How to Publish a Poem: A Guide for New Submitters
Jeff Streeby, Associate Editor
OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters
Establishing for yourself the appropriate expectations:
As a new poet, first be aware that you will receive far more rejection notices than acceptance notices. Writer’s Relief suggests that “…you’ll need to send any given poem to 100 markets before you throw in the towel.” Be ready for that. Be patient. Be determined. Be systematic. Be professional.
- Don’t expect to publish in any top-tier print or online publication. Wherever you submit, expect rejection. That’s realistic. It’s nothing personal with editors. Top journals, in print or online, accept less than 1% of unsolicited submissions.
- Don’t expect to get paid. About 1 in 75 journals offer payment of any kind. Most payments offered are token payments.
- Don’t expect editors/publishers to discuss your work with you. Most don’t have time or inclination. By the time you have submitted your poems, they speak for themselves though they might not say what you think they say.
- Don’t expect an immediate or even a prompt response. The wait time between submission and a decision by an editor/publisher can range anywhere from 5 minutes to nearly 2 years. New Yorker always has a 2.5 year backlog of accepted poems. An average wait for an editor’s response to your work would likely exceed 5 months.
- It is usually inappropriate to inquire about the status of a submission before 90 days have passed. Publishers’ guidelines will usually specify when status inquiries may be made.
Identification of markets for your work:
Several print and online resources exist for researching poetry markets.
- Poet’s Market is a printed reference available through Amazon. This book lists 1200 publishers of poetry, their deadlines, guidelines, and calls for submissions. Other print resources available through Amazon include How to Publish Your Poetry, Second Edition: A Complete Guide to Finding the Right Publishers for Your Work (Square One Writer’s Guide) 2nd Edition by Helene Ciaravino and Poet Power: The Complete Guide to Getting Your Poetry Published by Thomas A. Williams.
- New Pages is a valuable all-purpose online resource that lists, among other important information, available markets for poetry and prose. It provides descriptions, contact information, and calls for submissions for hundreds of literary and alternative journals and magazines publishing online and/or in print.
- The Facebook group Call for Submissions is a closed group that publishes submissions calls from and for its members. Any writer may apply for membership.
- Duotrope is an online resource available to writers by annual subscription. Duotrope is arguably the most useful of the resources for serious writers, providing descriptions and contact information on over 6000 literary magazines and journals, providing a weekly deadline/theme newsletter, providing a submissions tracking service, and perhaps most valuable and helpful of all, providing a search feature that allows writers to find suitable publishers for the form, style, length, content, and tone of their own work.
Preparation to submit your work to journals and magazines:
- Identify and then avoid making submissions to journals that publish everything they receive.
- Identify and then make few submissions to journals that publish very little of what they receive.
- Identify then plan to submit to those journals that publish work you like, work like yours in content, form, length, style, and tone.
- Read the journals to which you plan to submit.
- Familiarize yourself with use of the common submissions managers like Submittable and Green Submissions.
- Plan to actively support the journals to which you submit work by subscribing.
- Plan to actively promote these journals through your social media accounts.
Preparation of your manuscript form:
Some practices regarding manuscript preparation are almost universal.
- Use 1” margins all sides.
- Set poetry manuscripts in single space.
- Use 12 point type size.
- Use upper and lower case Times New Roman or Geneva fonts or similar easy-to-read fonts. Do not use display or ornate typefaces. No all-caps. Folllow publishers’ guidelines.
- Start each poem on a new page.
- Put all poems to be submitted in a single document. Some journals require that each poem be submitted separately. Read and follow the publisher’s guidelines.
Preparation of your poem/s:
- Make sure each poem for submission is complete and in the form you want to see abroad in the world with your name attached.
- Make sure each poem for submission is correct. Spelling errors, usage errors, grammar errors, word choice errors, typographical errors, or errors in form or fact all more or less guarantee rejection.
Preparation of the cover letter:
Many publishers/editors request a cover letter to get an idea of who the submitter is and what sort of credentials the submitter has. This letter helps to establish broadly their expectations for the work they are about to read. Make your letter brief or at least succinct, and the more businesslike it is, the better. If your letter runs more than a single typed page, it’s too long.
Some tips for an effective cover letter:
- Be cordial.
- Be genuine.
- Don’t be chummy.
- Don’t be cute.
- Don’t fawn.
- Don’t grandstand.
- Don’t rant.
