’d try rewriting this in blank verse. Rhyming always sounds too sing-songy to me,” one commentator might say. That’s not helpful to the author/work, and doesn’t promote any kind of learning. And the workshop can be a lazy construct, too: “Help me fix my work,” the author says, then arbitrarily chooses which pieces of advice to accept/reject without a full consideration of why the advice is good/bad. That’s not educational for anyone either, and doesn’t always lead to an improved poem. Authors who have moved beyond the beginner stage of learning can–and should–be enough of a student of writing to be able to generate the same advice for themselves, and make conscious, informed decisions about how to revise their work.

    Again, I know there are productive workshops out there, and I’m not trying to totally dismiss the workshop idea. I’m only saying that I don’t think it’s necessary for writers to test their work out on an audience before submitting to journals, and I think workshops are too often assumed to be necessary and/or productive when in fact they’re not.

    ***

    Susan wrote:

    “While fully respecting and encouraging your right as editor to set your guidelines however you wish, I just wonder what ever happened to finding that work which takes your breath away and not caring whether it’s been published already or not. Only whether you can publish it now. Because it’s worth publishing. It’s worth being shared. Because the whole world should read it and you’re just thankful to have had the chance to be a part of that.”

    As an editor, I’m always looking for work that takes my breath away. But as I mentioned in my original post, I have other factors to consider, as well: my journal’s mission, our readership’s needs, and the university that hosts my journal. If I assessed submissions based purely on my own literary tastes/values, Segue would publish much different work than it does. So I balance my own tastes with those other factors. Editors without any higher authority to answer to, and whose mission is simply to share great work (whatever “great” might mean), are freer to assess work simply by their own tastes, and that’s fine. But not all journals are like that. As to the second point about sharing great work with the world even if it’s already appeared somewhere else–well, if it’s already appeared somewhere else, then it’s already being shared with the world. The mission’s already accomplished.

    ***

    Susan wrote:

    “And, is the poetry community such a small one that your readers will see something in your journal and say – “Oops, I’ve already seen that in so-and-so’s blog or such-and-such journal and I can’t possibly fathom ever reading it again”? Is the poetry community such a pretentious one that it would dismiss you or your contributors if it ever saw the words “previously published” on one of your pages?”

    I would hope the poetry community wouldn’t dismiss a journal for republishing work. But if a work is available somewhere else, the job of sharing it with the world is already done. Why does the editor need to do it again? I want to share work that hasn’t been shared yet. If I want to share already-published work with the world, I’ll create a links page on my web site–which I have.

    Susan wrote:

    “Yes, it takes time to read submissions. I have a staff of four volunteer assistants who spend a lot of their time helping me make sure that everything that is submitted to Lily is read and considered by more than one mind and one pair of eyes. That the work which amazes us doesn’t pass us by due to the number of submissions we receive. In this point, I think you and I agree. There is not enough time to consider on a case-by-case basis whether a submission should count as a previous publication or not.”

    It’s unfortunate that issues of convenience/practicality influence how and what editors will accept for their journals, isn’t it? I wish I had a staff, and money to pay them. Particularly for editors of online journals–and even more so for editors outside the academic/commercial worlds–there are no external funding resources available. I’m a member of the fairly new Online Literary Association, a large group of online journal editors who are interested in addressing this and many other issues. If you’re an online editor, you can get involved in this group by visiting our under-construction web site at: http://www.onlineliteraryassociation.com/

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