Discovering the Relevance of Words
One of my worst nightmares as a Creative Writing teacher, is the student who comes into class with a hardbound book, and exclaims, “Mr. Margolin! Mr. Margolin! MR. MARGOLIN! I GOT PUBLISHED!!!!!!”. I typically try really hard to not be mean, and to champion the fact that they wrote a poem, but it’s incredibly difficult in the end, when I look into their glowing eyes, and ask the questions: “Oh, you got a poem…published? Um… how much did that cost you?”. Immediately, I can see their defenses draw up, and their eyes get a nice mix of anger and mist. The conversation then goes like this:
Student: “But I got published. I submitted my poem to this company/contest and they wrote me back and told me that I was accepted and that all I needed to do was send them a check for $49.99 and they would put my poem in a hardbound book and that I could pay an additional $29.99 for every other copy for my family and my mom and dad and grandma are all really excited that I bought them all a copy for Christmas and I got published!” This is typically followed by some jumping, or arm waving, or some hefty exclamations of greatness.
Me: Sitting down on a desk in my room. “I’m really proud of you for writing a poem. It’s good that you enjoy doing that. I’ve got to be honest with you though, you didn’t actually win anything. You’re in that book because you paid for it – just like everyone else who is in that book. I’m really sorry you had to spend so much money. It’s cool that you’re in a book though. I mean, you’ll have that forever now.”
Student: This is wear the anger turns to tears. “But, but, but… I … they… it’s…it’s… I got published. They wrote me the letter and everything. I’ve got it in this book. I… I don’t… ” and then they storm out of my room before I get a chance to say anything else.
Yes, it’s true that some journals charge for submissions to their poetry contests. It’s also true that no journal worth their literary integrity would charge for submissions to their poetry contests. Small press journals do not have a ton of money. Some are better off than others, and can award a monetary prize for publishing your pieces. Most publications can afford to give you a couple of copies, or a pat on the back, or a subscription. Paying them simply means that you are funding their publication, or that you are paying to have your piece published – especially in the case of the “hardbound scam” that has been going on for decades.
Look, I will always be proud of the student who simply writes a poem; I just don’t want that student to believe that they are a published author because they put a check in the mail. If it was really that easy, the world would be filled with a lot more poetry.