Or be Satisfied when You Aren't
A Beginner's Guide
Poetry publication is awash with literary magazines, internet journals, print-on-demand presses, vanity presses, indie presses, and major publication houses. So many options! It's a lot to navigate. But before we delve into the 'How-To's,' it's important to understand the 'Why.'
I'm talking about the the Big Why, the biggest WHY after 'Why write poetry?' Which is, of course, 'Why are you publishing your poetry?'
"BECAUSE!" I hear you shouting.
But that's not the best answer. You'll be happier, or at least more content with the results of the following advice if you understand your motivations behind the urge to publish. What specifically do you hope to achieve?
How to Succeed in Poetry Without Really Trying
If, for example, you want your poems out in the world, in a place people might read them; if you want to be able to say that you're a published poet; if you're not feeling great and some acceptance letters would boost your confidence; IF you want to start small; might I suggest submitting poems to one or all of the following:
The percentages listed beside the magazines are acceptance statistics gathered by duotrope.com As you can see, even in the ten easiest lit mags, by the time you get in the bottom five, it's like flipping a coin. If you don't feel up to a lot, A LOT, of rejection, this is a fine place to start.
Duotrope, New Pages, Poets & Writers
Duotrope? What is this duotrope.com with all its statistics and lists? Actually, it's exactly that. Duotrope a website that houses a database of statistics about thousands of literary magazines gathered from its members; interviews with editors; the magazines pay rates, if any; their publication requirements: electronic v. postal, simultaneous submissions v. not. It also provides members with the ability to track their submissions and publications, as well as journal deadlines. Here's the bad news: Duotrope is subscription based. It's NOT FREE. But, it's only $5 a month. So if you care more about your poetry than you do about your Netflix, it's not a bad investment.
If you're totally broke or not sure about this whole publication thing, don't sweat. There are other options.
One, if you know what magazine you're looking for, you can find its duotrope page without getting an account.
Two, if you'd rather avoid duotrope all together, there are other sources. Poets & Writers, aside from being a long time printed source of literary publications and contests, has an extensive online presence. Its webpage is easily navigable. It is a very useful site. The only thing that Duotrope has to its advantage is its extensive statistics and author tracking.
New Pages is another database of lit mags. The site is plain and less extensive than Duotrope, but it's free!
If you go with the cost effective options, be sure to set up a spread sheet for yourself, tracking the publication, the poems submitted, the date submitted, whether the magazine accepts simultaneous submissions, whether the submission was accepted or declined, and the date the response was received.
If your desire for publication is a bit more ambitious than "Without Really Trying," then this setup is necessary to get into the down'n'dirty of the lit mag publication circuit.
Oh, and get a social media account, like twitter or tumblr.
The Social Media
One advantage to social media is that it gives you a platform to promote yourself. Another advantage? It give you a space to listen.
That magazine you think is so super cool? The Paris Review, Poetry, Pank - they all have twitter accounts. And tumblrs. Poetry magazines are very active in social media. This is another way to get a feeling for the type of work they look for. They also tweet and blog about submission deadlines and contests and other information that might be relevant to you.
Also the 'similar to this' algorithm can educate you about new markets that you may be interested in. And then you can follow their tweets and tumblogs.
It's like Dating
Why the need for all this research? Because getting published is not just about creating good work and sending it out into the world. It's about finding the right outlet(s). Literary magazines have their own agendas. They aren't just looking for new, fresh, exciting work. And those that say so...are kinda lying. They're looking for a quality that their editors know and can express to varying degrees of specificity. They're looking for short poems, long poems, lyrics, sonnets, experimental poetry, L=A=N=G=U=A=N=G=E school influenced poetry, dada-ist poetry, unwed mothers' poetry, old men's sock drawer poetry, POC poetry, liminal poetry, political poetry, academically languaged poetry, etc., etc., etc.
