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E-mail Shenanigans

The hot weather must be driving all the crazies inside and into their e-mail accounts. I received a plethora of weird e-mail messages today, but I'm not going to focus on the weird here; instead, I'm going to share two e-mails that I thought might be relevant to poets. If I've harped on these practices before, I apologize in advance, but...

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The first e-mail opened with a line that always makes me cringe: "Dear Sirs."

For the record, never ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever open your correspondence with "Dear Sirs"--or "Dear Gentlemen," for that matter. If you don't know the editors name, just open with "Dear Editor."

The actual e-mail message itself is not as important or as memorable as this opening faux pas. If you do this in a cover letter, you could totally shoot your submission in the foot before the editor even gets a chance to make a call on your actual poetry.

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The second e-mail started off with a bad opening, too, in "To Whom It May Concern." Again, if you don't know, just use "Dear Editor." But the opening was not the bad part of this e-mail, because hidden within was the following question: "How can I go about making money off my poems without losing my rights and ownership of my writing?"

There are multiple parts to that question. First, there's the whole making money off poetry thing. That's just not how poetry works. Sure, there are places that pay for poems and contests with monetary awards, but poetry is not a type of writing that is self-sustaining for most poets. So it's always silly to talk about poetry in terms of money; if you want to make money writing, write nonfiction.

Second, there's the whole losing rights and ownership of writing thing. While submitting your poetry to a publication can often give that publication the first publication rights to your poem, you retain all other rights unless you actively sign them away (something I would never advise any poet doing under any circumstances).

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So poets can rest easy about losing rights and ownership of their work, and they can quit deluding themselves into thinking major money is just a submission away. And if you're not sure who to address your cover letter when submitting poems, remember to keep it simple at "Dear Editor"--or even "Dear Poetry Editor."

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