Just recently, for a 2017 South Dakota Festival of the Book panel, I was asked to share how I kick-started publication of my poems. In the hopes some of these suggestions could help new poets reading this blog, herewith is a condensation of some select material disseminated…
The relative ease with which one can begin and build a publishing history these days is due to two facts. The first – with so many list serves existing online one is no longer limited to Poets and Writers’ suggestions as in prior years. The second – because there are so many e-zines in existence today submission selection, quite literally, is endless. Some of these are subscription based, some not. Some are fairly prestigious. Some even pay. Many print publications are even changing to digital issues, or occasionally add a special digital edition. Most don’t charge submission fees unless a contest is involved.
Bottom line: poets are no longer confined to a limited number of print publications in which new writers are fighting well-known pros for coveted space. Of course there is a hierarchy – a prestige factor to some publications. But evidence of a history – a track record, and commitment, helps one open these more rarified doors.
Regardless of print or digital publication, some nitty-gritty tips:
1. You need to do your research – to check if your work jives with a journal’s aesthetic. Check their website. Read some of their material – samples are often online. You don’t have to buy journals from everyone.
2. Check specially themed issues of journals you’re interested in submitting to if your work doesn’t fit their generally published aesthetic. Also watch for anthologies requesting specific material.
3. Make sure your work is in top shape. Yes, content certainly matters – but so does grammar (or specific planned lack thereof), spelling, form, creativity, imaging, “sound.”
4. Make certain you reformat every piece submitted to each new source’s stipulations – one source may want your name displayed on a poem, for example, and the next won’t. If a poem is 32 lines and 30 are requested rework the piece until it meets the new specifications. Otherwise, it’s very simple – your work isn’t going to be read.
5. Watch out for spacing specifications, i.e. whether total line count includes title and skipped line thereafter, or lines in between stanzas. Or whether there’s a horizontal letter limit (including spaces between words).
6. Meet online deadlines – if submission requests mandate midnight on the 31st of a month and the magazine’s base is in New York, that’s 10pm out here in South Dakota.
7. Always check if a snail-mailed submission’s deadline is a postmarked date or if it needs to be RECEIVED by the date specified.
8. Pay attention to whether submissions can be previously published, or not – your credibility rides on this. I keep a spreadsheet, or you can use Duotrope.
9. Join local writing groups for feedback. Initially submit to local sources to get your feet wet.
10. Pay attention to your rejects. Not all rejects are equal. Occasionally there will be a suggestion from an editor. There may be a request to rewrite part of a submission. Or you could be asked to submit a different selection – and then definitely do so, because there’s interest in your style or perspective. Similarly, a poem of mine was just rejected for a specific publication, but the editors emailed asking if I’d allow them to hold it for a forthcoming issue.
11. As you begin to be published, also pay attention to spin-offs. A very important consideration, these could potentially generate more remuneration than actual poetry publication. Specifically: teaching programs at university writing seminars, libraries, conferences. Short unpaid lectures, i.e. at book clubs, can often lead to recommendations for longer, paid appearances. Possibilities are open-ended: currently, discussion is underway for the creation of a play based upon a series of my poems.
12. Winning contests and garnering distinctions are wonderful for bios, but most such competitions require hefty fees. And the more prestigious the publication, the greater the cost. Be judicious.
13. Last, if you know your work is solid and poems keep getting rejected, realize the following: an acceptance is totally subjective – one editor’s poison is another’s champagne, and every editor has a bad day now and then. It may mean you have to go back to the drawing board, but those rejections do NOT mean you can’t write. Practice, practice, practice and submit, submit, submit. Publication can, and WILL happen if you persevere…
Featured image by Jan Ingemansen under the creative commons license on Flickr.