Published is Published!

A couple of weeks ago I participated in an editor’s panel at the National Federation of State Poetry Societies Convention in Oklahoma City. My fellow panelists were Madelyn Eastlund (former NFSPS president and editor of Harp-Strings Poetry Journal) and Sandra Soli (a very experienced poetry editor and widely published poet). The three of us looked as if we were auditioning for a community theatre production of Evita, our arms waving wildly as our voices rose addressing one publishing point or another.


The discussion became most lively when the topic of “What is published?” came up. We each took a turn explaining that ANY poem that is offered for public consumption, whether on the printed page, on the Internet, or in an open reading, is basically “published.” The exception is a private forum where the poet needs a password to participate in a discussion and to read what’s posted. Poems posted in such forums are not considered published. However, if the forum can be read by anyone accessing the Internet, then the poem is considered published.


“Published is published!” Sandy exclaimed. And still the questions came.


“But what if I print a poem in my church bulletin?”


“What if my poem appears in my club’s quarterly journal?”


“What if I read my poem on a radio program?”


“Published is published!” Sandy and Madelyn shouted over and over again.


I mention this because 1) it’s a really important point all poets need to keep in mind; and, 2) it’s a point I need to address as it relates to comments on this blog.


Please be aware that if you post a poem in the comments here, it is now published. It’s not a legitimate publishing credit that you can use; however, where the poem is concerned, you’ve just blown its “unpublished” status. That means you can’t submit it to journals that don’t consider published material, and you can’t submit it to contests for unpublished poetry only.


So, please don’t post your poetry in the comments section unless you know what you’re sacrificing by doing so. It doesn’t matter whether you print a copyright notice or not–if the poem appears in the comments, it’s published. Published is published!


(As an added note, let me say that when I’ve judged contests recently that were for unpublished poetry only, I did Google key lines from the poems I’d selected as winners to make sure they didn’t already appear on the Web. In a couple of cases, I had to disqualify poems I’d deemed for serious prize consideration because they violated the “unpublished” criteria. What’s more, taking down a post–or a blog entry, for that matter–accomplishes nothing. Once something is on the Internet, it’s on there forever. Ever see the stuff that Google has cached that doesn’t appear on the actual website when you do a search? It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature, but it’s just about IMPOSSIBLE to fool the Internet!)



UPDATE: Reb Livingston at Home-Schooled By a Cackling Jackel has a spirited discussion going on at her blog about this topic. Definitely take a look (and be sure to click through on her links to “My Stance” and related responses). I stand by the above opinion as basic need-to-know information, especially if you’re new to publishing. But there are some important issues related to the published vs. unpublished topic that concerned poets should examine as well.

UPDATE 2: This post provides further discussion of the “is reading my poetry in public the same as publishing” question that came up during Q&A at the NFSPS panel.

You might also like:

  • No Related Posts

29 thoughts on “Published is Published!

  1. Jim K.

    Early results of inquiries indicate some
    decent journals and contests who are not concerned
    with blogs or forums. The legalese grants you everything, has to, it has no choice without context or
    qualifiers. ‘Fixed’ has an excellent heritage in hit
    music, but can still clobber tiny things (did someone
    tape your poem for the web in a grungy clip of the
    graduation dinner?). It isn’t hard to add a few words
    about the level of prominence. You can reserved the judgement for yourself, but that still leaves you with a
    sensible message. Atlanta Review seems to have done
    a nice job. What level of prominence is too high?
    One word really doesn’t work well. But looking out there,
    the world is not this black-n-white.
    We are masters of words, are we not?

  2. Beau Blue

    "It’s not a legitimate publishing credit that you can use; however, where the poem is concerned, you’ve just blown its "unpublished" status."

    Having it both ways. Ain’t that something? "If it’s published, it’s published." But you can’t take "credit" … you can’t SAY it’s published.
    hehehehehehehehehehe …. NANcy can DECLARE it published, but not you … hehehehehehehehehehehehehe ….

    You’re are all foolish, foolish people, you know that?


  3. Nancy B.

    I stepped away over the weekend and didn’t see the several excellent comments here. A lot of important issues are being discussed, and that’s good.

