How to maximise your chances of getting your poems accepted for publication
The current issue of The New Writer features interviews with three poetry magazine editors, which includes the following statistics:-
- Envoi magazine features 20 – 30 poets each issue, 400 – 500 poets will have submitted poems.
- Other Poetry publishes 200 poems from 3500 – 4000 submitted.
In other words, both poetry magazines only accept around 5% of poems submitted. This is actually generous as some poetry magazines accept as little as 2% of poets submitted. So how can you increase your poems’ chances of being accepted in such a tough market?
Read Poetry Magazines
Better still, subscribe to a few. Although poetry magazines generally don’t favour subscribers when selecting poems for publication, subscribing to as many magazines as you can means that there will be a market for your work.
Reading poetry magazines will also give you an idea of the sort of poetry the editors like so you won’t send your finely honed sonnet to a magazine that only publishes experimental poetry.
Polish your Poems
Tempting as it is to send out your latest masterpiece, keep it.
Look at the magazine you want to submit poems to. Do you have any unpublished poems that will fit the tone and subjects the magazine tends to cover? Your finely honed sonnet may sit alongside free verse poems if the subject and/or tone of the poems are similar. When you have a feel for what you want to submit to the magazine, look at your latest masterpiece again. Does it fit? If so, add it in. If not, keep it for another magazine.
Re-read the poems you have selected to send and ensure they really are at final draft stage. Check also for grammar, spelling and typographical errors. Editors only accept around 5% of poems sent, so don’t give an editor a reason to reject your poems.
Read the Poetry Magazine’s guidelines
You’re inviting automatic rejections if you send your poems as an attachment when the poetry magazine asks for the poems to be copied and pasted into an email. Some poetry magazines prefer hard copies so your email submissions will be rejected.
If there are no guidelines, use standard submission format
- Select four to six poems
- Change the font to a standard font such as Times New Roman in black type
- Print each poem on a separate piece of paper with your name, address and email on each sheet
- Include a brief covering letter offering the poems for publication
- Include a self-addressed envelope with sufficient postage which is big enough to contain your poems plus a rejection or acceptance slip with no more than two folds
Why standard submission format?
- Four to six poems offers a poetry magazine editor a choice and chance to get a feel for your work without overwhelming them. Remember a poetry magazine is unlikely to accept more than three poems at one time.
- Non standard fonts and/or use of colour can make poems difficult to read. It also means an extra job of changing the font and/or colour for the poetry editor if they want to copy and paste your poem into the magazine.
- Separating each poem makes it easier for editors to keep the poems they want to accept and return the ones they don’t. As your poems are likely to be separated from your covering letter and each other, your name and address needs to be on each poem so the editor knows where it came from.
- Covering letters are polite and professional. Whilst an editor can guess that an envelope containing only poems is intended as a submission to the magazine, it’s good manners to actually say that’s what they are for and reassures the editor they are dealing with someone with a professional attitude.
- If you want to know the outcome of your submission, provide postage as poetry magazines haven’t the budget to pay the postage for you. When the Royal Mail introduced pricing in proportion, the thickness of the envelope is taken into account, so if a poetry editor has to fold your poems four or more times to get them into the envelope, then you may have to collect their reply to you from the post office and pay the additional postage plus a handling fee.
CVs and Résumés
Although poetry editors’ decisions may seem capricious and beyond comprehension, they do like to select poems on merit so there’s no need to send a list of publications, competition wins or jobs you held since the age of 16 as these won’t sway an editor’s decision.
If one is requested, either in the poetry magazine guidelines or on acceptance of a poem, think succinct. Note that any word count or length specified by the magazine is a maximum and, if you exceed this, your biography may either be rejected or edited to fit.
Best guide is to read the poetry magazine and look at the biographies they have already published.
If there are no guidelines or it is a new publication, include your name and a maximum of two short sentences with a word count of 50 or less about yourself and/or your poems.
Avoid sending out one poem to more than one editor at the same time. You are not maximising your chances of publication (because you should tailor your submission to the magazine, not take a splatter-gun-and-hope-for-the-best-approach) and it’s extremely irritating for poetry magazine readers to read the same poem in different magazines in more or less concurrent issues. You need to keep poetry magazine readers on your side as these are the people who will buy your collection later on.
Remember there are plenty of opportunities to publish a poem more than once without trying to get it in more than one poetry magazine:
- Look out for calls for submissions for anthologies on themes appropriate for your poem (check these are not vanity publications first)
- Look out for live literature or spoken word events near you. Some offer open mic slots, giving you the opportunity to read your poem to an audience
- Organise your own reading
- Get in touch with your local libraries, literature develop/outreach or arts organisations or local literature festival as they may offer publication opportunities
- Include the poem in a pamphlet or collection
- Create a blog or website and feature the poem
- Read at least one copy of the magazine you want to submit poems to before choosing which of your poems to submit
- Select four to six poems that you think best fit the poetry magazine you are submitting to
- Each poem in a standard font and black type on a separate sheet of paper with your name and address on each. Or poems for submission via email in the required format (attachment or in body of email) where the poetry magazine accepts email submissions
- Include covering letter (copy and paste into email if submitting via email)
- Ensure you have a large enough envelope and sufficient postage for the return of your poems and the editor’s response
- Double check for typos before sending
- Good Luck!