Saturday, July 27, 2013

Prompt #156 – Submitting Poems to Journals

Back on December 3, 2011, I posted “Submission Etiquette,” which included some general guidelines for submitting poems to journals. Since then, a number of readers have asked about a “re-run” of that prompt. Summer seems a good time to step back and think about “submission etiquette,” so, I updated a bit and here’s the info requested. I hope you find it helpful and, yes, there is a prompt this week—be sure to scroll down!

Many poets think that the ultimate litmus test of their work is whether it gets accepted or rejected by literary magazines. The truth is that good quality work is often rejected purely because of an editor’s style and content preferences, and even works of innovative genius are frequently returned. By the same token, mediocre work is often published. Selecting poems for publication is essentially a subjective process: what one editor rejects, another may accept. As an editor myself, I can tell you that most of us work hard and earn little or nothing for our efforts. Most do it for the same reason that poets submit—love of the art. So be sure to respect the editors to whom you send your poems. This does not mean that editors are the definitive arbiters of what is and isn’t good work. If your poems are rejected, don’t take it personally. Move on. Send the poems elsewhere. It isn’t uncommon for poems to be rejected before being accepted. So, persevere.

Let’s say you’ve read your poems at open mic sessions and have not been booed off the stage. Maybe you’ve participated in poetry writing workshops. If you are convinced that your poems are ready for publication, what do you do about submitting them to journals? Be aware that you have the option of sending your poems to print journals (hard copy issues) and/or online journals. There are plusses for both.

First, you need to research your market. You need to find out which magazines would be suitable vehicles for your work. The best way to conduct your “market research” is to start reading poetry journals and Internet e-zines. Buying poetry journals can be an expensive proposition, but many journals now have strong web presences, so check out their web sites. You’ll usually find submission guidelines and information about editorial tastes; and many magazines post sample poems on their websites. Reading these poems is an effective way of assessing the suitability of your work for particular journals.

When you’ve decided which journals you’d like to target for possible publication, check their submission guidelines and follow them without exceptions!

Following are some general guidelines; if they don’t conflict with specific journal guidelines, they may be helpful to observe. (Please keep in mind that every journal has its own submission guidelines, and you should read them carefully before submitting your poems).

1. Always present your work in a simple 12-point font like Arial, Times New Roman or Courier. Fancy fonts will not impress editors. On the contrary, they may suggest that the sender is a novice writer.

2. Poetry should be single-spaced with the title at the top and your name, address, phone, and email address 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.

3. Type one poem to a page. For poems longer than one page, paperclip the pages together if submitting to print journals.

4. Poems should be left-aligned (unless the form dictates otherwise). Don’t center all the lines simply because you think a poem looks nice that way.

5. Be sure to spell-check and to carefully proofread before submitting.

6. 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, know your hobbies, or hear about your marital status. It isn’t necessary to include a bio. Most editors are not impressed by previous publication credits and prefer to judge submissions on their own merits. (Should your work be accepted for publication, the editor may invite you to send a bio, but only include it if asked.)

7. Always retain a copy of any material you send. Most editors receive hundreds of submissions, and it’s possible for submissions to go missing.

8. Some print journals will not accept email submissions.  There are good reasons for this: the potential transmission of computer-destroying viruses among them. Many journals, however, do welcome email submissions. Some journals will accept submissions in attachment form; some require the poem text to be copied and pasted into the body of an email. Make sure you know the preferences before submitting!

9. If you submit via snail mail, use a plain #10 envelope 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.

10. Many online journals use electronic submissions managing programs. Some online journals ask you to send your submissions via email. Be sure to follow the directions carefully.

11. 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. Unless otherwise specified, send no more than five poems, and DON’T follow up with another batch during the same reading period.

12. Simultaneous submissions (sending poems to multiple journals at the same time) are often allowed, but check guidelines carefully to be sure. Given the response times of many magazines, this means that a poem may be “away from home” for many months before you know if it has been accepted or rejected.

