How to Publish Your Poetry
Over the years, I’ve had more than forty poems published in a wide variety of literary magazines, and I’ve learned a few things about the submission process along the way. There are thousands of poets and only a smattering of literary magazines. How can you get your poetry into print? Here are some steps to get you started.
1. DEFINE YOUR MARKET
Hundreds of literary magazines exist to cater to diverse and often specialized audiences. Before you submit a single poem, be sure to define your market. Do you write for traditional literary magazines, or is your poetry generally avant garde? Do you want to reach children or adults? Does your poetry contain special themes, such as nature, politics, religion, or healing?
You may need to define different markets for different poems. Perhaps you write haikus, free verse, and sonnets. You will find some literary magazines specialize in publishing only sonnets, while others would never consider publishing a formal poem of any kind. Defining your market is an essential first step because it will help you to locate appropriate literary magazines. You can use the subject index in the back of most market references to find magazines that publish your particular genre of poetry. Online market guides often allow you to search by theme.
2. LEARN KEY SUBMISSION TERMS
When you open a market reference, you will encounter a slew of cryptic terms and acronyms. If you don’t know what they mean, you could risk failing to follow an editor’s guidelines. Before you peruse market listings, be sure to review these key terms:
SASE—A stamped, self-addressed envelope. If you want only a reply to your mail submission, use a no. 10 envelope with a first-class stamp. If you mail a submission and do not enclose an SASE, you may never receive a response.
IRC—An international reply coupon. When submitting work by mail to a foreign market, you cannot use domestic postage. You can, however, purchase an international reply coupon from your local post office, which the editor can then exchange for return postage in his or her own country.
Simultaneous Submissions—If you submit a poem to more than one literary magazine at the same time, you have made a simultaneous submission. Some magazines accept simultaneous submissions; others want an exclusive right to consider your work.
Previously Published Poems—Many magazines want to be the first to print a poem, and so they will not consider previously published poems. What makes a poem published? Most editors consider a poem printed in any publication, whether online or in hard copy, to be published. Editors may be willing to make an exception for your personal website. Be sure to clarify before submitting a previously published work.
First-Rights—If a magazine purchases first-rights, that means your work has never before been published; that is, the magazine has been granted the right to publish it for the first time. Rights generally revert to the author upon publication.
One-time Rights—Publishers who secure one-time, or simultaneous, rights agree to publish your work one time, and then the rights revert to you. The work may be published simultaneously in other, generally non-overlapping, markets.
Reprint Rights—If a magazine purchases reprint rights, that means the editor will consider work that has been previously published. Make sure you retain all rights to your work before submitting it for reprinting.
All Rights—Be cautious of publishers that purchase all rights. This means you will not be able to reprint your work anywhere without the permission of the original publisher. If you are going to surrender all rights to your work, ensure that you are appropriately compensated.
Electronic Rights—This usually means that you are granting permission to have your work published on a website, in an e-mail newsletter, or on a CD-Rom. Be sure to note any terms regarding the length of publication. Some magazine will request both print and electronic rights because they wish to maintain online archives of past issues.
3. RESEARCH MARKET LISTINGS
Now that you know what the market listings mean, it’s time to find magazines that might be a good match for your poetry. Several reference books are available for this purpose:
The Poet’s Market—Published by Writer’s Digest books, this is probably the most thorough reference guide containing publishers of poetry. It has hundreds of listings, abbreviated guidelines, and contact information. The book contains a subject index that will help you quickly locate appropriate markets.
The Christian Writer’s Market—If you write Christian poetry or poetry on broad religious themes, you may have trouble publishing your work in the secular marketplace. Although the Poet’s Market does contain religious poetry magazines, you will find more such magazines in Steve Laube’s reference, The Christian Writer’s Market.
Poets & Writers Magazine—Each issue of Poets & Writers magazine contains a classified ad section listing numerous markets. The advantage of using this magazine is that you know these markets are actively seeking submissions. Printed market guide books are updated only once a year, and some of the magazines listed may have ceased publication or closed their submission period. You can also access these classifieds on the Poet’s and Writer’s website at http://www.pw.org.
Online Market Guides—The internet sports a variety of online market listing guides. Some of the more extensive guides, such as Duotrope (https://duotrope.com/), charge a nominal subscription fee. New Pages contains a classified ad section with many calls for submission (https://www.newpages.com/classifieds/calls-for-submissions). You can also find current calls for submissions on writer discussion forums such as Absolute Write (https://absolutewrite.com/forums/).
4. OBTAIN AND FOLLOW GUIDELINES
Although market guides are useful for identifying magazines that might be appropriate for your poetry, it’s best to obtain more complete guidelines before submitting. Writers used to have to request guidelines by mail by enclosing an SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope). These days, however, nearly all publications post their submission guidelines on their websites.
Once you have obtained guidelines for a magazine, be sure to read and follow them carefully. Format your submission according to the preferences of the editor and include all the requested information. If guidelines are unavailable, follow standard procedure for formatting poetry. Type your name, address, e-mail, and line count at the top of each submission. Space down a few lines and type your title. Space down another two lines and type the text of your poem, single-spaced. Use a standard font and font size. Editors don’t want to be distracted by colors, and fancy fonts are often difficult to read.
If a magazine accepts e-mail submissions, be sure to note whether the editor wants the work as an attachment or pasted directly into the e-mail message. Take the same care with e-mail submissions as you would with print submissions, and place your name and address at the top of each submission. Some editors will want each poem sent in a separate e-mail. Be courteous and follow each editor’s preference.
5. CRAFT A COVER LETTER
Market guides will often tell you whether a cover letter is required, preferred, or not required. In the first two cases, you will need to craft a professional cover letter.
Publishing is a business, so your letter should follow standard business format. Place the date at the top, space down, and then type the name of the editor and the address of the magazine to which you are submitting. Greet the editor with Dear Mr. or Ms. (If you don’t know the gender of the editor because of a unisex name, use the full name with no title. I have received a lot of submission incorrectly addressed to Mr. Burris.) In the text of your letter, mention something positive about the magazine, but don’t be overzealous or unbelievable in your praise. If you have never seen the magazine, don’t reveal that fact. Editors don’t want to know you haven’t bothered to read their publication. You might instead compliment the publication’s website or unique title.
Go on to indicate the number and title of the poems you are submitting and briefly mention why you think they are appropriate for the publication in question. You may wish to include a short, two-sentence biography. List your most relevant publishing credits, but this is not the time to include a full curriculum vitae. If you’ve never been published, just skip this part of the cover letter. Don’t make a point of your lack of experience by writing, “I’ve never been published, but I hope to make it into your magazine.”
Your cover letter should not exceed one page. Editors may note in their submission guidelines any other additional information they wish to see included in the cover letter.
6. KNOW THE SECRET TO SUCCESS
You might think talent is the key to successful publication. But talent, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder, and even talented writers sometimes fail to obtain publication. There are two virtues that are the key to publishing success: patience and persistence.
While it is true that you may never publish a bad poem no matter how hard you try, you need both patience and persistence to publish even a good poem. It’s simple: the more poems you submit and the more magazines you research, the more poetry you will publish. Even published poets receive at least ten rejections for every one acceptance.
Be patient with rejection, and be persistent in your submission process. Keep a record of your current submissions and keep a separate list of rejections. This will ensure that you don’t accidentally send a rejected poem to the same magazine twice, and it will enable you to keep sending poetry to an array of magazines. Each editor’s preference is different: if you persist in submitting your poetry to different magazines, it is probable that one or more editors will like your work and snatch it up.