Tuesday 2 August 2016

Do PNZ submissions have to be unpublished?

The question above came up once or twice during the submissions period.

Given that that's now closed for the year (any new poems you'd like to send me will have to wait until next year: 1st May to 31st July 2017), I thought I might add a few notes on the matter.

Literary magazines have traditionally been the first port of call for new work by writers, before it is collected in volume form. For this reason, you have to submit judiciously. If your work is accepted and printed by a magazine, however obscure, that rules it out of competition for other magazines.

Some people draw a distinction between publication for profit and free publications (private websites, cyclostyled circulars, etc.) They understand that they can't print the same piece in different magazines simultaneously, but they don't see listing it on their own blog as "publication."

No doubt the point is debatable, but I have to say that my own definition of publication is release through any publicly accessible medium of exchange. So, yes, putting up a poem on a website is "publication." Sending a few copies out to friends for comment is not.

For the record, then, Poetry New Zealand - except in a few exceptional cases - is interested only in hitherto unpublished work. If you submit a set of poems to us and other magazines simultaneously, it's best to admit it up front, rather than sending follow-up emails withdrawing particular pieces which have been accepted elsewhere.

And what are those "exceptional cases"? Well, occasionally we might like to choose a poem from a privately circulated chapbook, or to resurrect an old piece from decades ago. These, too, form a legitimate part of the currency of a magazine.

If you know it's been published elsewhere, but you still submit it to us, chances are I may not notice. If I find out later, though, I have to say that I will feel cheated, and my opinion of your trustworthiness as a writer will be greatly diminished. I've seen allegedly "unpublished" poems go on to win substantial prizes, when I myself remember including them in some magazine or other. Nine times out of ten you won't be caught - but if you are, the consequences can be quite dire.

Best to be upfront from the very start, I think. What are you in this poetry game for, anyway? To win prizes or to write better? The two don't always go together.