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Respect for Reprints

Literary journals are a hydra-headed monster offering more and more opportunities to publish with each tick of the clock (and dying off at a slightly slower rate). Every time I finish a new piece, I have found twenty new and interesting places where I want to send it. And, of course, I want to read the new issues of all these journals that I’m into when they irregularly appear – online and in print. But I can’t. Logistically. Which means I’m missing a lot of good work in venues that I may have even been hip to at one point, because of sheer numbers. But, if more work showed up in more places, I’d be more likely to find it (as happens when pieces are anthologized or simultaneously published online and off). Our work often finds such tiny audiences. Yet, it’s incredible that almost all journals and publishers state a policy of accepting only new and unpublished work. Unless anthologized, most work is printed, freezes, and dies. With Action, Yes, it was very important to me to not have any such strictures (we have few rules at all, seeings as we’ve only been open for submissions one month out of the 48 or so we’ve been around). And if Johannes G. or I see something we like somewhere else, that we think needs to be read by even more people, we’ll simply ask if we can pop it into the next issue of AY (I’d like to start doing this even more). I just found the Blue Print Review and was impressed by their new all reprint issue (the “re visit/cyle/turn” issue). I’d like to see more of that.

So why is this anti-reprint attitude so ubiquitous? Is it a holdover from the days when everybody read every issue of Collier’s, so they’d get pissed if The Saturday Evening Post were to run the same crap two months later? Or is there something else here?

19 thoughts on “Respect for Reprints

  1. I think there are a lot of reasons for it. From a publisher perspective, you want to attract readers with your unique content, but how can you do that if all your good pieces just get published elsewhere? Especially if you are a new or small magazine.

    From a reader perspective, I think frequent reprints would be quite a turnoff since you pay a fair deal for a literary magazine only to find out you’ve already read half the stories.

    From an editorial perspective, the amount of carpet bombing would probably increase drastically if people could reprint plus not even worry about submitting their work to the places they most want to appear in. Just submit your best pieces everywhere non-stop and hope one good one gets gobbled up by multiple places.

    From a submitters perspective, while this seems like a plus on the face of it I’m not sure it is. One of the biggest things people complain about is big writers dominating magazines and taking the spots from new writers. Now imagine how much that would be exacerbated by unlimited reprints! For one thing, editors would request from “name” writers more often since said names could just reprint the pieces and would feel better about helping small magazines out so suddenly even the smaller magazines are dominated by bigger names.

    Just a few thoughts before I go drink some xmas cheer

    1. Also worth noting that some big places like Harper’s do reprints and then, of course, stories get reprinted in various year-end anthologies and then reprinted again in author’s story collections and then sometimes even reprinted again in general anthologies.

    2. Lincoln,

      All valid and useful points, for sure. But all of these reasons not to solicit reprints are limited, so I still find it odd that we don’t see more journals looking for and offering reprinted work.

      For instance, it’s the rare reader that is going to be pissed about finding lots of stuff she’s already read, as it’s the rare reader who can be widely read enough to be bothered, considering the breadth of what’s out there to read. Also this is a an issue that a thoughtful editor can deal with in how he chooses the work he reprints. (For instance, I asked Jeffrey Brown and Matt Madden to give me already printed comics for the first few issues of Action,Yes, understanding that most of our avant-garde-poetry-reading audience would have never encountered their work before, but would probably appreciate it.)

      The submissions carpet bombing is a tough one to work around. Unless an editor is confident enough to say, “I’ve never seen this work; if it’s new to me, it’s probably new to enough of my readers.” And perhaps reprints are best found through solicitation and not submission.

      You make an interesting point from a writer’s perspective. But, if editors are really willing to just reprint big name writers’ works, they could do that now. I’m sure Rick Moody would be happy to recycle a story for some up and coming journal. But they don’t often, because they have a particular vision of originality for their journals. Also, they understand how alienating this might be to their audience. The same way many readers have become numb to magazines like The New Yorker, Narrative, and the like, who often seem to publish based more on pedigree (or potential pedigree) than the quality of the story or poem they are featuring.

      The Harper’s Readings section is a great example of strong work finding a wider audience. And perhaps it does work best when publications with large audiences reprint work that may have been limited to a small audience.

      1. Hey John, some good points. I should clarify I was responding to your question about the ubiquitousness of the anti-reprint attitude.

        I think the trend of most places not accepting reprints is a good one, for the reasons I laid out. In a world where reprints were really common, I think the results could be damaging. For example, if bigger magazines just reprinted the best work from smaller magazines, why even bother with small magazines? You wouldn’t need to read those if bigger ones just filtered out the best work.

        I think there is plenty of opportunity for magazines to reprint some work in the current environment, I think some of things you list sound totally interesting. but I think it only works BECAUSE the general trend is not to reprint, if that makes sense.

  2. Zoetrope does reprints, as well as the New Yorker. But maybe John is talking more of the smaller presses. There are definitely things in early Caketrains I’d like to see, but they are now out of print. It is sad. I think some of Mary Miller’s Big World was reprinted or simaltaneously published.

