Whither Social Media for Writers?

Today, I made a first post on Medium as part of my research into the places that writers are gravitating with the (pending) demise of Twitter and changes happening at other social media platforms. So far, it’s not getting a lot of traction, which isn’t terribly surprising. With no prior posts, I only have 1 follower. One other person found it, probably from a cross-post on Twitter or Facebook. When I search on my post in Medium, I don’t find it, so I’m curious about settings and whether I need a paid subscription to be discovered. All of that is part of my research. Follow the link above if you’re curious what I had to say. Check back here to see what I learn about Medium and other options in the coming days.

What are your rights? (FNASR)

Over the weekend, I had an interesting email from a reader, Bill Harrison, who had a question about whether to consider a work published if the magazine it was published in had gone belly up. He said he was in that situation and wondered what to do. I replied, but then I thought I might expand on that answer and post about it here, since it’s a very good question.

Here’s what I told Bill: Strictly speaking, if the magazine did publish your piece but has now gone defunct, then you should not submit that piece to magazines that request first serial rights. There are quite a few magazines that consider reprints, though, so I would consider sending there and indicating where the piece was first published. Anthologies are also a good bet for reprints, and of course, a collection that you publish will usually contain a number of pieces that have been published elsewhere, so there is still life for the piece in question. You could also publish it on your own website or blog.

If the magazine accepted  your work but did not publish it, then you should feel free to submit it as an unpublished piece to any magazine. It is probably best to verify the publication’s status before submitting elsewhere, just to be on the safe side. 

Once I had a poem published at an online journal that ceased publication after a year or so (as I recall). For a while, the website was just gone, then someone put up an archive of the magazine that included some poems, but only a listing of mine. Now that seems to be gone again, but I still consider the poem published. (I decided to post it on Instagram since I couldn’t publish it elsewhere.) Another poem was published in a magazine that soon stopped publishing, yet the website it was on remained online for several years. Eventually that went away, but by that point, I had published the poem in my second book (with an acknowledgement of the original publication). Poems published in print journals are also not very accessible after the initial publication, but they are still published. I consider journal publication to be fleeting and book publication to be more permanent, though even books go out of print.

The longer answer: Why I say that my work (and Bill’s work if it actually made it to publication) should still be viewed as published comes down to the rights you sell (maybe for a sample copy) when you publish with a journal. Those are called First North American Serial Rights or sometimes just First Serial Rights. Poets and Writers has a good explanation of the basic kinds of rights authors work with. Most print journals will request First North American Serial Rights (FNASR) when they publish your work because they want to be the first place to publish the work in their market, which is North America (unless you’re publishing in Europe, Asia, Africa, or South America, of course). First Serial Rights is a broader term, and is more typical of online journals whose market is global.

Once you publish one place for even one day, legally, you can no longer offer anyone else First Serial Rights. You could publish a piece in Europe that had only been published in North America, but you can’t publish for the first time in North America (or anywhere, in the case of First Serial Rights) again. That may be sad when a publisher no longer exists, but it is what it is.

One tricky question is about self-publishing your work online. If you post your work to your blog or to social media, especially if the site is public, then most magazines will consider it published. You’ve essentially used your First Serial Rights yourself. True, it hasn’t been published by someone else and they haven’t marketed it or generated readership for you, but your work has been made publicly available by you, so the value of that work is reduced compared to First Serial publication. This is why you usually hear the advice not to post your work publicly if you want to publish it in journals. Some journals have said they will still accept work as unpublished if it was posted to a personal website and then taken down before it is submitted to a magazine. Other journals discourage that, though realistically, it would be hard to check. In many ways, we are on our honor to faithfully report prior publication of any kind.

Also, First Serial Rights or First North American Serial Rights generally disallow to prior publication to a wide audience — North America or the world — so exceptions are usually allowed for small, private publications like a print college magazine or a club newsletter where circulation is limited (such as to an organization) and the work has not been made more publicly available (such as online). Some magazines do specify that college magazines are considered prior publication; if they don’t and if the audience was truly limited, then you are pretty safe in still calling your work unpublished for the purposes of FSR or FNASR.

