You’ve gotten over the idea that writing poetry is only for strange people who carry around moleskin notebooks with ribbon bookmarks. You may have even admitted to people you’ve met in airports, knowing you will never see them again, that you write poetry. Perhaps after supplying an alibi, you’ve even gone to an open mike poetry reading and mustered the courage to read a poem or two of your own. What do you do now with those poems you have labored over, edited and re-edited, let stew and percolate, honed and polished until you think you may have something that approaches, as Marianne Moore would put it, “a place for the genuine.” How do you find a potential home for your poems? Where can you find a journal or review that might publish your genuine work, a piece of who you are, and have it reside where the world can see it?
If you haven’t created a profile with Submittable online, this is the place to start. The days of paper submissions and schlepping to the post office are over, except for a few magazines that are Luddite holdouts. You will find that some publishers will charge you a fee of two or three dollars, but that is not much more than postage would cost you, and your submission is instantaneous over the internet; just don’t expect the response to be.
No publisher is making a killing over a three dollar processing fee. It goes to cover their cost of printing and managing your submission. But perhaps the real reason to sign up with Submittable is the Discover tab that takes you to a call for submissions. You can even fine-tune it for just poetry. A list of journals will appear and the length of time you have until the submission window closes. They are arranged from publications that will close in a few hours to months down the road. When you do submit, Submittable even records your entries for you, listing whether your submission has been received or is in progress. It will store the results of your submissions as either accepted, declined or withdrawn in separate folders.
There are other websites listing publishers seeking submissions. New Pages.com lists submission requests by order of the first day the request goes out. This may suit early birds who want their poems to be the first editors will read. Poets and Writers orders their submission requests alphabetically in a monthly Classified section. There are other sites too, like The Review Review, and Every Writer. I find they are worth checking out occasionally as, even though there is some overlap, no one site has all potential magazines covered. The Submission Grinder, an all volunteer site is one of the most complete, but also one of the most difficult to navigate. Those with an understanding of web programming may find it useful.
Once you find potential publishers to submit to, how does the process work? First and foremost, follow the guidelines of the publisher religiously. If they ask for only three poems do not send more than three. If they want a short bio, send a short bio—a few sentences, not a two-page history of your life. It is worthwhile to target themed editions if you have poetry that matches. If the publication is asking for poems that deal with boundaries or music, that narrows your competition, but it also means you may be wasting your time if you send in poems that have nothing to do with the theme.
But how do you know your poems are a good fit for a specific journal? Read the journal. Some might be strictly online journals so accessing them will be easy. Even some print magazines publish online or at least samples of their poems online. But what do you do when no samples or online presence of what the journal prints exists? All publishers want you to buy their magazines and in the end you’d have a wonderful collection, but we are poets here, and everyone knows how well that pays. I have found it useful to go the Masthead tab or the About tab listed on most websites and find out who the poetry editor is. For example Streetight’s poetry editor is Roselyn Elliott. I do a simple goggle search for “Roselyn Elliott poems,” and what do you know, I have a number of sites where I can see the kind and style of poetry she writes and what might appeal to her as editor of the magazine. You can even take this further by searching for the contributors to a magazine you are interested in and doing the same thing.
At first you may be happy that any publisher is interested in your work. There is real satisfaction in knowing that someone somewhere has laid eyes on it, but after a while you may wish to be more selective. You may want to go beyond being published by someone who has no background in serious poetry and is doing this as a hobby, to journals that, shall we say, have a little more cred. What do you look for? Years ago, online journals were frowned on, but no more. Their circulation often is much greater than print journals so your poems will be read by a much larger audience. A better mark of the quality of a journal might be its longevity. If it’s been around for a while it probably has something going for it. You might also want to determine if it is affiliated with a school or university. If the magazine is associated with a college that has an MFA program, it probably is an established publication that takes its mission seriously. And finally, do they pay? Even five or ten dollars for a poem, if nothing else, feels like validation. Any publication willing to pay has real skin in the game.
Finally, I am going to suggest you create your own very simple spreadsheets. Nothing more complicated than a column for the poem title, a column for the publication sent to, a column for the date you sent it, and a column for the date you received a response. Why do this when Submittable does much the same thing? Well, there are still good magazines out there that do not use Submittable, and it is important to track what you have sent and where, as almost all journals now accept simultaneous submissions. When you have a poem accepted, you need to be able to notify the other publications with a withdrawal. A spreadsheet will also help you recognize how long the response time typically is from each journal.
Best of luck with your submissions. Streamline the process as best you can so you can go about the important business: the writing of genuine poetry.
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