Saturday, December 3, 2011

Poetry Prompt #81 - Submission Etiquette

Many poets with whom I’ve worked have asked about “submission etiquette.” The following info was prepared for one of my private workshop groups, and I'm happy to share it here. It's not exactly a "prompt," but here's hoping that it will "prompt" you to send some of your work to journals.

It’s important to note that each journal has its own submissions guidelines, and the editors expect submitters to follow them. There are, however, a few general suggestions that might prove helpful (with the caveat, of course, to follow the specific guidelines for any journal to which you submit your poems).

A good place to begin is to thoroughly research the market. You need to find out which journals would be suitable vehicles for your work. The best way to conduct your “market research” is to start buying poetry journals.

Aside from buying poetry journals, you can conduct some of your research via the Internet. Many poetry journals have strong web presences, so check out the web sites of journals that interest you. You’ll usually find submission guidelines, and many journals post sample poems on their websites. Searching the Web be time-intensive, but it will save you a fortune in stamps and may considerably reduce the number of rejection slips you accumulate. You can also do further research in libraries, but most libraries don’t subscribe to small press journals. Invaluable resources are books like Writer’s Market. When you’ve decided which journals you’d like to target for possible publication and have obtained copies to “study,” be sure to check the journal’s submission guidelines and follow them! I mean, really follow them. (I can’t say this enough times!)

Always present your work in typescript (never hand-written), using a simple 12 point font like Arial, Times New Roman, or Courier.  Fancy fonts will not impress editors. On the contrary, they suggest that the sender is a novice writer. Poetry should be single-spaced with the title at the top (in the same font that you use for the text of the poem).

Retain a copy of any material you send. Most editors receive hundreds of submissions and it’s possible for submissions to go missing. The mail service, too, sometimes “loses” items. Always keep records of which poems you’ve sent out, which journals you’ve sent them to, the dates of submission, and the results.

Use a plain #10 envelope for hard copy submissions, and always include a self-addressed, stamped envelope (s.a.s.e.) for the editor’s reply. This is a basic courtesy – most journals will not reply to a submission if the s.a.s.e. is not included.

For hard copy submissions (and most electronic as well) type one poem to a page unless you are instructed to do otherwise. For hard copies, it’s better to use a paper clip than a staple as clips are easier for editors to remove during the assessment process.

If you include a cover letter, it should be short, including only your name, contact details, and titles of work submitted. In general, most editors do not want to read your life story, nor do they want to know your hobbies or your marital status.

It isn’t necessary to include a bio unless the guidelines specifically ask for one. Most editors aren’t impressed by previous publication credits and judge submissions on their own merits. Many editors request a bio at the time of acceptance. Whatever you do, never invite an editor to visit your web site or blog by way of introduction or bio. Most editors don’t have time for that sort of thing, and your invitation can be a little like chalk scraping on a chalkboard.

Make sure each poem has your name and address on it, as cover notes can and do get separated from submitted material. Unless journal guidelines specify otherwise, your name, address, phone number, and email address should appear in the upper left or right hand corner. Setting this info into clever text boxes at the top or bottom of the page isn’t necessary and can look amateurish.

Refrain from using copyright symbols – this can and does offend some editors (they are not going to steal your work and pretend it's their own).

Be careful not to over-submit. Journal editors are usually more dismayed than pleased when they receive large numbers of poems from a single poet. As an editor myself, I can testify to that. Never submit more than the number of poems noted in the guidelines, usually no more than five poems, and DON’T follow up with another batch during the same reading period. Once, I received two entire manuscripts via our Tiferet submissions manager. The poets both suggested that I read the manuscripts and choose from among the poems they contained. Each submission contained over 40 poems! Aaaargh! I have a strong commitment to reading every submission at least three times, but this was a bit much.

Many print journals don’t accept email submissions.  There are good reasons for this, the potential transmission of computer-destroying viruses among them. Some journals, however, do welcome email submissions. If this is the case, be sure to read the submission guidelines carefully, and follow them. Some journals will accept submissions in attachment form; some require the poem text to be copied and pasted into the body of an email. Many journals now use electronic submissions managing programs. Make sure you know the preferences before submitting, and follow the guidelines (there, I've said it again). Some journals require that each poem be electronically submitted individually. If that’s the case, send each poem individually via the electronic manager.