What is publication, then? In Bill’s case, if his piece was accepted by the magazine, but the magazine never went to press or even if the magazine was printed but never distributed, then he would have a good case to make that his work had not been published. If it was posted online, then his piece has been published. If the magazine had been printed and sent to subscribers, then his piece has been published, but only in North America and he could still offer First Serial Rights in other continents potentially.

Book publication is different than serial (magazine or journal) publication, but legally, it supersedes it. That means that you can publish something in a book that has been published in a magazine, but once it’s been published in a book or anthology, you can no longer offer First Serial Rights because those imply first publication of any kind.

Generally, publication refers to publication in print — an audio version of the same piece would not be considered published, nor would a video recording of a reading in which you read the piece in question. The publication of a fragment of a piece would not be considered prior publication of the whole piece. So you see, there are some gray areas, even though in general the answer to whether a piece has been published is pretty clear.

Fortunately, for Bill and for others in his situation, there are magazines and other publications such as anthologies that ask for Reprint Rights. In that case, you are more than welcome to send them work that has been published elsewhere already. And book publication of a collection usually involves several pieces that have been published elsewhere—look at the Acknowledgements section, where the first publications ought to be listed.

There is life after first publication for any work you write. It is best to know what rights you are selling (or giving away) when you publish, and what that might mean for the life of your work in the future. Most book publishers want to see some prior publication of works in the book for a collection or of other works for books like novels or memoirs. It is best to be up front and honest about your publication history. Don’t hide publications that might be less impressive than you’d like, and don’t embellish the publications that you have. Use your knowledge of the copyright system of rights to find the best publishing opportunities for you and your work, whether that is for the first publication or reprint publications.

How Long for Submissions?

This weekend, Becky Tuch posted a question on her LitMag News Substack looking for comments on what it means when a submission is out at a magazine for a longer period of time. I responded with my experience as editor of Poetry South and as a long-time submitter to magazines. I don’t want to reiterate that comement here, but the upshot of the comments seems to be that there’s no way to tell what it means if your submission has been at a magazine for a long, long time. It might be good news (they like it and are still considering it) or it might be bad news (they don’t love it but haven’t sent submissions back yet). No one likes being in limbo, but that’s the reality of submitting to literary magazines.

What we can gather from the comments seems to be that there are so many different magazines, each with their own review process, that no general rules apply to a case like this. Some magazines respond quickly, and some don’t. Writers can consult sites like Duotrope, ChillSubs, or The Submission Grinder to get some insights on the practices of individual magazines, but even then, the sample this data relies on is limited to the users of each platform who actually report their submissions (and the accuracy of those reports). There’s still a lot of guesswork.

Writers can also rely on magazines to tell them, via their websites, what their typical reading period looks like, so they have a more realistic idea of response times. At Poetry South, for instance, we try to indicate that from July through January our response time will likely be very slow. We’re happy to let you submit, but we are busy with production. So a response in six months or even more is not uncommon. But in January, we try to catch up, bringing our response time closer to 1-3 months. If you submit in July, we will try to respond in 1-2 months.

But when are your odds better? When we read that big batch of submissions, starting in January, we are actively looking for good work to fill the magazine. We are selective, since we know we’ll have six more months of submissions, but we also are excited about the good work we find that we know we want to use. We usually accept quite a few pieces right away, mark quite a few more as “maybes,” and keep reading. After working through a month or two of submissions, we’ll likely go back through those “maybes” and accept some more. We’ll also probably return some of them that don’t generate quite as much excitement the second or third time around. And we may save a few for the next round of selections, as we continue to read in the next month’s submissions, etc. We don’t wait until the bitter end to make final decisions, but we also don’t make all decisions on a first read.

If you know our reading habits, then you can know that if you submitted in July and it took six months for a response, this is likely because we didn’t start reading right away. If you submit in January and it takes more than three months, we held onto your work, and someone liked it. Once we get caught up, our typical response time is 1-2 months. If we held onto it longer than that, we like what we see, but we may need to weigh it against other poems that we also like and take a little more time with our decision.

Does every magazine operate like that? Obviously not. But if you research a magazine to see what their typical response time is and what their reading schedule looks like, then you can have a better sense of how to interpret the response you ultimately get. In the end, your submission will either be accepted or it won’t be. The magazine will send you a response, and from that you can judge whether they were interested or whether they are simply behind in their submissions.

