As National Poetry Month chugs on you may be thinking, “Poetry Month! The perfect time to finally get my poems published!” Or maybe not. In any case, my time as a poetry editor has taught me a few things about what you can do to get your poetry submission from the slush pile to the pages of a magazine. If you’re beginning to send your work out, here are my tips.
-Don’t send more than 5-10 pages: It’s up to you to identify your most publishable work. Pick your best poems and nothing more, or you will risk alienating your reader.
-Include practical information: If your work is accepted, the magazine will need your biography and mailing address. Send your bio written in the third person, and keep it to five or six lines. Present yourself professionally in your biography, even if you’re submitting to a quirky magazine.
-Give a short introduction to you and your work: Include a cover letter with your submission, but keep it to a few short paragraphs. Include a brief, objective description of your submission, and a short paragraph of relevant details about your experience as a writer and why you chose to submit to the magazine. Be neither self-deprecating, nor aggressive and pushy. Simply give a short, professional introduction to yourself and your work.
-Include a link, but just one: If you publish a blog of your creative work, feel free to mention it in your cover letter or biography. I have, on occasion, asked for work that I spotted on a blog when I was just about to send a rejection notice. Don’t overdo it though—one link is enough.
-Don’t send the same poems over and over: A rejection letter might invite you to submit new work in the future. However, numerous poets receive their rejection notices and immediately submit the same poems. This won’t help. Pick a different piece to submit the next time.
-Read submission guidelines carefully: If the magazine accepts neither multiple submissions, nor previously published material, please don’t submit work while claiming in your cover letter that it has already been published.
-Don’t spell the editor’s name incorrectly: You’ve probably found the editor’s name on the magazine’s website—just copy, paste, and avoid getting off on a shaky foot. Same goes for the title of the magazine.
-Submit electronically: If you have the choice between submitting your work electronically or in hard-copy, email it. This will make it easier for the editor to keep track of your work, to contact you with any questions, and to send your work to other key individuals like the managing editor or graphic designer. If your poem is published, sending an electronic copy will also ensure that things like line breaks and spacing are reproduced correctly.
-Be patient, but not too patient: Many small magazines work on a volunteer basis, so don’t be anxious if a month or two goes by without a response, and don’t send numerous inquiries about the status of your submission after only a few weeks. If it is the magazine’s policy that they only contact successful submissions, please respect that policy. If the magazine responds to all submissions, however, and several months have passed, feel free to ask for an update. Email problems occasionally arise, and you may want to confirm that your submission arrived safely.
-Only submit to magazines you read: The editorial collective and I have, on more than one occasion, rejected competent submissions because they were not stylistically appropriate for the magazine. Don’t submit visual poetry to a hyper-conservative magazine that only wants nature poems, and don’t submit confessional, lyric poems to a magazine of experimental poetry. Your poems don’t just have to be good, they have to be a good fit, too.
If you send your perfectly polished cover letter, biography, and 5-10 poems into the world and get nothing but rejection notices, don’t be discouraged. Try, try again. Read as much poetry as you can, find magazines that publish work like yours, write, edit, edit, edit, and submit. Eventually, you’ll see you poems in print.
Helen Hajnoczky recently completed her BA Honours in English and creative writing from the University of Calgary, where her research focused on feminist avant-garde poetics. Her work has appeared in Nod, fillingStation, Rampike, and Matrix magazines, as well as in a variety of chapbooks. She is the current poetry editor of fillingStation magazine. Her first book of poetry, Poets and Killers: A Life in Advertising, is forthcoming from Snare Books.