    Reb nails it when she cites "fear"–that’s behind so much of these issues. For instance, oetry groups have lawyers look over everything because they’re afraid something will go wrong and they’ll be sued. (Steve, I agree that litigation over poetry wouldn’t result in much financial gain; I think the groups with lawyers [these were fairly small, locally active groups represented at the panel I was on] just want to avoid the expense, trouble, damage to reputation, and so on that could result from a disgruntled poet going "legal" on them. We live in a world where a dry cleaner was sued over the words "satisfaction guaranteed"–for millions, and the suit went on for years (it was finally dismissed recently, and the lawyer who brought the suit had to pay the defendants’ legal bills–but quality of life for those defendants took a hit over over that long period of time.) And when I say "poet," I’m not assuming only the intelligent, experienced poets who know better. I also mean the beginners, who haven’t learned yet, and the truly arrogant who think everyone wants to steal their work and are just itching for a fight.

    Elissa, thanks so much for your insights and comments. It’s quite possible the lawyer the poetry group was citing at the panel wasn’t up on this interpretation. Hope you don’t mind if I excerpt your response in a separate post–I think readers need to see this (regarding the definition of "publication" as well).

    And again, to clarify: In no way did I mean to suggest that poets should NOT post poems in their blogs or on their Web sites. I simply wanted to indicate that poets need to be cognizant of the situation. I cited my experience with Googling poems when I’ve judged contests because there was so much sensitivity about entries not being previously published. With contests, there’s also that whole issue of the judge not being able to identify the poet (because of the possibilities of favoritism, etc.). I’m going to do a separate post on judging later…


  4. Reb

    I’m a huge fan of self-publishing — not only do I see nothing wrong with it, I think it’s good for poetry.

    And I think Didi and I agree on more than we disagree, especially considering she’s published work by me and other poets that previously appeared on our personal blogs. Didi is a wonderful editor and tirelessly promotes countless poets.

    There’s a lot of issues going on here — and I think what Didi is talking about is a handful of inconsiderate poets treating publication in print as something different/higher than publication online.

    Does publication in an online magazine count (and if so, does it count as much) as publication in a print magazine? Of course it does. Should online magazines/editors be treated with all the same respect and courtesy as a print magazine/editor? Of course they should. If your work appears in an online magazine, selected by an editor, it’s exactly the same thing as if it appears in a print magazine, selected by an editor.

    For me, the issue really comes down to is it appropriate for an editor to dictate how a poet is allowed to share/promote her own work within her own realm? Especially considering these editors are demanding total exclusivity over unseen work from poets they have no prior working relationship, let alone are agreeing to publish.

    And let’s remember, there’s almost never any money changing hands. I’ve published poems all over the place (in both print and online) and been paid for work twice, in both cases for anthologies — the most was $75 for Best American Poetry 2006 — for a poem that originally appeared on my blog, and then publishied in MiPOesias (the magazine Didi edits, the online magazine properly credited with first publication — not my blog). The other anthology paid $10.

    Which leads to my next point — the mistaken notion certain editors have that if a poem can be found ANYWHERE else, in any other form, it lowers the value of their own publication — as if everyone is scouring the internet top to bottom, reading all the millions of poems on it. Someone earlier in this thread asked why would anyone shell out $8 for a magazine for poems that could be googled for free? Well, how would you know how to find those poems if it wasn’t for that magazine? How would you know they even existed? What are the chances you’d come across even *one* of those poems beforehand? And so what if you did? Since when do poems expire?

    I understand magazines not wanting to publish work that appears in other magazines. As an editor, I don’t want to republish work already in another magazine. But as an editor, I’m not interested in impeding the poet’s ability to promote and share her OWN work, work I can’t pay her for in the first place. Besides, in addition to it going against what’s best for the poet and the poems, it goes against what’s best for my magazine and press. No Tell Books ( bestselling authors are two poets who regularly post poems on their personal blogs. That’s how they developed their audience in the first place. I’m always encouraging my other authors to be more like those two.

    When we bring the *lawyers* into this poetry suffers even more because they have to apply these rules across the board, in every situation, and if posting a poem on a newgroup makes it "published" therefore making it ineligible for any "respectable" magazine to publish it, then reading it on the radio or in front of an audience has to count as well, as does printing the poem on your daughter’s wedding program or tacking it to a coffee shop’s bulletin board.

    This is creating an atmosphere of nobody sharing their work out of fear of invalidating their own poems — everyone hiding their poems in shoeboxes under the bed.

    I’m not encouraging poets to disregard magazine guidelines. If you go into somebody’s house, you follow their rules. I’m reminding poets that they don’t HAVE to participate in a system if they feel isn’t mutually beneficial. It’s not a system you have to be beholden and there are other options — many of our own making.

  5. Steve S

    Nancy: Poetry West, the poetry group in Colorado Springs that I edited a journal for, is a nonprofit abiding by all the relevant guidelines and requirements. We don’t have a lawyer. And there’s no money in poetry, so I don’t see many people suing. Will their award be in contributor copies?