I’ve stopped sending to magazines who took forever (over a year) to reply and still returned my submission without a personal note. I’ve submitted again to others whose response indicated they had been very interested in my work. If I feel a magazine is disorganized and doesn’t communicate well about submissions, they may not be worth my time. If I feel a magazine is overwhelmed with more submissions than anyone could possibly handle, I am sympathetic, but I might still decide they’re not worth my time. If it’s a top-tier magazine, though, I might decide it’s worth it if I want to be in that world.

The advice to forget about pending submissions (as long as you keep good records) is probably wise. Tracking your submissions also means occasionally checking to see which have been under consideration for a long, long time. A query might be worthwhile, though Submittable and other platforms at least can show you if your submission is “In Progress.” I wait to query longer if I know the submission hasn’t been lost, and I rarely withdraw a submission unless it gets picked up somewhere else. Because you never know. But I’m not surprised or even too upset when those finally come back to me. As long as I can simultaneously submit the same piece elsehere, it doesn’t hurt me to let a magazine consider my work for as long as they need.

Want to know what that response letter means? You might look it up on the Rejection Wiki to see whether it was a form rejection letter or a more personalized one. Not all magazines are listed here, and not all form letters may be up to date, but it is a good place to start, if you really want to go down that rabbit hole.

My advice is not to dwell too much on returned submissions, but to pay attention when you get a personalized letter so you can submit again soon. Keep your work in circulation at a number of journals, and try to be patient until it comes back to you. Keep track of the magazines that take a long time or that have quick response times, and use that when deciding where and when to submit. But don’t take the response you get too personally. Almost all magazines get thousands of submissions that they can’t accept, and they return far more good work than they can use. That’s just the reality of submitting these days (and it wasn’t ever a lot better). The ease of submitting (and writers’ reliance on simultaneous submissions) means there are a lot more submissions in everyone’s slush pile. But that also means more writers have access to literary magazines, and there’s some really great work being published.

Wordle Strategy Upate

Some time ago, I wrote a post, just for fun, about My Wordle Strategy. At the time, my best streak was 45 in English, and I was doing a Dutch version, called Woordle, and Dordle, plus Quordle in English and Dutch. Today, my streak at the New York Times Wordle has reached 88, and I’ve topped 100 for my Dutch streak. Mostly, this means that I’m pretty consistent to play every day, but it also means I’ve developed some strategies.

It’s not rocket science, and I’m not claiming to be a genius at it or anything, but I do try to think ahead. Take today’s Wordle for instance. To avoid any spoilers, I won’t give away the words I used, but let’s just say that after three tries I had all but one letter correct and in the correct spot. That meant I had three more tries. I could have guessed the correct word on the next try, but after exaining all the letters I had left, I identified four possible words that used one of those letters in the blank spot. Obviously, I had three guesses left, so there was still a chance I could guess wrong each of those times.

So instead of trying to guess the word on the fourth try, I found a word that had three of the letters I had identified. Since I was looking for a consonant, I didn’t care whether the vowel in this word was even in the correct word (it wasn’t). I even allowed myself to use a double-letter combination (which I did) in order to make a valid word with three of the consonants I needed. One of those was in the correct word, but in the wrong place in my guess. But since I knew where that letter needed to go, I was able to guess the correct word on the fifth try. If none of the letters of my fourth try were in the correct word, I would have still had two more guesses — the fourth letter I had identified or possibly a word using a letter I hadn’t thought of.

Sometimes I intentionally guess wrong, just so I can use more letters that I think might be in the right answer. Sometimes I guess wrong so I can find a vowel or rule out letter combinations that might work. I try to think ahead and think in terms of letters, rather than just guessing words because often there are more good guesses than you have turns. It’s a good mental exercise, but ultimately, it’s just a game and it ought to be fun. Keeping a streak going is part of the challenge, but I know that eventually I won’t be able to play the game some day or I will mess up and break my streak, and then I can start all over again.

Happy News

This will be a quick post because I haven’t found time to write in a while and to share a little good news for National Poetry Month. I’m proud to have two poems, “Quarantine” and “Partial Eclipse,” appear in the new issue of Birmingham Poetry Review.

