How Not to Submit Poems

Actual examples of submissions:

  • Omit the cover letter and just attach poems to a blank email.
  • Include lengthy descriptions of the inspiration for the poems.
  • Using illegible fonts or coloured type on a coloured background where there isn’t enough contrast so the poems are difficult/impossible to read.
  • Printing poems on images
  • Sending images with poems when the magazine does not include artwork
  • Sending images with no clarification as to whether they accompany the poetry submission or are separate, especially if it’s unclear as to image copyright ownership.
  • Send poems as an image file.
  • Send attachments when asked to send poems in the body of an email.
  • Send poems that are too long.
  • Attachments in the wrong format or in a format the editor can’t open.
  • Send a manuscript worth of poems and suggest the editor selects the ones they like.
  • Use the wrong email address or use FB messenger.
  • Addressing an editor who also happens to be a woman as ‘Dear Sir…’
  • Chasing for a response within hours of sending. Some magazines do respond within 24 hours, but they are the exception.
  • Sending simultaneous submissions when requested not to and often enough to suggest this isn’t an occasional mistake.
  • If asked for a writer’s biography either sending a complete CV/resume or one that’s over the requested length.
  • Responding to a rejection to ask why a poem was rejected.
  • Responding to a rejection to say the rejected poem accepted elsewhere.

Why these approaches are wrong:

  • It may seem obvious to the submitter that the poems attached to a blank email are a poetry submission, but to an editor it’s discourteous and potentially spam. Your email only need say “Please find attached my poems [a list of titles is helpful] for consideration for publication in [magazine name]”.
  • Editors don’t have time to read about what inspired your poems. Instead of wasting their time, save this for a future blog article or response to an interview.
  • Editors need to be able to read your poems so a standard black font on white background is fine. Coloured type or paper or a distinctive font is just distraction and if they render your poems illegible, they’ll be rejected unread. Don’t stand out for the wrong reasons.
  • Similarly using an image as a background makes the poem difficult to read and easy to reject.
  • If a magazine doesn’t include artwork, why are you sending images? If you’re unsure, read the magazine or assume poems only.
  • If you send images, include a note to explain who owns the copyright. Artists and photographers own the copyright on their images just as you own copyright of your poems so if you don’t clarify copyright ownership, an editor will assume the images are not for use.
  • Avoid insisting your image accompanies your poem. Your poem should be able to stand alone and an editor may not be able to find enough space to publish both.
  • Don’t send text (a poem) as an image file only. If you have a concrete poem, send both a text copy and an image copy so the editor can see your intention and can decide whether to treat your poem as text or image. If you’re following normal poem layout conventions, send text so the editor can copy and paste and doesn’t have to retype your poem to use it.
  • If an editor asks for poems to be in the body of an email, any attachments are likely to be deleted unread.
  • Likewise attachments in the wrong format may be deleted because the editor can’t open them.
  • Conventional print magazines like poems of 40 lines because generally they fit on one side of a page, which is how the standard 40 line limit came about. Online magazines may not be tied to the 40 line limit but may still impose a line limit so that 180 line epics don’t appear alongside a haiku. If an editor’s set a limit, they are not going to make an exception no matter how exceptional you believe your poem to be.
  • An editor gets more poems in a week then they can publish in a year so sending a manuscript worth of poems and asking an editor to select one or two is arrogance. Read the guidelines, read the magazine and do the selection for the editor.
  • Editors request submitters use a specific email address so they can be certain that emails to that address are for the magazine only. This may be because they allocate specific times to work on the magazine or so they can separate personal from business emails. Using an editor’s personal address instead of the magazine’s address causes administrative headaches, makes you look like a queue-jumper and invites rejection. Using FB messenger, twitter or similar channels to try and get an editor’s attention won’t get a positive reaction.
  • Most magazines have a website/facebook page/twitter account/publish their editor’s name in the magazine. It’s not difficult to find an editor’s name. If you’re not sure ‘Dear Editor’ is better than ‘Dear Sir’.
  • No matter how tempting it is to chase a response, don’t because the easiest response is a rejection and time taken to respond to queries takes time that is better spend reading submissions. Give it six months and query if you must.
  • Avoid simultaneous submissions: generally editors don’t like them and it makes your admin and record keeping easier.
  • Check the guidelines on whether magazines want a writer’s biography or not and note the word limit. Editors don’t have time to whittle down your CV/resumé and it’s easier to exclude it.
  • Most of the time rejections aren’t about the quality of a poem, but about pressures of space and the fact your cat poem was the 15th one to land on the editor’s desk this month and, much as editor loves cat poems, 15 is too many. The editor may have rejected your cat poem because she accepted them on a first come first served basis and yours was the last, because she loves tortoiseshells and yours was about a tabby, because in this particular issue she decided not to include any cat poems, because she thought the poem was OK but the last stanza needed a final edit or because she hated your poem. She doesn’t have time to tell you and may be wary of telling you in case you start a lengthy correspondence about her rejection of your cat poem. Accept an editor has the right to say no as well as yes and send your cat poem elsewhere.
  • Don’t tell the editor when your cat poem is accepted elsewhere: that the editor of elsewhere accepted it is not a reflection on the original editor’s competence. Sometimes editors do reject poems they like. Sometimes elsewhere is just a better fit.

 

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