5 Tips for Submitting your Work for Publication

The past few weekends at our Shameless Word Artist Society Meetings, we’ve been sharing our “finished” poetry with each other, and researching journals and contests to submit our poems to.  Seeking publication for your writing is a grueling task – there are so many factors Imageyou have to take into consideration!  Each journal and contest requires something different of you, prefers a different kind of writing, uses a different submission manager.  Though we’re newbies ourselves, here are a few things to keep in mind when you’re submitting your work:

1.  Edit.  Make sure you edit your work before you submit it somewhere!  Just like your high-school English teachers, a veteran editor will be able to tell if the writing you’re submitting is polished.  To give you an idea, I went through all of my old poetry this past week to select which poems were remotely publishable.  Of the 70 approximate poems I had stashed away, around 15 of them were of publishable merit (in my opinion).  Many of those poems were edited 6 or 7 times before they reached that point!  Editors appreciate receiving writing that’s been coddled, cared for, and pruned.

2. Research.  Research what the journal or contest you’re submitting to is looking for.  Often times their website will have a short blurb about the kind of writing they’re seeking out.  If their journal is looking for poetry or writing that’s “avant-garde” or experimental (such as one of my favorite online poetry journals La Petite Zine), and your poems are more grounded and accessible, then perhaps try looking elsewhere.  Of course, it never hurts to try.  If the journal’s website doesn’t describe what kind of writing they’re seeking, then take a look-see at their past issues and try to determine what they like from the writing they’ve previously selected.  Often times, journals will publish at least parts of their issues online for public access.

3.  Sell Yourself.  Most of the time, journals ask for a short cover letter and/or bio when you submit poetry to them.   Cover letters can be tricky – you don’t want to bog down the editors with too much to read aside from your creative writing.  A few friends of mine who work in the small-press editing field have let on that cover letters are better kept short and sweet.  They will be judging you by your writing skill, not the amount of awards you’ve received or the plethora of places your writing has been accepted.  That being said, it’s okay to include these things as long as you don’t go overboard.  If you’ve never been published before, then a short description of your “writing life” will do.  Your bio should also include aspects of your writing life.  This will be shown alongside your poetry if the editor selects you for publication.  You may also be able to have a little more fun with your bio.  For example, this is a bio for poet Adam Palumbo, recently published on Spork Press‘s website:

Adam Palumbo is a poet-critic from Annapolis, MD. His research includes rigorous people-watching, too many hours on his computer, and wearing sweatpants in the kitchen. He reads a lot and writes a little. He has published poetry at The Northern Virginia Review and St. Katherine Review and poetry reviews at The Rumpus, PANK, and Rattle

A little humor is okay.  Just research other author bios on each journal site to see what they’re looking for.

4.  Submit.  Once you have all these little ducklings in a nice row, submit your poetry.  Make sure to pay attention to the submission guidelines.  Typically publications ask you to submit anywhere from 1-5 poems.  However, this varies from place to place.  Some places have a page limit instead.  Others have line-limits for poetry.  The places you’re submitting may also ask that you put everything into one document.  Many of them have a PDF preference, to maintain formatting.  If you’re submitting to more than one journal at a time, make sure that simultaneous submissions are okay (i.e. submitting the same poem to several different places).  For the most part, this is an acceptable practice.  The journals you’re submitting to just ask that you notify them if another publication picks up your writing before they do.  And just a little tip – if you are doing simultaneous submissions, make sure you keep track of where and when you submit your poems!  A spreadsheet is a great way to do this.

5.  Patience.  After you’ve taken all these steps, just try to be patient.  Journals often receive a ton of submissions, and it’s difficult to sort through all of them in a timely fashion.  If you’re itching to know the status of your submission, look for the inquiry guidelines.  Editors will often specify that you don’t inquire about your writing until a certain amount of time has passed.  Respect this boundary!  They may be less inclined to choose your writing if you’re pestering them about it every few days.  It’s also important to remain patient when you get rejected.  Rejection is an inevitable part of a writer’s life.  Just keep trying!  You’ll eventually find an editor who appreciates your writing style, even if it doesn’t happen at first.  If you keep getting rejected and you’re not sure why, ask the editor(s) of the journal you’ve submitted to.  Ask them why they haven’t selected your writing, and if they think you need to improve or change anything.  Be open to critique!  Self examination is a great way to grow.

Do you have any other suggestions regarding publication?  What has been your experience with submitting to contests or journals?  Do you have suggestions for places to submit to? Share your experiences in the comments!


Life Mask: John Keats

Life Mask: John Keats

In the past, it was customary for casts to be made of the faces of royalty, artists, or other famous people immediately after their death. These casts are called death masks – and luckily for us, there is both and death mask AND a life mask of the poet John Keats! The picture featured here is John Keats’s life mask. I like the slight smirk that he’s wearing – it gives us a glimpse of his playful personality.

There are death masks of various other historically important people as well, including Abraham Lincoln, and James Joyce. Follow the photo-link to see more death and life masks.

Prompt: Steal a Title


One of the prompts my 400 level poetry teacher gave my class while I was attending the U of A, was to “steal” the title of a poem.  We were reading “The Ecco Anthology of International Poetry,” and she asked us all to find a poem there that we found interesting, and borrow its contents: not only the title but themes, images, language, etc.

I chose a tender poem by Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai, called Gifts of Love (if you click the above “Ecco Anthology” link, you can read this poem in the preview!), and used that to jump into my own poem of the same title.  What I ended up with was my own poem about “gifts” of love – however, where Yehuda talks of adorning his love in jewelry, my gifts were less literal.  My poem transformed into something of a tribute to my past relationships – to failed and lost love, to the awkwardness of teenage affection.

So, this is your prompt: steal the title (and perhaps some other things, too) from another poem.  It could be a poem that you connect with, or likewise a poem that you hate.  Don’t be afraid to let your poem deviate from its inspiration: make the poem yours.  Please post and share your results along with the original poem!  

The Shameless Word Artist Society: A Brief History

The beginning of the Shameless Word-Artist Society is comparable to the beginning of the solar system:  a few poets drifting along in the dark of poetic space crossed paths and began gravitating together, around the large, phosphorescent mass that is poetry.

The president of SWAS, Shanalee Smith, founded our group while studying creative writing at the U of A in 2010.  She quickly invited as many fellow poets, writers, and dreamers as she could squeeze an e-mail address out of, and the group began meeting on a weekly basis at various cafes and grassy hills on campus.

Since that time, the amount of group members we have has fluctuated: people have moved, graduated, taken up other hobbies.  But we still meet weekly to workshop each other’s poetry and fiction in a communion of coffee, tea, and strong language.

The other Shameless Word Artists: Nichole, Aurora, and Amy


And our long-distance artists: Dorian, Bobby, and Kevin