Also, in the last month or so, I’ve been in touch with a music group out of Greece, called StarWound. They reached out to me, actually, with a proposal to set one of my poems to music. They liked “Black Racer” that was in Delta Poetry Review last summer. Given their theme, I’ve sent them a couple of other poems to consider, so we’ll see what happens.

We’ve been in talks about bringing them to The W next October. We now have a date for their concert (tentatively Oct. 25, pending their other travel plans), and we’ll begin collaborating next month. Meanwhile, StarWound is in Germany recording their third album. They will also work with student poets and musicians for the day they’re on campus, which should be great.

Meet me at #AWP23

Next week, I’ll be headed to Seattle for the annual AWP conference. If you don’t know that acronym, it’s the Association of Writers’ and Writing Programs, an annual gathering of thousands (often over 10,000) writers, teachers, publishers, etc. Virtually everyone is a writer, but we all wear a number of hats.

I’ll spend most of my days at the table for Poetry South, Ponder Review, and Mississippi University for Women’s MFA program, talking to people about what we do. We’ll have brochures, sample copies of the magazine, swag, and candy if I can get out to buy some this weekend and fit it in my checked luggage.

I always save room to carry some magazines there in my luggage, along with many of the other things we give away. That way, I’ll have room to bring home some swag as well. The best advice I’ve heard about AWP is to wear comfortable shoes and save room in your bags for the books and magazines you want to carry home, which is great advice, but do beware of baggage weight restrictions for your return flight! Come get Ponder Review or Poetry South first, in other words!

I always love the conversations I have at our book table the most. Yes, I will get away for a panel or two — thanks to our graduate students who will take over when I need a break! — and I will wander the book fair myself as well. But if you’re also traveling to Seattle this week and want to stop by to say hi, you can probably find me at T1221. I’d love to talk about our program, our magazines, A Writer’s Craft, or my latest poetry projects — and yes, I’d also love to hear about your latest projects or whatever else you have going on.

Did you know that I teach a class in AWP? It’s one option for our Short Residency in the low-res MFA program. We have been studying the schedule, pouring over off-site events, comparing notes, polishing our elevator pitches, and this week, four of my students (Seattle is a long trip for most of us) and I will be at the conference. I’m there to support them and to take most of the hours at our table, and the students will spend their time going to panels, roaming the book fair, and also taking their shifts at our table, so if you want to meet some of our grad students, ask me when they’re planning to be there. I also know of at least 3 of our alumni who will be at the conference, and I’m sure they will stop by and maybe even pull up a chair for awhile.

This year, I’ll also have some flyers for a special issue of Delta Poetry Review that my friend Susan Swartwout is guest-editing. She won’t be at the conference, and I’m happy to help her get out the news about the call, so ask me about it, too!

AWP can be an intimidating place — what place wouldn’t be intimidating when 7,000 – 14,000 writers descend on it. I like to remember that all of the “important writers” mus feel equally overwhelmed, or even if they don’t feel that way now, they did the first time they were at AWP. I’ve been going so many times that it hardly phases me anymore. I’m used to being part of that flow, and I try not to take myself or anyone else too seriously, but it is a great place to catch up with old friends and to make new ones. It’s also a great place to make connections and learn a few things. Taken with a healthy grain of salt, AWP is invigorating and inspirational. If you think you have to conquer AWP, you will more than likely leave disappointed, but if you take it for what it is and accept whatever experience you have, then you will undoubtely leave rewarded.

The only way to truly win at #AWP23 is to stop by table T1221 and talk to us about our magazines and our program. If you haven’t done that, then you lose; if you have, then no matter what happens, you will win in my eyes. Of course, I’m joking, but I do hope you’ll find us and stop by for a moment.

Submission Etiquette and Tiered Submissions

I had an email exchange with a student the other day about magazine submissions, and I thought that it would be good to come back to here. My student’s had the good fortune of being accepted at a small, student-run publication with a small distribution, and it caused her a bit of a dilemma, since the same submission was still out at a number of other journals.

The etiquette for simultaneous submissions is to let the first magazine who accepts your work have it, and to withdraw it from other places where you’ve submitted immediately. Unless you have serious qualms about the magazine that accepted your work, that is what you should always do. For my sutdent, this is a lesson that you should research magazines well before submitting and send to ones that are of similar caliber, so you don’t have any qualms about an acceptance when it comes.  