At one time, simultaneous submissions were a major no-no. Today, however, journal editors recognize that huge volumes of submissions mean long response times, and they extend the courtesy of allowing poets to submit the same poems to more than one journal at a time. Be sure to read journal guidelines carefully (have I just said that again?). Usually, if simultaneous submissions are allowed, editors ask that you contact them when a poem you’ve submitted has been accepted elsewhere. This is a simple return courtesy that should be observed. Journals that don’t allow simultaneous submissions often take many months to respond, which means that a poem may be “away from home” for a  long time before you know if it's been accepted or rejected.

Don’t query editors about the status of your work! Editors work as quickly and as carefully as possible, but hundreds of submissions can mean that you’ll have to wait for a response. Similarly, it’s not a good idea to include self-addressed, stamped postcards that you wish an editor to send back to let you know that your submission has been received. This means extra work for an editor and most editors don’t have that kind of time. Many journals indicate response time in their guidelines – if that response time has long passed, then (and only then) might you query.

You shouldn’t expect editors to make individual comments on your poems, accepted or not. Editors are not critiquers in that sense – they often read several hundred poems during a reading period, and they just don’t have time to make individual comments. Occasionally, an editor will suggest edits, which, if made, will result in publication. As a poet, it’s up to you to decide whether or not you agree to the changes.

Here’s a hint: if a journal has a specific reading period, be sure to submit early. Unless you're submitting to a themed issue in which all poems accepted deal with a particular subject, when a poem on the same subject as yours is accepted before you submit, yours won’t be accepted even if it’s a better poem. So, send your poems sooner rather than later.

Many poetry editors work countless hours and earn nothing for their efforts. Some journal publishers subsidize their journals from their own pockets. Most of them do it for the same reason that poets submit their poems to journals – love of the art. So please, respect the editors to whom you send your poems. This doesn’t mean that editors are the ultimate arbiters of what is and isn’t good work. Selection is often a subjective process. If your poems are rejected, don’t take it personally. Move on. Send the poems elsewhere. It’s not uncommon for poems to be rejected by numerous journals before finding a home. It’s a process of persistence. So, persevere.

Beware of vanity publishing in which you pay a fee for your poems to be published.  There are unscrupulous people out there who will happily fleece you if you are desperate enough to be published at any cost. Don’t be fooled by their flatteries. If you have to pay to be published, think again. This is not the same as paying an entry fee for a contest, which is not only credible but often necessary to fund the prize monies. 

On vanity publishing and publishing scams: 


  1. This is fantastic, Adele! Thank you so much for putting it all together for us!


  2. Thanks, Jamie! Hope you find the post useful!

  3. Thanks, Adele! This is amazingly comprehensive, and I think your blog readers will find it very useful!

    P.S. Did you happen to mention that poets should always follow the journals' guidelines? :-)

  4. Thanks, Bob!

    Be sure to always follow the journal guidelines! (Did I mention that?)

  5. This is really lovely and so comprehensive. Thank you, Adele!

    I live in Ireland and most of the "rules" apply internationally, so this is immensely helpful to readers in many countries.

    Máire Ó Cathail (Ireland)

  6. Thanks, Maire! So glad the info is helpful!

  7. Adele,your post is really comprehensive and useful, thanks.
    With your permission I would like to make an overview and a translation in italian language of your post.

  8. Thanks so much, Jago!

    YES, of, course, please feel free to make an overview and to translate into Italian. I'm happy to know that the material will be offered to your readers.

  9. Thanks, Adele!
    When translating ( very hard work for me) I really understood how much useful will be your prompt for some poets friend of mine. And for editors, too!
    I apologize for my English.


  10. Thank YOU, Jago!

    I really appreciate the way you support my blog, and I'm very glad to know that you find the materials useful. I'm always happy for you to share with your friends and fellow poets.

    No need to apologize for your English! I think it's great!