  6. Justin Evans

    I have to say I disagree that posting a poem on a blog renders it published. Why? Because the poet is also publisher, and self-publishing is no longer a valid form of publication in the poetry community. Claiming that a poem is published via blog appearance or public reading is validating self-publishing.

    I also have to disagree with the idea that reading a poem in public negates its publish-free status. Imagine that you read your poems at an open mike reading to get a feel for the rhythm of a poem to see if it really works, and need to cite in your credits page how this poem was published at the JavaJava Thursday-Nite Poetry Jam. That is just beyond infantile. If public readings are publication, then I have ‘published’ enough material for 10 books.

    Under your terms, I can claim publication simply by saying my poem is published. You may think you are being strict, and making poets be more careful with what they post or recite, but you are actually starting poetry on yet another slippery slope it does not have time to travel.

    No. Publication is one person or editor who chooses to feature another person’s writing. If that be blog or print journal, publication relies upon the discriminatory decision of ANOTHER person. Poetry needs the gate keepers found in editors, and your definition of publication takes that away.

    Published is published goes only as far as the guideline of whether the piece of writing was selected by an editor to be featured in a journal—no matter its form. Once it has been accepted for publication, no matter its form, published is published—whether it’s Joe’s Bargain Basement of Poems I Like, or The Black Warrior Review.

  7. Holly

    I’m just yeah wondering… its the same for myspace. Thats published too? :(( I guess I shall be more careful what I put up there. Not like I cant write no more or have no more in me.

    I also put up stuff on occasion on the website "Associate Content" I have like two or three poems there.

    On the other hand does it look nice to say I have poetry on a site? I’m still kinda confused on all this.

    While back my teacher (not now years ago) said that if you write anything ANYTHING its copy writed. It doesnt matter if you are truly that or not. If its posted, on the net, its copywrited. Is that true? I always took it as that and its a chance I take publishing stuff like that on myspace. I just want people to read my stuff for fun and such and be blessed. Sad I’ve still never been paid for anything.

    thanx again!

  8. Elissa Malcohn

    Following up on Steve’s comment re open readings: Unless I’m misinterpreting, open readings do not constitute publication unless they are recorded for public consumption, i.e., placed in fixed form and thereby copyrighted. In its "Copyright Office Basics" ( the U.S. Copyright Office quotes the 1976 Copyright Act definition of "Publication" as follows:
    “Publication” is the distribution of copies or phonorecords of a work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending. The offering to distribute copies or phonorecords to a group of persons for purposes of further distribution, public performance, or public display constitutes publication. A public performance or display of a work does not of itself constitute publication.
    Obviously the media cited in the definition need to be updated, but I believe that the operative term here (used elsewhere in the circular) is "fixed form." I would argue that the term applies to Internet postings, which can be downloaded and printed easily enough. Radio programs are usually recorded. But given the above, saying that a non-recorded public reading constitutes "publication" is like saying that having a table at a public reading festival where I’ve displayed an anthology in which my poem has appeared is equivalent to having that poem "republished."

    P.S.: Nancy, your clarification on Reb Livingston’s blog is a helpful one here ("Someone stated that their group’s lawyer had told them that a poem presented to a public reading constituted ‘putting it out there for public consumption,’ one way that ‘published’ is defined.") Again, that lawyer needs to re-examine the 1976 Copyright Act: "A public performance or display of a work does not of itself constitute publication."

  9. Nancy B.

    Steve, some poetry groups are nonprofits and have to abide by certain standards–and others simply want to make sure they’re not sued. It’s an extremely litigenous society and no one’s immune.

    Geraldine, e-mails are private, so nothing in an e-mail should be considered published. I know someone, somewhere could and probably will raise the question as to whether a poem is published if it’s sent by e-mail to 25 or 50 or 100 people. Beats me. And I honestly think even lawyers don’t really understand the issues.

    I’m one of those people who believes you should be able to paint Mickey Mouse on the wall of your daycare center without having the Disney lawyers swoop down on you. But that’s the world we live in. People can’t make and sell quilts that use fabric with licensed characters (or maybe even with certain signature lines by specific designers–not sure on that one). So it’s EVERYWHERE. So small wonder that poetry is tainted by it as well.

