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 you 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!