Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware
Midwest Literary Magazine (MLM) bills itself as “the quiet press.” Its online magazine publishes poetry, articles, and short fiction. Its mission: to “find and publish excellent authors of poetry, fiction and non-fiction.”
So far so good. However,
Our vision does not include any self-promotion. We strive toward one simple integrity, “keep the focus on the writers and their work.” We do not list the real names of our staff members. This has been our tradition for years.
So writers who are interested in submitting to MLM must do so with no knowledge of who is actually running the publication. This is problematic in two respects: first, authors must take it on faith that the people involved are qualified to acquire, edit, and publish–not, in these days of easy electronic media, a safe assumption; and second, with anonymous staff there’s no accountability. Of course, there may be no accountability with known staff either–Writer Beware’s files are full of such complaints–but at least if you know the names of the people you’re dealing with, you have a place to start.
So already, there are questions here that should make a savvy writer cautious. The real problem, though, is MLM’s submission guidelines.
By submitting to MLM, you grant permission for MLM to publish your submission electronically, in print or through affiliated anthologies; now and in the future.
You may reprint your work, sell it, or otherwise continue to benefit from your work however, you must include an acknowledgement.
Submission, in other words, constitutes a grant of rights–kind of like those computer licenses where merely opening the package constitutes agreement to the licensing terms.
Just as bad: neither the rights you must surrender, nor the term for which you must surrender them, are precisely defined. “Now and in the future” implies that the grant is life-of-copyright, and “you may reprint your work” implies that the grant is nonexclusive, but that’s far from an adequate explanation and it’s open to a variety of interpretations. Also, MLM isn’t a paying market–not uncommon with online magazines–but if your work is anthologized, you not only get no compensation, you don’t even get a contributor’s copy (though if you want to buy one, MLM will generously give you a coupon).
So, to recap: Merely by submitting to MLM–an anonymous publisher with no staff accountability–authors grant it the right to publish their work in multiple formats, presumably for the life of copyright, without further permission, notification, or payment. This actually is what happened to the writer who alerted me about MLM–they submitted (I suspect without carefully reading the guidelines), then decided to withdraw their submission because they hadn’t heard from MLM, only to discover that their story had been published months earlier.
Writer beware, indeed.
MLM is just one example of this kind of submission guideline “gotcha”–I’ve seen others. Yet another reason to always read the fine print.
(MLM also has a book publishing program. It’s free, though apparently if you want editing and other “extras” you have to pay.)