To be frank, though, my student’s odds of getting this piece accepted at most of the other magazines she sent to aren’t that great, so she shouldn’t feel bad about it. I haven’t read her submission, so this comment is no reflection on her or her writing. Top magazines can take a long time to turn you down, or they might accept the same piece eventually, but you’ll never know because you need to make a decision about the acceptance right away. The more well-known a magazine is, the more submissions they will receive, so the harder it is to get accepted, and the odds of getting the same piece selected by two different places are always going to be slim.

That’s no reason not to submit to top journal, but it can be a good reason to rank the places you’d like to submit and then send the same piece to places with similar rankings first. This is often called tiered submissions. Start with the magazines you think are a good fit for your piece and that you would die to get into. Then if none of them accept your submission, move on to the next level of magazines that you’d love to get your work in. Eventually move on to those smaller, quirky magazines that you’d be proud to be in but aren’t top on your list.

If you do want to withdraw a submission from a magazine after it’s been accepted, you need to do that immediately and don’t wait for someone else to accept it, which would be incredibly bad form. Withdrawing after acceptance is bad enough, but you should never wait to do that, and I would only withdraw my work after it was accepted if there was something in their terms that I couldn’t agree to, which rarely happens. You should have a good idea of a magazine’s terms and of the magazine itself so that you’re willing to see your work published wherever it gets accepted first.

Once a piece has been accepted by one magazine, you should always withdraw it from everywhere else. If you submit poems or flash and have multiple titles in one submission, it is okay to inform the magazine which title you’re withdrawing and ask them to keep considering the rest if they allow that. If you submit fiction or CNF, then you will likely need to withdraw the whole submission. Maybe the magazine will allow you to submit something else, if their deadline hasn’t expired, though your submission will probably move to the bottom of their pile. Occasionally, when you withdraw a piece, the magazine will ask if you have something else they could consider, though simultaneous submissions have become so ubiquitous and withdrawals so common, that that doesn’t happen very often anymore.

Using tiered submissions sounds good, but can also be a collossal waste of time. If you always send to the top journals first, that’s one or two rounds of submitting where you have very poor odds of getting in. That’s why I would suggest a tiered submission practice that is also targeted to the specific works in the submission packet. In other words, I consider where I think are the best places to send each packet and start there. I want each place I submit to be roughly equal in terms of how I will feel if my submission gets accepted, but I don’t always start at the top of my list of magazines. Some submissions are just more appropriate for that quirky little ‘zine that I want to support with my writing. Others seem to be more appropriate for a more mainstream audience.

And of course, the reality of submitting is that magazines have different reading periods and deadlines, so you can’t always send to your top magazines all at once. You will likely send to a mix of places that have open reading periods. Just make sure that you will be happy enough with any magazine that you won’t regret it if their acceptance comes first.

It’s never wise to sell yourself short, but it’s also unwise to always shoot for the moon. Be thoughtful about when, where, and how you submit, and you will always be thrilled (and rarely have regrets) when your work is accepted.

Do Your Research Before Submitting

Today I had another valuable reminder of the necessity of doing diligent research before submigging your writing, and of trusting your instincts. Becky Tuch, in her invaluable Lit Mag News newsletter and Substack, wrote about her research into C&R Press, which appears to have some shady business practices, along with Steel Toe Books, Fjords Review, PANK Magazine, American Poetry Journal, who all seem to be run by the same three people under a few different names. These publishers charge fees for submissions (not unheard of and not always a bad sign), take years to respond, and have been accused of offering dubious editing or other services.

I’ll admit that I’ve sent a manuscript to a C&R Press contest, though I’m glad to see that even Becky Tuch is only now finding out about some of their practices. When I submitted, back in 2020, I doubt I could have found out that they weren’t legit, but now that seems to be the consensus that is building. My first clue was that it took them over a year to respond to my submission and in the meantime, they kept sending me announcements of their next prize. On its own, that’s not enough to say they are definitely a scam, but it did give me pause, and I decided not to send again. Now I’m glad that I trusted my instincts, and didn’t waste any more time or money on them.