Knowing your market is the biggest tool you have for finding the right partner(s) for publication. So READ the magazines you plan on submitting to. If you can't buy a copy, check their website for hosted poems, go to the library, find the lit mag section in your local bookstore and browse but don't buy. Submitting without looking at who you're submitting to is like asking for disappointment.
On OKCupid, you wouldn't meet a person without looking at their profile, would you? It's the same idea. You know what you what. They know what they want. And you should probably check to make sure those things are at least close to similar before you ask them out.
Send It. And Forget It.
Response times in poetry submission land take foooooooorreeeeeevvvveeeeeeeerrr, FOREVAR I tell you. If they aren't a magazine with a promised three day turn around, two months is quick. Three to four months, pretty standard. A year? It's been known to happen.
There is no immediate gratification in submitting poetry. It's a grind. And it's difficult to maintain enthusiasm when what you're usually greeted with is a long silence followed by a form rejection letter or email. (Sometimes they don't even include your name - just "Dear Writer." It can be disheartening.)
So while you're waiting to hear back from all the magazines that will - fingers crossed - love your work, write more. Write better. So that when your poems are declined you have something else, something you're even more pleased with, to try again.
Okay, It's Really like Stalking
I've been talking about rejection A LOT. That's because it happens ALL THE TIME. ALL THE DAMN TIME. Seriously.
Especially if you've got a massive poetry penis (figuratively). Most editors don't read submissions blindly unless specifically stated in the submission guidelines. Meaning they know your name when they're reading your poem. If they happen to remember any publishing credits from your cover letter while reading, that's a bonus. Almost every editor says that it's the work that matters first and foremost, and that true. But if they know that some other magazine, that they think publishes interesting work, has taken a chance on you, they may view your work a little more favorably. It can happen.
So when your submission is declined, it's best to remember that the magazines in question aren't rejecting you. They aren't rejection your poems for all time. They are saying that these particular poems don't fit with the magazine or even the particular issue that they're putting together.
Did you read the back issues? Did you follow the specific submission instructions? FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS, FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY!!!!!!!!!!! (If you don't, you won't get published. You are not above the requests of the editors. You want these people to like you. They have asked you to do the thing a certain way. DO THE THING THAT WAY.)
If you think that your work is a good fit for the magazine in general, try again. Try with different poems. (This is why that spreadsheet is important! If they didn't want the poem the first time. Chances are that they won't want it the second or third or fourth or fiftieth time you send it. (If you do that, they may blacklist you for harassing them.)) But that doesn't mean that they won't like something else. It may take eleven years. (I'm not kidding.) But they might publish you eventually. So don't give up.
Make sure to check the submission guidelines for frequency of submission restrictions. Then convince them to love your poems. It's only a matter of time, right?
Is That All There Is?
If this sounds like a lot of work, it is. It is uncategorically the most unfun thing about being a poet. And don't expect any money from it. Most magazines pay little more than a contributors copy. (I have issues with this, but that's a rant for another day. Just know that this is the current state of literary magazine poetry publication.)
It's not the only way. If you want to get a book or chapbook published, you need a manuscript. There are plenty of manuscript contests and awards as well. The deadline for the Walt Whitman First Book Award
has been extended to December 1st.
Or find a publisher whose work you enjoy. Ugly Duckling Presse is one of my personal favorites. If they accept unsolicited manuscripts, then it can't hurt to try.
Also if you've got ideas about presentation or papercraft or a real DIY sensibility, there's a creative chapbook revival (always, I think). So make a limited run chapbook. Or a print on demand chapbook for the less craft inclined. Take them to your local bookstore. The one with that really great literary magazine section. And ask if they'll sell on commission. Or set up a table on the street and sell them yourself. Hand out business cards with haiku printed on them. Build a website.
Whichever way of sharing your poems brings you the most satisfaction is the way for you.
- Why do you want to publish your poetry?
- What are some of your favorite publication resources?
- Who publishes you? (Share in the comments magazines you've enjoyed working with in the past.)
- What magazine would you most like to see your work appear in? (Dream big!)