Problematic publishing

So you have decided your stance on how artistic influence can change the world (or not) and you have finished writing a poem (or twenty). Not just poems to be worked on, but pieces that you consider to be finished. What next? What do you do with them? Some of it is common sense, but it is frightening how often common sense is ignored.

I have been having increasing conversations with young writers (Poetbloggs included) about submitting work for publication. The primary fact about being published is that the work really does need to be finished. It needs to be the best that you can produce before you send it in to a magazine, newspaper or journal. ¬¬Don’t just dash off the first (or second, and rarely the third) draft of your piece in the mail with a cover letter to every editor you can think of.

Research the places that you are sending to. Do they stop accepting submissions over a certain period? Do they have a maximum word count? Or a maximum number of submissions?

If you can, read a previous edition of a publication and see what the editor likes. Do you fit into that category? Maybe make a list of the places you are most likely to fit into and send there first, but don’t stick too rigidly to the list either.

Most publications will have a limit of how much you can submit at any one time. 5 poems or 2 short stories for example. Don’t send an editor your entire first collection. They won’t read it. Best to send a select few that are most likely to suit an editors taste. (Personally speaking, don’t print your name and address on every page. It is messy to read, and I have always found it annoying. Your name is more than enough on each page)

Write a short cover letter to go with the submissions. Don’t ramble for 5 pages, be brief and to the point. Publishing is a business like any other and when you reach this stage of writing the creative side must take a back seat for a while. Give relevant information – i.e. where you have been published previously. An editor doesn’t want to read your midterm English results. Or your SAT scores. Or what you scored in an Oxford matriculation.

If you want, include a brief biographical note at the bottom of the page. This is not essential, if you are accepted the publication will contact you and request this before it goes to print. Do include your contact details on the cover note, see earlier comments on this.

Be patient after you have submitted. Some journals take over a year to respond. It doesn’t mean you are being ignored, it just means that they are understaffed.

Be prepared to get rejected. Repeatedly. It happens to everyone. Repeatedly. It is not a personal attack on your writing, it is rarely even a criticism of your work, it is simply an editorial decision. Editors are people, and people have specific tastes.

For each rejection letter, send out two new submissions. Send one to the publication that rejected you (preferably with new work) and send the rejected work to a different publication.

If your writing is good it will be published.

List of Poetry Journals
Maurice Harmon’s essay ‘Advice to a Poet’
There is lots or reading on Poetry International -pb.


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