How to submit a poem!
It seems silly to some, but a lot of new, young,
or new to publishing writers ask me, "How do I submit a poem?" They
usually have specific questions, "I was thinking about submitting a poem,
but I don't know a lot about poetry... Even though it is usually a simple
process there are a few pointers that will help new writers submit.
1. Read the Publication! Find a Market
This goes for any submission of your work. You need to find a market, and
the best way to do this is to read read read. I know some writers that get
offended that a certain publication rejected them. They say something
like, "I've been published in [insert outstanding publication] and this
little journal rejected me? Well the truth is most editors know what they
like. Many have a certain quirk to them, and if your writing doesn't fit,
it doesn't matter how good it is, they won't publish it. I knew a writer
once that started sending his work to great publications, and worked his
way down a list until he got to what he thought of as a bad publication.
All of them said NO. He took a step back, spent a lot of time reading, and
then send his work to a very good publication that had recently published
a story like one of his. They accepted it. Know your editors. Know what
they are looking for.
2. Pick your best work.
Don't fall into the trap of "Oh that publication isn't good enough for my
best work." If you have been published many times that might be an
argument, but if you are just starting out, try, try, try. Send your best.
3. Simultaneous Submissions
Many writers ask about this, and most editors hate them. The truth is it
is a reality of publishing. You more than likely will have to submit your
work to more than one publication at a time. Editors tend to hate them
because they have gone to publish a good poem and found it has already been
published. Speaking as someone who has edited a few journals and zines, I
know how much of a pain it is not to be told a work has been published.
Should you tell the editor that you are submitting simultaneously? Most
magazines say that you have to disclose the fact that you are submitting
to another journal. The truth is, yes, and I'll say it, it does count
against you. If I'm considering 2 pieces and my return time is say 6
months or even 3 months, I know that this author has been submitting this
work over and over again. The truth is all editors of poetry should know
that the work is going to be submitted to more than one publication, and it is
silly to even ask.
MOST IMPORTANT RULE: if your work gets published make sure you email or
contact each publication you have submitted it to and tell them. If they
send you a letter of acceptance and you send back that it has been
published already, you will be blacklisted. This means you will never be
published in this journal, ever ever. Also if you think you'll just let it
go through remember that most journals take the first time publication
rights. This means they can take legal action against you for publishing
it somewhere else.
4. 3 to 5 to 6 poems
Most magazines or journals will put a limit on how many poems you can
send. Do not exceed this limit. Many times the editors will simply
throw out the whole submission if they get too many poems from one author. Make sure you stay within the limit. It
makes you look desperate if you send more than the number of poems they ask
for. On the other hand make sure you send at least the lowest number they
are asking for. If it says send 3 to 5 poems at least send three. You are
increasing your chances, of course.
5. Line Breaks.
Make sure your formatting comes through to the editor. If you are sending
an email, and you paste it in the body of the email, sometimes the poem won't
keep its formatting. You may have to attach an rft. If the journal says
they will not take attachments don't send them, they will simply delete
them. If you send your poem in the body of an email you might want to
write later to ask if it came through okay. Most very well established
journals are using submission software. If they have their own system use
6. Send your work to the right place!
Pay close attention to the submission guidelines outlined by the journal.
Many journals will have a specific editor you need to send the submission
to. If you send your submission to the wrong editor it goes in the trash.
Also, some journals now are using online submissions programs. Make sure
you follow all their guidelines so your submissions makes it through.
7. Cover letter
Writer a cover letter to send with your submissions. You can write one
letter and change it each time you send a submission, but make sure to
include some niceties like I read your journal and liked... also include
what you are sending 3 poems titled... so the editor knows what to look
for. Make the letter professional. Many editors are used to taking snail
mail submissions from the yesteryears of 5 or 6 years ago. Some are, I
hate to say, a little bitter about taking online submissions in the first
place. Don't give them more reasons to toss your work. Make your letter
professional, and be polite about the process.
Yes you need to send some kind of bio. If you have published before
include your best publications, if you haven't published just say your
city and occupation: John Smith is working on his first collection of
poetry to be finished April of 2009. He is a truck driver who has been
influenced heavily by the open road. He currently lives with his dog Adam
in New York city. Write the bio in third person. Many zine editors will
just cut, clean up, and paste your bio. It saves time and effort, so help
them as much as possible. It is not always a strike against you if you
have not been published. Most editors will give more creed to well
published writers, but they do not disqualify if you have not published.
9. Keep a log
Sending out poetry gets a little complicated sometimes. Keep a log of
when, where, and what you send. If you forget where you published a piece
you might just publish it twice, or worse you might get mixed up and not
know if it was published at all. It happens more often than you might
think. If you send 4 poems to 3 journals a week for a year you will have
submitted to 156 journals, and you will have submitted 624 poems. That
number could be on the low side. If you consider you are only submitting
to about 12 journals a month, this isn't too far outside what persistent
writers do. Keep a chart. We've created one here, if you like you can cut
and paste it into a word processor to save time, it is landscaped, so you
will have to set your page settings accordingly:
10. Keep trying
Journals are going to say no. It is that simple. Every writer is rejected.
Use the time you are submitting your works to write new pieces. Keep
writing. Keep trying.