Becky Tuch cites comments on the Writer Beware blog for helping her tease out who was who at these presses and magazines and trace how they the publishers changed hands or the names of the players shifted. I recommend Writer Beware as a great resource for those who want to research publishers. Another good resource that Tuch mentions is Authors Publish, which has published a list of publishers that charge contest fees (which again, is not that unusual).

Try to keep up with industry news and search on any publisher you want to submit to, looking for potential issues. Even some of the lists of good publishers, like what you can find at CLMP or Poets & Writers, New Pages, or Reedsy can be wrong (they can’t know about everything). Ultimately, you may pay a contest fee or two (or more) for one you later realize wasn’t legit, but trust your instincts. If something looks fishy, it probably is. And even if it isn’t, you’ll be happier if you go with someone you have confidence in than if you take a risk on a deal that sounds too good to be true or where there are unexpected fees.

How to Write a Pantoum

Lately, I’ve been challenging myself to write more formal poetry. Not a lot, mind you, but I’ve tried out a couple of forms and with some success. Awhile back, I described writing a ghazal, and I thought I’d do the same for the pantoum.

This is a form that has stymied me for awhile, yet it is deceptively simple. In English, the lines often don’t rhyme, though in the original Malay form, they did (and I believe there were many more words with rhyming endings to draw on, so rhyme was less pronounced). The form does use repetition of whole lines, often with slight variation, and follows the pattern that the second and fourth line of each quatrain are repeated as the first and third lines of the next. That sounds easy enough, but it’s a little more complicated in practice.

I wanted to follow the original form and start with a quatrain made up of two couplets. Mathematically, that makes sense. The first couplet doesn’t have to be one complete sentence, but I didn’t want two write a couplet where each line was its own sentence. I went for a two-line sentence, where the second line could be the start of a new sentence (thinking ahead to stanza 2). I did the same for the second couplet of the first stanza. Because I had been planning ahead, it wasn’t two hard to start with lines 2 and 4 from stanza 1 as lines 1 and 3 of stanze two, and then add new lines to complete the couplets.

I don’t want to publish the full poem on my blog because I’d like to publish it in a magazine one day, but I know that talking about numbered lines gets pretty vague and hard to follow after awhile, so let me give you the first two stanzas as an example.

     The heavy, deadly scent of nightshade, hangs
     musky-sweet like the smell of the day’s first rain.
     It pervades the hedgerow where we pull invasive
     weeds, bright purple flowers with yellow stamens.

     Musky-sweet like the smell of the day’s first rain,
     the August afternoon hovers in the air, as my love
     weeds bright purple flowers with yellow stamens,
     deemed deadly poisonous, yet eerily beautiful.

You can see that in the second stanza, I chose to let the sentence flow through the entire stanza instead of keeping two distinct couplet sentences. You’ll also notice how the meaning shifts. The smell is now the smell of the afternoon, and “weeds” is no longer a plural noun, but becomes a singular verb for “my love.” This transformation of the meaning of words as the lines are recombined with others is something I wanted to consciously attempt. Pure repetition gets old, but repetition with some variation, even if the words themselves don’t change, adds meaning.

But this is where I got stuck for awhile. Planning ahead for the third stanza wasn’t really possible. I liked stanza two, but wasn’t sure how to connect “my love” and “deadly poisonous.” Nor did I really know what this poem was trying to say.

Incidentally, that is one of the joys of writing poems in form. They can be deliciously unpredictable. It is hard enough to decide where to start, let alone to predetermine where they are going to end. So I saw this as a good challenge, but one that took me weeks to figure out. I won’t claim that I came back to this poem every day during that time, but I did look at it periodically while working on other poems, and nearly got to the point where I thought I would never finish it. Then the insight hit me of a possible solution.

Rather than focusing on “my love,” I let the August afternoon come to the fore, which allowed me to let “my love” become “my love / for this place” and not a person. The deadly poison could still refer back to nightshade, though to mix things up, I focused on the dark berries of the plant, whereas before I had focused on the flowers.

Stanza three is a little more like the traditional pantoum in that the two couplets are not thematically very related. That was a quality of the pantoum that I had broken a bit by allowing myself one sentence for stanze two. Stanza three again had two sentences, and the connection between them was just the place and the plant and the memory of pulling weeds.