  10. Miles J. Bell

    I can understand editors who pay for their magazine to be published being protective of their investment, inasmuch as publishing something brand new makes their mag more of a "must buy". Poets, hardly the most solvent of folks in my experience, are less likely to shell out 6 or 8 dollars for a bunch of poems, most of which you can just Google. (The counter argument is that a good magazine, well edited, will collect poems and put them together in an interesting way, presented beautifully or interestingly, which is worth the money alone. I’m thinking of Remark, and Words Dance, to name just 2). But the poets involved, I’m sure just want to be read.
    Which is why blogs are important. So many people I know in the small press have read my poems on my blog before sending me a "hi, lets be pals" message, as I’ve done too. I post new poems in blogs, for feedback, and have had a few editors message me and ask if they can have a certain poem. I’ve even taken down a poem because an editor asked me nicely, and it was hardly a great sacrifice. But if blogging is considered publishing, then I don’t have many poems that would be considered new. I’ve probably had over 100 poems online on my MySpace blog at one time or another, although I rarely leave them there very long.
    The cool magazines are cool, though. Let editors set the guidelines they want. If they’re too harsh, poets won’t send. They need poets more than poets need them, as there’s plenty of ezines and print mags that’ll take poems as long as they’ve not apppeared in a similar publication.

  11. geraldine green

    good to raise this as an issue and healthy to get a debate going. thank you.


    if i choose to post a poem on myspace, which is set to private, and which only invited friends can view, then i don’t consider that as ‘published’

    i also email unfinished/unpublished poems to friends – would these too, be considered as published?

    i do consider a poem is published on the internet if it’s appeared in an internet poetry magazine.

    kind regards,

    geraldine green

  12. Jim K.

    What "public" is seems to be the dicey bit.
    If I speak a poem to 20 people in a special room in
    Cafe Azteca, that might be ‘public’ (?)
    But if I use a password to enter a group of 100
    in a Facebook forum, but through "friends", about
    10,000 people can see the poem (with their 10,000 passwords),
    that might be ‘private’ (?)
    Ambiguity abounds circa "public". It is variable on the Web.
    A publisher needs to consider what they gain and lose
    by exclusivity. A well-known blog could steal your thunder.
    The average blog is orders of magnitude beneath a
    publication for hits.

    Book publishers who are
    successful at bringing Web content to profit and even
    NYT bestsellers usually take over the presence. That is
    to say, the author agrees to remove their online
    presence when the publisher sends it out. This has the
    effect of that author’s fans being diverted, thus
    capturing the momentum. A good piece will be revisited,
    so linkage is made. The obscure will "break through"
    with this publisher, and the well-known authors will
    funnel fans. This seems even more effective for
    magazines, because they have multiple authors.

    I think some creative thinking could actually increase
    the buzz and prominance of poetry, which is something
    we are all seeking. This is a new world, and it is not
    exclusive of the old world. It is very synergistic
    with it, as book pubs. are finding. It’s all in the
    timing and style now, not all-or-none.

    Anyway…just an example of how new-think might be
    crucial. 2nd rights could be the most important rights
    now, because repub-with-retraction-of-1st-pub is possible
    here, and builds buzz. Static thinking might blot out
    great things. Think dynamic. Think building new.

  13. Pris

    I’m not clear on who decides what’s legal re blogs and readings…published in other journals, yes. Copyright laws kick in. Has some new law been passed regarding blog poems or read poems? I’m really curious now.

  14. Nancy B.

    To be honest, everyone, this issue is extremely confusing to me as well. I get hit by it from every side, pro vs. con, editors who don’t mind pre-published work and editors who don’t want it, etc., etc. Finally all I can do is report what I’ve been told is LEGAL, although I’m not formally giving legal advice here (I’m not qualified to do that). The whole "reading in public is published" issue was a surprise to me when it came up at the panel I describe in the post. One poetry group said their group’s lawyer’s opinion is, if you read a poem in public, it receives the same exposure as if it was published. I’m not saying I even AGREE with that–I’ve certainly read unpublished poems in public readings and then submitted them. But I do think it’s dangerous to make assumptions.

  15. Robert Brewer

    I’m glad this conversation is manifesting itself here. For my own two cents, I do use forums to get feedback on pieces, and I know enough about the publishing world to know that early drafts may jeopardize the final draft. Different editors surely put different weight on this issue.

    I’ve had editors contact me specifically for pieces that I’ve workshopped, and I know plenty of poets who have had these same experiences. At the same time, I think it is good to keep in mind that other editors are not as open, because they do want those first time publishing rights, and technically, that can be jeopardized with publishing first online. It is what it is.

    Anyway, I think this is a great discussion, and I can empathize with both sides of the discussion–editors and writers–probably because I straddle both sides of the fence myself.