13. Many journals will indicate response time in their guidelines—if that response time has long passed, then and only then might you query an editor about the status of your poems.

14. You should also not expect editors to make individual comments on your poems, accepted or not. While a few editors might, most aren’t critiquers in that sense—they simply choose the poems they wish to publish. 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.

15. 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. Do not 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. To learn more about vanity publishing, you may want to check the following website:

And … here’s the link to an interesting article in which several journal editors were asked to answer the question: “What is the worst thing a creative writer can do when making a submission?” (You’ll see my response under the entry for Tiferet). 

Your prompt this week?  No, I didn’t forget, and here it is!

This week write a poem about getting (or not getting) published.

Some Things to Think about:

How did you prepare the poem?
Where did you send it?
Did it get accepted or rejected?
How are dull opening lines, stale language, clichés, and weak endings part of the “recipe” for rejection?
What’s the funniest rejection letter you’ve ever received?

For a little added fun, try writing a poem in the form of a rejection or acceptance letter.

Sylvia Plath once said, “I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.” What does that mean to you? How about using that quote as an epigraph for a poem?

If these ideas don’t work for you, consider wiring a poem about any kind of acceptance or rejection.

You might enjoy this article by Major Jackson, poetry editor of The Harvard Review.


  1. BRILLIANT, Adele! Thanks for the reminder.

    Okay if I use this with my students during the autumn term? I'd like to copy and paste it into a document I can hand out to them (with full and proper acknowledgment to you and your blog).

    1. Thanks, Jamie! Absolutely—feel free to share with your students. I hope they find the guidelines useful.

  2. Thank you so much for this! So VERY helpful!

    1. So glad you're enjoying it, Terry! Thanks for commenting.

  3. 55 and Older

    Her eyes tearing up
    The elder AARP representative
    with dyed thinning red hair
    basically said
    "There's no room at the inn"
    There's no money here
    There's no help
    No job
    No hope
    Your only option is to die
    and do it quickly
    There's no money
    to bury you
    Dedicate your body to science
    At least you will serve
    a purpose then

    1. Risa,

      A sad commentary on that rep and her company. I hope it wasn't you she spoke to. I know from your previous poems that your outlook on life is much more positive.

    2. I agree with jamie's comment, a very sad commentary (perhaps on our culture in general).

      Thanks so much for sharing, Risa!

  4. Yes, it actually was me that she was speaking to. I ran out of that office in tears and wrote this poem. I did exaggerate a bit, she didn't tell me to die, it is just how I felt at the time.

    1. I'm so sorry you had to go through an experience like that.

    2. What a terrible experience for you, Risa. I'm glad you were able to write about it.

  5. Very helpful..I am trying to make my poem publish and I've got the office address of the editor but I've not got his email address or phone number. His office is nearby my town and I personally want to show him my few poems. What should I do? Should I go or would it be better just to post him the poems and wait for his reply? Please suggest me.

    1. Gurbakhshish,

      I'm glad you find the guidelines helpful.

      I would definitely recommend that you post the poems. Most editors are very busy and prefer mail or email correspondence. If you have the address of the office, I'd suggest sending to that address. I hope it works out for you!

  6. This is excellent advice, thank you! I have been studying the short poems of others for a few years, and have just recently started writing my own. I hope to use these guidelines someday soon and achieve my goal of being published.

    1. So glad you find the guidelines helpful, Jess! Thanks for your comment.

      I wish you all the best with your poems and with your goal to be published.

  7. Using your prompt this week, here's something not intended to be good poetry but just for fun.

    Sigh ...

    This poem of mine
    it doesn't rhyme,
    there's nothing
    substantial in it,
    but I sent it off
    like a bird aloft
    to a contest
    though I know
    I won't win it.

    As I noted, just for fun!

    1. Hello, Anonymous! What fun. Thanks for sharing!

    2. Actually, quite a good little humorous poem! You must share more with us!