Saturday, September 18, 2010

Poetry Prompt #23 – Submission Etiquette

This week, instead of a prompt to encourage writing, here’s a “prompt” to encourage submitting your poems for possible publication. 

Whatever your publishing experience, researching the market is always important. Many poetry magazines now have a web presence, so the easiest and least expensive way to conduct your “market research” is via the Internet. You’ll usually find submission guidelines and information about editorial tastes; and many magazines post sample poems on their websites. Click Here for Info on Numerous Journals

You may also want to research e-zines (online journals). Here are a few of my favorites.

Electronic Submissions

Many print journals now accept electronic submissions. Be sure to read the guidelines carefully, and follow them (protocols may be the same as those for snail mail submissions). Some journals will accept submissions in attachment form; some require that the poems be copied and pasted into the body of an email. If a journal uses an electronic program like Submissions Manager, simply follow the directions.

Snail Mail Submissions

1. Always present your work in typescript (never hand-written). Use a simple 12-point font like Arial, Times, 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 number, and email address in the upper left or right hand corner. Setting name, address, etc. into clever text boxes at the top or bottom of the page isn’t necessary and can look amateurish. Formatting the poem with titles in larger fonts and in bold suggests that you’re doing the designer’s job. Go for a clean, no-flourishes appearance.

3. Type one poem to a page. For poems longer than one page, paperclip (don’t staple) the pages together. 

4. If you include a cover letter, it should be short, sweet, and under a page in length (it should include your name, contact details, and titles of poems submitted). Most editors would rather read your poems than your life story, but listing a very few credits is fine. Click Here for Sample Cover Letters.

5. 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 four or five poems, and DON’T follow up with another batch during the same reading period. 

6. 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 won’t reply to a submission if an s.a.s.e. is not included. If you are submitting material to a magazine outside of the US, include an I.R.C. (International Reply Coupon) with an unstamped s.a.s.e. 

7. Simultaneous submissions (submitting the same poems to more than one journal at a time) may or may not be encouraged by individual journals; be sure to check the guidelines. Be aware that response times vary, and your poems may be “away from home” for many months before you know if they’ve been accepted or rejected. 

8. Be sure to retain a copy of any material you send.  Most editors receive hundreds of submissions, and it is possible for submissions to go missing.

Heads-up #1: Don’t query editors about the status of your work (online or snail mail submissions). Once you send your poems, wait for a reply. A status query might be a turn-off to an over-worked editor who simply hasn’t gotten to your submission yet. Nor is it 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, and most editors are just too busy. Many journals will indicate response time in their guidelines – if that time has long passed, then (and only then) might you query. 

Heads-up #2: Remember that editors are not critiquers, and you should not expect them to make individual comments on your poems, accepted or not. Editors simply choose the poems they wish to publish. Occasionally, an editor will suggest edits required for publication. It’s up to you to decide whether or not you agree to the changes.

Heads-up #3: Important caveat – 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. Don’t be fooled by their flatteries. If you have to pay to be published, think again. (This, by the way, is not the same as paying an entry fee for a contest, which is credible and often necessary to fund the prize monies.) You can learn more about vanity publishing at the following website: Click Here for Vanity Publishing Info .

So … if you have some poems you feel are ready to submit, send them out this week. Remember that editors are not the ultimate arbiters of what is and isn’t good work. Selection is largely a subjective process; if your poems are rejected, don’t take it personally. Move on. Send the poems elsewhere. In Thoreau’s words, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.”


  1. I haven't submitted a poem in a very long time, but this "prompt" has inspired me. Thank you for the nudge and for all the great information.

  2. This is a real help to writers - a good "refresher course" for experienced writers and invaluable for novices!

  3. Thanks, Anonymous. Your comment is much appreciated.

  4. Thanks, Bob. I hope readers find the info useful.

  5. Adele, thanks for all the great prompts and helpful information. Your illustrations (pictures) are great too!

    (I don't have a Google account and "anonymous" seems the only way I can make a comment. Sorry about that!)

    Máire Ó Cathail (Ireland)

  6. Maire,

    I'm thrilled that someone in Ireland is reading the blog and enjoying it. Thanks so much for your comment.

    (My family comes from Strokestown, Co. Rosommon.)