humbly submitted by someone who wears two hats: poetry editor and poet. I am writing from both perspectives.
1. Read guidelines. The publication most likely has a website where they post guidelines. If not, buy the publication. If not in the publication, send a query letter or e-mail to the managing editor or poetry editor, if the publication has one.
2. Query if there’s something you don’t understand. Don’t expect an answer right away, but if after a reasonable time, your query isn’t answered, it’s probably a good sign that they won’t have time to look at your work.
3. Include a cover letter. For e-mail submissions, this can be in the body of the e-mail or as an attachment; although I prefer receiving these in the body of the e-mail. The cover letter should contain your name, your current mailing address, your e-mail address and a telephone number, and a brief biography in the third person. If you don’t have any writing credits, you can write about your reading experience; perhaps you’ve read at a couple of open mics; i’ve seen people mention such info as who their favourite writers are, but i’d keep it minimal.
4. For your submission, make sure you follow the format outlined in the guidelines about file types, spacing, etc. Don’t send your work as a PDF if they say no PDFs. if you’re sending visual poems, JPGs are the way to go, not word processing documents which make messes of spacing and fonts because they vary from computer to computer.
5. If they don’t like simultaneous submissions, make sure to send them something you haven’t already sent out.
6. Don’t ask the editor to pick something from your website or blog. They won’t.
7. Don’t send work that you’ve previously published on a site or blog unless you know that the publication is willing to consider such.
8. Don’t use a pretty font or pretty colours. The publication has its own style and your work will be translated into whatever font used by the publication. Also, not everyone has the full range of fonts so weird stuff happens when oddnik type is used.
1. If you’re lucky, the publication will send you an acknowledgement, but that doesn’t always happen. See if they mention response times in their guidelines. If so and it’s past the response time, send them a polite e-mail or letter to find out about the status of your work. If you don’t hear follow-up within a reasonable time limit, you should feel free to ignore their rule on simultaneous submissions and send the publication elsewhere.
2. Don’t ask for advice on editing the poem. I have rarely seen a publication where the editors offer feedback. That’s what workshops, writers’ circles and first readers are for. Friends and loved ones will stroke your ego and tell you your work is wonderful. That’s nice, but meaningless when it comes to publishing.
3. If you receive a rejection for a piece, don’t respond with mean or snide e-mails. There are plenty of reasons why work gets rejected, but it isn’t personal. If a publication receives 100 poems a month, chances are a good 80% of them will be rejected and your poems will be among them. Not serious, just a crowded market and limited resources.
4. If you are friends with the poetry editor, don’t expect automatic publication. If the publication is professional, the editor and editorial board, if there is one, will have to judge the work based on the quality of the work, not on personal friendships. I’ve lost a few so-called friends who were miffed that their work was rejected. I find that really odd. I expect my work to get rejected and am astonished when it’s accepted.
5. Keep track of your submissions somehow. I use a program called Sonar by Spacejock. It’s not perfect, but it keeps track of how long something is under submission and helps you from not sending out the same work over again if it’s still being considered.
6. If the editor gives you a chance to proof your work and bio before publication, do so, but understand that all kinds of annoying errors can creep into a work, so manage your expectations.
7. If you’ve had work rejected, it’s fine to send more work for consideration. I knew someone who sent work to one publication eleven times before having it accepted.
8. There’s always the self-publishing route if you decide you want to get your work out there and editors are being damn fools. Voltaire self-published, as did many others. You can even start your own small press to publish others.
9. Once you’ve built up a resume of publication credits and some featured readings, you are eligible for for grants from your city, province or federal government. This is a wonderful opportunity to fund your work.(If you can't handle rejection, I don't recommend this.)
10. Finally, once you’re familiar with contemporary poetry and publishers and you’ve had work published in journals and you’ve been attentive to revision suggestions from trusted writers and editors, do try to write and publish a manuscript. But query first to ensure that the manuscript won’t end up in the slush pile or just in the slush.
The main thing is to handle yourself professionally. Most poetry editors work for free or some nominal fee. It’s a labour of love. Be courteous and co-operative and keep going. The more you read contemporary poetry, the more you attend readings, the more you write and revise your work, the stronger it will become. It doesn’t mean that your work will be accepted all the time, but every once in a while, like a lightning strike, it will be. Is it worth the effort? For many people, it isn’t. For me it is. And I thank poetry editors for their hard work.
There are lots of opportunities to get your work published and poetry publications are hungry for good poetry.
If you have any tips on submitting poetry, I’d be pleased to hear them.