Submitting: some thoughts and 7 tips

Sorry game board

Yes, when you send out work you might get the “Sorry to say No” rejection–and that isn’t fun. But don’t let it stop you.

A friend asked me about submitting poems, saying that it seemed like I was a prolific submitter.

In the past, I’ve submitted a lot of poems. Lately, not so much. I currently have 11 submissions out, including two that have been out for more than a year (so not much hope there). Partly this is because I’ve gotten a lot pickier about what I’ll send out. I have abandoned, or shelved, many poems. This is a good thing. Quality over quantity is a good thing.

But if I want my poems to reach the light of day, I need to keep submitting steadily–because my submission : acceptance ratio is very low. I tried to track it one year, and it was depressing. So I send, send, send out work, and it comes back like winter. Then every once in a while, an editor says yes.

Now you might be thinking, “If your acceptance rate is so low, why are you writing about submitting?” Good point! I can’t promise you success, but maybe I can inspire you to get those poems out the (virtual) door by offering a few tips. Think of them as mini pep talks.

  1. Find journals by reading–read the poems on Poetry Daily or Verse Daily or The Poetry Foundation or Linebreak. What other sites do you love?
    Read the books of poets whose poems you love, and check out their acknowledgements pages. Where were they published?
    Read the classifieds section of Poets & Writers. Check out Poet’s Market (which also has some helpful essays on submitting poems). These last two offer a lot of listings, but without the context of the poems–see the next tip.
  2. Read some of the poems that are in the journal. Now that most journals publish at least a portion of their content online, this is pretty easy. Do their poems sound like the kind of poems you write? Are you in the same genre? (Bonus: Reading poems can get you in a writing mood.)
  3. Follow the guidelines–also probably available online. As an editor, I can’t stress this enough. Sure, we all goof it up once in a while. But editors who are volunteering their time appreciate submissions that follow the guidelines. Otherwise, that omission or neglect jumps out and obscures the poems.
  4. Track your submissions so you know what’s where–and if you’re simultaneously submitting, notify editors right away if another journal takes your work. We’ll be happy for you. But it’s really disappointing to accept a poem only to learn that someone else picked it up a week ago. (Even though I’ve tracked my submissions since the 1990s, I don’t feel organized enough to simultaneously submit–so I don’t.)
  5. Use submitting as a procrastination tool. Instead of thinking of submitting as a chore, think of it as a way to avoid other chores. Send out poems instead of cleaning the house. Send out poems when you feel stuck writing. Writing trumps submitting–but if you’re really stuck, submit instead.
  6. Believe in your poems. If you don’t, give them a little more of your time. You want to feel good about these poems you’re sending into the world, and this is not a race.
  7. If/when/however a rejection comes, don’t despair. Well, despair for a little bit–but just a little bit. Each submission is a kind of hope, and each rejection is the death of that hope, so you get to mourn. But then you get to brush it off, focus on the poems, and give them another chance.

Now I need to go work on my next submission.

P.S. For more thoughts on submitting, visit Kelli Russell Agodon’s blog and search for submit.

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4 comments

  1. Kristen McHenry’s avatar

    Good article, Joannie! I have really slowed down on sending out submissions lately, but that’s mostly because I find it exhausting to comb through Duotrope trying to find the right fit for my work, and also because it seems to take sooooo long to received any response at all lately. I’ve notice over the last year, response rates have really slowed down. I’ve had work submitted with no response for six, seven, eight months sometimes. So it’s hard to stay motivated to send things out. But I still do it, and it’s worth it to get that ever-elusive “yes.”!

    I’m also on the editorial board of a literary magazine, so I understand very well how much subjectivity is involved in the selection of work. I can love something that the two other people reading just don’t like as much, and it gets a rejection–or, vice versa. So I am learning to take rejection less personally, although it always stings a little. 🙂

    –Kristen

  2. joannie’s avatar

    Thanks for your comments, Kristen. I agree that editing a magazine gives one some different perspectives on the submission/acceptance/rejection process. I, too, am (slowly) learning to take rejection less personally. (But I admit that I still take acceptance absolutely personally.)

  3. T.Clear’s avatar

    #5 is the best reason EVER!

    That’s my current technique for, oh, cleaning out the fridge. Or a closet.

    Never considered it for poetry, but there you have it.

    So, I can get out of cleaning out my fridge this weekend by submitting a raft of poems, yes??!!

  4. joannie’s avatar

    Absolutely!

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