There are numerous journals (print and electronic) to which poets have the option of submitting their work. I’m often asked in workshops if there are guidelines that should be followed. Accordingly, every few years, I review and update the following. I hope you find this helpful!
You may think that the ultimate litmus test of your work is whether it gets accepted or rejected by literary magazines. The truth is: good quality work is often rejected purely because of an editor’s stylistic biases, and even works of innovative genius are frequently returned. By the same token, mediocre work is often published.
Okay, let’s say you’ve read your poems at open mic sessions and have not been booed off the stage. Maybe even you’ve participated in poetry writing workshops and have refined your poems to their highest forms. If you are convinced that your poems are ready for publication, what do you do about submitting them to journals?
1. 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 buying poetry magazines. Aside from buying poetry magazines, you can conduct your research over the Internet. Many poetry magazines now have some sort of web presence, 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. This is your best way of assessing the suitability of your work for particular magazines. It can be time-intensive, but it will save you a fortune in stamps and considerably reduce the amount of rejection slips you accumulate.
2. You can also do further research in libraries, but most libraries don’t subscribe to magazines published by the smaller presses. Invaluable resources are books like Writer’s Market are immensely helpful.
3. When you’ve decided which journals you’d like to target for possible publication, check the journal’s submission guidelines and follow them meticulously!
Most importantly, ALWAYS be sure to check each journal’s specific guidelines and submission preferences. Following are some general guidelines. If they don’t conflict with individual journal guidelines, they may be helpful to observe.
· 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 who hasn't a clue about basic submission etiquette. Poetry should be single-spaced.
· Always retain a copy of any material you send, especially if the guidelines call for snail mail submissions. If you send by email, be sure to save your emails.
· A general “rule of thumb” is to type one poem to a page.
· 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 your marital status. It is not necessary to include a bio. Most editors are not impressed by previous publication credits and judge submissions on their own merits. Only include a bio if the guidelines require one.
· Make sure each poem has your name and contact information on it. 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.
· 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.
· Refrain from using copyright symbols, as 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. Send no more than five poems, and DON’T follow up with another batch during the same reading period.
· While some journals prefer snail mail submissions, the majority of both print and online journals prefer electronic submissions (often through such submission managers as cloud-based Submittables). Be sure to read each journal’s guidelines carefully before submitting.
· Simultaneous submissions were once a major “no-no,” but they are widely allowed today. Be sure to check the guidelines for each journal, as these may vary. Given the response times of many magazines, a poem may be “away from home” for many months before you know if it had been accepted or rejected. If you submit simultaneously, be sure to let journals to which you’ve submitted know when a poem has been accepted by another journal.
· Don’t query editors about the status of your work! Once you send a submission, wait for a reply. In most cases, queries about status are a turn-off to editors. Many journals will indicate response time in their guidelines – if that response time has long passed, then and only then might you query.
· 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.
· You should not expect editors to make individual comments on your poems, accepted or not. Editors are not critiquers in that sense – they simply choose the poems that 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.
· Editors usually work very hard and often earn little or nothing for all their efforts. Many of them even subsidise the magazines they publish from their own pockets. Most of them do it for the same reason that poets submit – love of the art. So please, respect the editors to whom you send your poems. This does not 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 is not uncommon for poems to be rejected by numerous magazines before being accepted. It is purely a process of trial and error. So, persevere.
A Few Additional Resources:
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 published, you may want to check the following website:
Poets & Writers offers a database that provides, as P&W phrase it “everything you need to direct your work to the publications most amenable to your vision.”
thePOETRYkit offers a comprehensive list of poetry ezines (online journals that publish poetry).
Poetry Mountain offers an alphabetical list of both print and online journals.