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!
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
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
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.
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
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.
“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
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:
& 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.