Some things you might include in an effective cover letter:
- Your personal history (the shortest version)
- Your education history (the shortest version)
- Your publication history (understate this by listing only 3-5 specific titles/places of publication and using the phrase “and others.”)
- Your poetry honors/prizes (summary)
- A list of titles to be found in the submission
- A statement declaring the submission to be either “simultaneous” or “exclusive”
Preparation of your author biography:
Most editors/publishers will ask for a short biographical statement to include with your published work. Lengths of these will vary, so prepare in advance and keep on file three versions of a third-person biographical statement that use mostly the same information as follows:
- 50 words and not a word more,
- 100 words and not a word more and
- 150 words more or less.
These templates will then be easy to adjust, depending on the specific requirements of the journals to which you submit.
Making postal submissions.
Fewer and fewer publications accept hard-copy submissions through the mail. Follow all guidelines issued by the publication for preparing your submission.
Many conventional practices for hard-copy submissions are as follows:
- Print the submission in black ink on regular 8.5” x 11” bond paper.
- Start each poem on a new sheet of paper.
- Include a cover letter with complete contact information, including email address.
- Include a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) or a post-card for a mailed response.
- If the submission is more than 1 page, bind with a paperclip, not staples.
- Do not send your submission through registered mail. Most journals will not sign for receipt.
- Do not send the only copy of your work.
- Do not expect to have the MS returned. Most journals recycle hard-copy submissions.
Making online submissions
More and more publications use online submissions managers like Submittable or Green Submissions. A few publications accept submissions through email.
Duotrope, the submissions manager arguably the most useful to serious writers, charges an annual fee. A sampling of services that Duotrope provides to its users are as follows:
- tracks submissions by date and type
- maintains statistics, i.e. acceptance rates in all categories
- maintains your submissions history
- provides descriptions and links to approximately 6000 viable print and online publications
- provides interviews with publishers for clarification and elaboration of guidelines and preferences
- provides information on “defunct” and “permanently closed” publications
- provides publications’ “open to submissions” and “closed to submissions” information
- provides a newsletter announcing themes and deadlines for listed publications
- provides a tutorial for efficient use of the site: https://duotrope.com/guides/basics.aspx
Green Submissions https://greensubmissions.com/ is free for Submitters to use if the publication to which the submission is being made is a subscriber to the service. Submitters submit to a specific publication through a link provided by the publication and a free personal account. Other services are minimal. Submitters receive email updates on each submission’s status only from the publication.
Some publications accept submissions through email. Some accept submissions only in the body of the email; others, only as attachments. Follow publishers’ guidelines.
It is essential for poets to track their submissions. Failure adequately to do so is professionally irresponsible and can result in simultaneous publication of the same piece in more than one journal. This outcome will result in issues of copyright infringement that might require action at law. At best, such duplicate publication will reflect unfavorably and often indelibly on the reputation of the submitter.
Poets can track their submissions through services such as Duotrope (above) or through personally designed and maintained spreadsheets.
Submission to a journal by a poet is viewed by most publications as an offer of a license to publish the submitted work. Acceptance of a submission offered under these terms is seen as an acceptance by the publication of the poet’s offer of a license to publish. Standard practice, in most cases, is for the poet to grant first North American rights or to grant rights as outlined by the publication for a specified period. These terms and conditions are often specified in the guidelines for submission. At the expiration of the exclusive period, all rights revert to the poet. The original publisher of a piece will usually ask to be identified whenever the piece is reprinted or anthologized. Most publications also will ask for rights to archive permanently on a website or to anthologize a particular piece in a regularly scheduled or expanded print compilation. Other reprint requests by third parties are referred to the poet for written permission.
Terms and conditions of these agreements vary from publication to publication. Read the guidelines.
Vanity publishing by a new poet is in most cases self-destructive. Self-publication of work that has never been offered to or has been always rejected by qualified editors guarantees that the work will be permanently restricted to the smallest conceivable audience. If you want to be read, write for readers, not for yourself. Let publishers and readers decide what’s good.
Also and especially note that publication of poems on personal blogs and websites counts formally as “publication.” These pieces will not afterwards be eligible for contests or for publication in journals, online or in print, that require submissions of only “previously unpublished” work.
Write well, write much, and submit often.
Personalized assistance and advice from O:JA&L:
Evaluation Services from O:JA&L: Poetry Manuscript
Evaluation Services from OJA&L: Single Poem
Editing Services from O:JA&L: Poetry or Prose
About the writer:
Jeff Streeby is an O:JA&L Associate Editor for poetry and prose.