  16. Pris

    I posted a long comment through your feed last night and clearly it’s not arrived yet so will post directly from now on to the blog. Since it hopefully will still arrive I’ll just say briefly that for editors to have a policy that poems on our blogs are now considered unpublishable is restrictive to the extreme. If scattered editors feel this way and I want to submit, I won’t blog it, but certainly hope this is a scattered policy.

    My blog is an immense source of enjoyment, reader feedback, etc. I remove a poem during the duration of a publication if that’s the editor’s wish, but one editor heard one of my poems on MiPo radio, liked it, and asked to publishe it. I’ve had at least three other editors ask me to submit work based on reading my blog. So…bottom line is that I’m confused by what’s laid out in this post. I don’t consider my blog publishing in the sense that it certainly wouldn’t be listed among my publications.

  17. Steve S

    There was general agreement that a poem PRESENTED AT A PUBLIC READING was published? Because that’s just silly. I was at a David Foster Wallace reading where all he read was pieces he was working on. I’m sure he’ll be shocked to find that he can’t first-publish them anywhere.

  18. Timothy Green

    I just wrote a long comment on Reb’s blog, agreeing with her, but I also should add that I do think it’s an important subject to talk about, and I’m glad you brought it up. I think it’s the responsibility of the publishers to be clear about what they consider published and what rights they use (we use First North American Serial Rights), and it’s the responsibility of the writers to follow those guidelines honestly. Part of the problem seems to be that most magazines aren’t up-front enough to be sure what they really think — often, it seems, because the guildlines predate blogs and the whole issue — and that should be corrected.

  19. Jim K.

    The distinction between blogs and forums
    gets a bit blurry at times. Some forums
    are visible to members, like those
    in the facebook communities. However,
    friends of friends can see in, so there
    are thousands of potential viewers.

    Things get crossed-over when it comes to some
    old and very well known forums such as
    ‘eratosphere’ and ‘sonnet central’.
    You must be a member to post, but anyone
    in the world can visit and look.
    And judging from the counts of members and
    ‘guests’, a poem in one of those receives
    potentiall a great deal more attention than one
    in a personal blog. I visit in the guest balcony

    Just clarifying the actual
    epistemics (what we assume is true and how we know it)
    behind the debate. What is the real measure of
    "published"? Should I stop working at a forum?
    If eyes-seeing is a measure, most forums would
    exceed most blogs. Guest rates are high.

  20. Christine Hamm

    I’ve had a poetry blog since 2002 (yes, mine actually proceeded Silliman’s by a few months) and I complete agree with Reb. My work pretty much depends on getting feedback on it and then rewriting it, and I have been unable to find any forum that is effective for doing that other than my blog. My blog is also an important networking tool. Other poets read my work and start conversations with me based on what they read. Yes, if people google me, they can find my poems on my blog, but in most cases, what they find is drafts. If I’m no longer allowed to post poems on my blog, my writing process is severely impeded.

  21. Nancy B.

    Hey, Reb–I didn’t see this as a personal attack. I was more concerned that you seemed to take this issue very personally. I think we’re actually closer to agreeing about this whole thing than appears on the surface. It’s definitely a complicated issue, and your discussions on your blog are excellent.

  22. Reb

    Nancy, the response is towards the policy that you accurately report as the policy many poetry editors have — not towards you personally. This has been an ongoing point of contention between poetry editors for years — and likely will be for some time.

    Most poets do not have agents or PR people, we’re responsible for developing our own audiences, making our work available. This is a lot of time consuming and difficult work. If a magazine has a rule that goes against a poet distributing her own work on her own personal blog or on a message board — and at the same time considers this "illegitmate publishing" — it would probably behoove the poet to refrain from submitting work to such publication. Yes, it’s important to know where an editor/magazine stands. It’s also important to know that poets really do have options, especially in this day and age.


  23. Nancy B.

    I think this is an over-reaction to the point I was trying to make in my blog piece. As I edit Poet’s Market, I see hundreds of responses from journal editors–and many are extremely concerned about not publishing work that has already appeared in print (whether because they want "bragging rights" or have to deal with actual legal rights issues). I’m not passing judgment on this viewpoint one way or another; I’m simply reporting the reality of the situation as it applies to many poetry editors, and trying to educate poets that the viewpoint exists. I’m hardly a "sheriff" and I’m not trying to impose my views on anyone. I do, however, have a responsibility not to mislead readers, and pretending that the published vs. unpublished issue is inconsequential is misleading.



This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.