On the Digital Poetry Life
I’ve more or less decided not to submit to print journals anymore. When I started submitting my poetry, more than 10 years ago, some friends frowned on the idea of publishing online. I know, those were the olden days. Online journals were considered less prestigious. Or were believed all to be of poor quality. One friend scoffed when I announced a recent publication: “Well, anyone can publish online.” That might have been true, but I was at least somewhat selective in the journals to which I submitted. In fact, my first publication was in The Pedestal Magazine, which has always been respectable as far as I know. I don’t know what its acceptance ratio was at the time; today it’s a bit under 4% for poetry. The Pedestal is still going strong after 17 years (having been launched in 2000) and is still one of the best online journals. Take a look at the current issue of The Pedestal Magazine celebrating 17 years!
Perhaps years ago (and perhaps still), people needed print publications to meet criteria for tenure. That’s one theory I heard. But I remember attending a session on the print vs. digital topic at an AWP meeting in the early 2000s at which a young poet said, “We’re going to continue publishing online and we’re the tenure committees of the future.”
Another argument against online publication is that the journals come and go, sometimes quickly. Yeah, sure they do. But in my experience, so do a lot of print publications. I’ve had about 100 poems in journals that no longer exist, mostly online, but a few print journals, too. Some of the digital ones have left their archives up and some haven’t.
A major advantage of putting your work out electronically is that people can find it. People who read my work and like something I’ve written can search for more of my work online. As long as defunct journals leave their archives up — and I wish that all of them would. One way to deal with this is to try to have some of the poems reprinted in other journals. Editors are often quite amenable to this if the original poem cannot be accessed elsewhere on the web. I think there’s a lot greater chance of having my work found online than in print journals. Admittedly, any single issue of a journal, no matter whether its print or electronic, has a pretty small readership. But once a print journal isn’t current anymore, the likelihood of someone reading it is almost nil. And how about an issue from, say 2008?
Another deterrent to submitting to print pubs, for me anyway, is the (usually) far longer turnaround time, from submission to reply. I’m too old to wait six months for someone to say no thanks. And any editors who say they won’t take simultaneous submissions . . . well, maybe they’re not writers. It’s ridiculous. (That said, I try not to send out simultaneous submissions, as long as I’m submitting to venues with a quick turnaround, because it’s just more work for me. But I believe everyone should do so if they choose.)
I can’t tell you whether or how much times have changed. It seems to me more acceptable to publish in online journals these days. But maybe I have a skewed view, since my poetry life is largely online. I’m not in academia. I don’t need tenure. I’m not even a part of a local poetry scene in my town, but I read constantly online and manage an online poetry forum. So, aside from the occasional conference, online is where poetry takes place for me. In a future post, I’ll talk about how to evaluate online poetry markets and choose the ones that might be a good match for your work.