Incidentally, I’ve seen different varieties of nightshade. The ones we have in Mississippi are pretty, but don’t have the very strong, pungeant odor of the ones we pulled at my mother’s in Iowa. Those can overwhelm you, and they are very invasive, so we have to throw them in the garbage, not the compost. So if you don’t share my association with the smell, count yourself lucky!

Back to the form, though. I wanted to follow another convention of the form where the pantoum ends with a final stanza that includes lines 2 and 4 of the previous stanza as lines 1 and 3, following the pattern we’ve established, but lines 2 and 4 of the final stanza are lines 1 and 3 from stanza 1.

Sometimes you see the pattern reversed in the final stanza, so line 3 of stanza 1 becomes line 2 of the final stanza, and line 1 becomes the final line of the poem. I chose not to do it that way, but to keep the order from stanza 1 and have line 3 of the first stanza become the final line of the poem. If you look back at my example, you’ll see that this presents a problem, since line 3 would not be the end of a sentence. I allowed myself a slight variation on that line, changing “it pervades” to “pervading” and “we pull invasive” to “we seem invasive,” which allowed the sentence to end and also makes us more like the weeds.

I’m reasonably happy with the way the poem has turned out, though we’ll see if it continues to undergo revisions before it gets published. I’m mostly happy I got past that hurdle of stanza three, and that the poem took some unexpected turns on the way to its conclusion. I think if I write another pantoum, I will give myself a few more stanzas to get to the ending and allow it to wander even further. I’m intrigued by the notion that the couplets in each half of the stanza do not have to be thematically related (like in the ghazal) and the form is what holds them together. This could lead to a wider-ranging poem, though it may take me a few more tries before I let loose and give free reign to the form.

How to Write Your Third-Person Bio

This ought to be self-explanatory, but I’m always surprised at the number of submitters to Poetry South who either ignore the bio that we request or don’t write it in third person. There are times when I simply don’t read a submission if it doesn’t have a bio because I don’t want to have to ask for one later. If I do read it, your submission had better be fantastic because I’m less likely to vote for it if your bio isn’t there or if it doesn’t follow our guidelines.

Start with your name. Most magazines will use the bio in contributors’ notes and want to list them alphabetically. Though we can edit your bio to put your name first, we’d rather not. Start with your first name and end with your last name and or anything that should follow like “Jr.” list your name the same way you want your name to appear on your work and in the table of contents. If you write under a pseudonym, use that name here.

Pretend you’re someone else writing about you, and use he, she or they to refer to yourself, not I. It’s good to say something interesting about yourself, but you don’t have to get too personal. Maybe mention what you do for a living or a hobby or where you’re from. It’s fine to mention family or pets if you are comfortable with that. It’s also fine to mention if this is your first publication or if you are involved in any literary events.

Then list recent publications. Just don’t list every place you’ve ever published, and if you have more than a few books, you might want to only mention two or three, depending on the length of the titles. I like mentioning other magazines I’ve published in recently because I like to read about those in others’ bios. It’s a great way to learn about cool new or unusual places to publish. But a long list will just get ignored, or even more likely, edited down.

Don’t bother mentioning your Pushcart or Best of the Net nominations because so many writers have those. Do mention if you’ve won an award or been a finalist, especially if it’s a recent accomplishment. If you have a lot of awards, maybe just list a couple. This a bio, not your cv.

Stay within the guidelines. At Poetry South, we want a bio of 80 words or less. We’d probably like at least 30 words from everyone, but if you go over 80, we’ll edit it down, and if you go way over 80, we probably won’t accept your submission. Is that harsh? Maybe, but that’s the reality at most magazines.

Speaking of guidelines, some magazines will tell you what kind of bio they want. If they request a funny bio or a quirky one, then do your best to comply. They probably don’t want a list of other magazines and awards. If they don’t tell you what to write, then these suggestions will help you write one that looks professional.

Don’t stress too much about your bio, though. I don’t think anyone has been accepted solely on what they say in a bio, though they might have been declined because their bio was too wordy, too pretentious, or nonexistent. Just follow the magazine’s guidelines, be yourself, and know that we probably want your bio up front because we don’t want to ask for it later. It won’t be the biggest factor in our decision unless you don’t include it, or you ignore our guidelines.