  3. WWR (online nature journal) is open to reprints. In fact, I encourage them. The catch is the work has to have appeared at least a year ago, and only in a print journal. Readership, ideally, expands.

  4. „Respect for Reprints“ – i like that! but then, that’s no surprise, seeing that i am the editor of BluePrintReview, and put the reprint issue together.

    the idea for the reprint issue was sparked by 2 coincidences: in february 2009, i served as preliminary judge for the Story South Million Writers Award. there were so many, many stories waiting to be read. and even though i try to keep up with new issues of online literary journals, the story south links took me to dozens of intriguing stories that had been published before but that i wouldn’t have come across otherwise.
    parallel to that, there was an interesting discussion developing from a story that was reprinted in the blueprintreview “Missing Part” issue at that time, the main theme of the discussion was: “how does the layout of a text – and its context – influence the reading experience?”

    in general, i see the point that printed literary magazines might be hesitant about reprints, as readers might feel they pay for something they already know. but i think this is different with online journals, which have more options here.

    as to parallel publication: the largest part of submissions i received for the reprints issue were stories that had been published a while ago, and the submission was restricted to online publications (following the idea of 1 text in different layouts / contexts), and also through the theme “re /visit /cycle /turn”.

    i think John has a valid point here, about the concept of smaller journals: “If editors are really willing to just reprint big name writers’ works, they could do that now. But they don’t often, because they have a particular vision of originality for their journals.”

    another interesting aspect i came across while working on the reprints issue: orphaned texts. some texts i received weren’t online anymore, as the original journal had gone offline, and pulled down the archives. another magazine that also contemplated on this at that time was “Asian Cha” – they now started a “Lost Tea” section, to give some of those texts a new home, here the blog note about it: http://asiancha.blogspot.com/2009/07/lost-teas.html.

    altogether, editing the reprints issue – like the issue itself – turned more complex than i had expected first, and even lead to a web search for magazines thought lost. while working on the issue, i started to put notes and mail conversations together in a file which then also became part of the issue, it includes some more details and conversations on reprints, here the link:

    Some Aspects of Reprints

    1. Dorothee, that sounds like a pretty amazing experience. I love to poke around at the internet lit graveyard. Did you use the internet wayback machine to help you out at all?

      And you make a good point about the utility of reprinting work available online and in print. The online stuff (usually) remains available. The print stuff doesn’t.

      1. John, it indeed was pretty amazing to stumble across literary magazines that were thought gone. yes, i used the “Waybackmachine”.

        here the direct link to the journals and magazines i could trace so far:

        about texts remaining available: it’s true that online texts are easier to access, both through search engines, and through the archive pages of online magazines. but with the vast scape of new issues, i guess most readers don’t wander too far back into past issues.

        1. Damn, Dorothee. That’s another thing I have to post so the whole world sees it. That is a very necessary project. It would be great if you could get people to contribute Wiki or Project Gutenberg style.

          1. John, thanks for your feedback on this retrieved list. actually, when i found the first “lost” magazine via the waybackmachine, i looked for a page that lists those links, and was surprised that there doesn’t seem to be one.

            then i had the same thought: it would be good to start a wiki page for that. that’s what i did. well. it lasted not even 2 hours, then it got deleted by the wiki-editors, (“Unambiguous advertising or promotion” — here the details: http://www.blueprintreview.de/re_prints.htm#re6).

            that’s why i included the page as part of the blueprintreview-reprints issue. i completely agree, it would be great to have an own webpage for it, open for contributions, — if anyone is interested in starting this, i would be happy to participate.

              1. Dave Housley and I are developing a Wiki for editors and want to be editors, and I’d be happy to include this on that Wiki. E-mail me if you’re interested.

  5. I have really become more interested in reprints in the past year. While I understand the thrill of virgin discovery and wanting to share original content with readers, I also think that there are many wonderful stories, poems and other creative works deserving of a second life, and more than that, a wider readership.

  6. just an interesting connection:

    mud luscious issue eleven is going to be a ‘excerpts from forthcoming or recently-released books’ issue and nearly all of the works are in reprint form and then will exist again (for the third or fourth time) in their final book form

    personally, I found it exhilarating to comb through the words of these great authors and find something that hadn’t been widely read or had been out of the purview for awhile and bring it back to the immediate online form

  7. I’m with Roxane.

    Especially with online markets, I think it’s the virgin discovery fetish that is the prime motivator. Why else would an editor consider a piece available on a personal blog “published,” given that it’s seriously unlikely that most readers would have seen it before. Sometimes we talk ourselves too seriously, I think.

    I think the Escape Pod/Pseudopod/Pod Castle model is interesting. They’re podcast/audio publications that explicitly prefer reprints. I assume that way the slush is of consistently higher quality than it would be otherwise.

    1. Most of what our readers read at Apostrophe Cast is stuff they’ve already published. Readers will always ask if that’s ‘okay’ and I tell them to read whatever you like – it’s the reading that engages.

      Ben, just found your site Nanoism – very cool. I’m interested to follow what you collect there.

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