Submission Etiquette: How to Submit Your Poetry for Publication
Written by Thea Voutiritsas
Getting your work published is no easy feat, but living in the age of the internet makes it a little easier. That being said, there are a number of right (and wrong) ways to get your poetry into the hands of an editor. If you’re grappling with how to submit poetry for publication, there are a few simple steps to follow help you get the ball rolling.
Pick a place to send your stuff
The first step in figuring out how to submit poetry for publication is deciding where to submit it. Start by looking at what you plan to submit. If it’s a few poems, you’ll want to look at literary journals and magazines who publish similar types of writing. For instance, if your poems are free verse, you won’t want to submit to a magazine that strictly publishes sonnets. If you’re looking to submit a collection of poetry, make sure you have at least 60 pages to work with at the minimum, but 160 is a little more ideal.
Check the guidelines
Every journal, magazine, and publisher will have different rules for how to submit poetry. Make sure to read the guidelines carefully to make sure your poetry makes it into the proper channels. DMing your poems to an editor off the cuff probably won’t help you– even if you’re the next E.E. Cummings.
Some publishers and magazines will accept submissions online only, while others will only accept old-fashioned snail mail. And some places will take both. If you send work via snail mail, be sure to include a self-addressed, stamped envelope (often called a SASE) for publishers to return your work to you along with their response.
Write a cover letter
It’s only polite to introduce yourself before asking someone to consider your work. Depending on who you send your cover letter to, it could look a bit different. Magazines and journals don’t generally want that much information about the work itself in the cover letter. They want to know more about you– namely who you are, where your from, and any other relevant writerly information. Leave the poems to speak for themselves.
If you plan to submit poetry to a publisher with the goal of a book deal, it’s a little more difficult– especially without an agent. You’ll need to explain a bit about the book and why it’s worth printing. Explain your target audience, how you fit in with the publisher, and what makes your perspective unique.
Regardless of where you submit poetry, don’t be hard to find. Be sure to include contact information at the top of your cover letter. Give your name, address, telephone number, and email.
Format it neatly
When you submit poetry, be sure to let your writing stand out—not the typeface. Be sure your poems are easy to read and annotate by selecting a simple sans serif font, double spacing your lines, setting 1-inch margins, and numbering the pages. Some publishers will have other formatting requirements as well. This isn’t to be mean or create some sort of ivory tower—it’s to streamline the editorial process. Editors want to be able to sort through the massive pile of manuscripts they receive and get back to you as soon as possible. Remember, the key is to make your work as easy as possible to get to. If it’s too difficult to find, read, or sort, it may end up in the trash.
Proofread, proofread, proofread
Perhaps the most important step to submitting your poetry is making sure it’s error-free. Take a fine-tooth comb to your writing and remove any extraneous commas, wild typos, and any other issues that may pop up as you write. The last thing you want is a silly mistake to detract from your writing.
Send original work
Don’t send out work that’s been published previously. For magazines and journals, this includes work previously posted on Instagram and personal blogs. Some book publishers will be okay with work that exists online, as long as not all of it has appeared together as a collection before. If you’re ever not sure whether something qualifies as “original,” don’t be afraid to send an email and ask.
Be straightforward about simultaneous submissions
Simultaneous submissions are incredibly common. Publishers and magazines usually understand that aspiring authors often submit poetry to more than one place. If they don’t, it’ll be listed in their guidelines. However, if they do, be sure to write “This is a simultaneous submission. I will immediately withdraw my submission should it be accepted elsewhere” in your cover letter. And if it is accepted somewhere else, be sure to notify them! You’re in hot water if you allow more than one magazine to publish the same piece.
Send out your work in tiers
Submit your poetry to your top choices first. If it’s your dream to be published in the New Yorker, give them the first shot. If you submit poetry to small and large magazines at the same time, you may end up saying yes and withdrawing your piece before your top choice has a chance to respond. Work your way down your favorites list as you send out your work.
Accept the things you cannot change
This is probably the most difficult part of submitting your poetry for publication. Some publishers will get back to you within the week, some within the year, and some you’ll never hear from again. Don’t lose faith in your writing if you don’t receive a response right away. Rejection is part of the process, and it’s important not to take it personally. Once that submission goes out, the best we can do is keep writing, learning, and growing.