Now that we have covered the pleasure of interacting with poetry every day, reading and sharing poetry, taking online classes, and writing and revising, I thought we better cover the next step: submitting and publishing.
Different people write poetry for different reasons. Some people just want to write it down without anyone else reading it. Some want to share it with a close friend or a small group of poetry-enthusiasts. Some want to publish locally and get the benefits of community from what they write in isolation. Some want to publish to wide swaths of journals, reviews, magazines, and to list these published poems in manuscripts that they submit, too. And many people writing poetry combine some or all of these options. All of these are wonderful. It reminds me of something Ted Koozer wrote in his book The Poetry Home Repair Manuel: “Considering the ways in which so many of us waste our time, what would be wrong with a world in which everybody were writing poems? After all, there’s a significant service to humanity in spending time doing no harm. While you’re writing your poem, there’s one less scoundrel in the world. And I’d like a world, wouldn’t you, in which people actually took time to think about what they were saying? It would be, I’m certain, a more peaceful, more reasonable place” (5). Just the act of writing is such a good use of time that if you have no interest in submitting or publishing, more power to ya.
So when it comes to submitting and publishing, consider what work you want out in the world and what work you want tucked in your writing desk or altogether burned ???? When you have a couple of poems you are excited to submit elsewhere to see if you can get them published, you wonder how do I even start this process? I am going to use this blog post to walk you through how I started and to give a few tips along the way.
My submitting / publishing journey. The first poem I ever had published appeared in Pasque Petals when I was a junior in high school (2008/2009). My high school English teacher told me about how to submit, and I submitted something patriotic, if I remember correctly. I also think it rhymed. I don’t remember much else about that poem, but I do remember the feeling I had when that book arrived at my house and I saw my name and my poem in print in a real book next to other writers’ words. This edition of Pasque Petals was stapled together. It was a number of printer pages just stapled together with a pink cover, and I couldn’t be more proud. I showed it to everyone who would look.
I kept writing poetry but not very seriously until 2015 when I finally took a poetry class in grad school. I was so proud of some of the poems I wrote in that class that I submitted some again to Pasque Petals, and saw those in print. By this time, Pasque Petals was a bound book with a beautiful image of a pasque flower on the front. I remember exactly what that edition looks like because I was so happy to again see my words printed with my name next to them. I also showed this to all my family at the holidays, posted pictures to Instagram, and ya know just stopped random people on the street and showed them too; okay not quite but almost. After that point, I was hooked. I wanted to write poetry I was so proud of and to see it in print either digitally or in hard copy. So I wrote more and started researching places to submit it to. I started with local publications. I had some published in Oakwood Literary Magazine; they have a yearly reading, which I really enjoy attending. I eventually also sent some to the South Dakota Magazine and had one published there.
After getting some work published in SD, I wanted to expand my scope, so I got a Duotrope account and started sending my work to journals and magazines I saw publicized there. I spent so much time researching journals and trying to figure out the tiers of journals / reviews / magazines and where I would have a chance getting published and where I shouldn’t even bother. It was a pretty steep learning curve for me. I got A LOT of rejections. A LOT. And in the beginning it was truly a bit soul-crushing to put all this time into writing the poems, revising them, bundling them, finding a place to submit them, reading and following all the submission guidelines, crossing my fingers, and months later getting a “the work isn’t for us at this time” kind of email. However, among so many rejections, which I labeled on my excel spreadsheet as “rejection” and the date and highlighted it in deep purple (probably this visual made me feel even worse in retrospect), I did receive a few acceptance emails. I remember exactly where I was when I read those emails on my phone or computer, seeing “congratulations” the name of the poem, when it would be published. It truly made me feel lighter, like I lost 50 pounds and everything was beautiful. I would notice the trees and grass blades and colors were more vibrant and just smile from ear to ear. I couldn’t help it. Someone else liked my work and wanted to publish it, and sometimes they wanted to send a contributor copy or they would include a personal connection to my work and why it resonated with them, and I would of course read these emails in their entirety to my husband and re-read the poem(s) and get so excited to see it / them appear somewhere besides my computer screen or my printer.
During this time, I received some invaluable advice from Christine Stewart. She encouraged me to set a goal of how many rejections I wanted to accrue so that instead of just feeling like the time spent getting the rejection was a waste of time, the rejection would add to my list, and I would see that I was submitting work. I was doing the hard work of submitting even if it wasn’t exactly paying off in the way I wanted it to. This re-framing is really useful when you are submitting a lot and often opening your email to rejections.
I also had to remember that while my poetry is super important to me, and it feels like a piece of myself; it’s not. It’s words that I wrote. I am not my poetry. My poetry isn’t me. In the beginning of submitting work, I did feel more personally rejected when I got a rejection, but that has worn off with some wisdom and some callouses on my skin.
A few notes on submissions: (1) Keep track of what you submit and to where on a word doc or an excel spreadsheet. You can keep this simple with the journal name, the poems, date of submission, accept/reject, and date of that email. This way if one place accepts a poem that you sent elsewhere, you can easily see where else you sent it to email them that it has been accepted elsewhere. (2) Keep a running list of where you have had poems accepted so that you can reference that when you have a collection of poems. (3) Instead of just throwing poems at random publications, do what you can to focus your submissions to publications you are familiar with, or look through the acknowledgements page of books of poetry where the poetry is similar to the subjects / craft strategies that you utilize. (4) Bundle poems together and send them to multiple places which accept simultaneous submissions. They can take months to get back to you, so you want multiple poems in the queue and being looked at by more than one editor when possible. (5) Set aside specific time to submit, instead of one submission here and one there. It’s a better strategy to spend most of your time writing and revising and then devote a few hours or a day however frequently you want to submitting so that you just get in the submitting zone.
After accumulating several rejections and a handful of acceptances, I put together poems into a chapbook, many of which appeared in my master’s thesis, and submitted them to Finishing Line Press in 2017. After several months, I was sitting at a restaurant with a friend and got the email that my book was accepted for publication! I was absolutely ecstatic reading that email and knowing I would have my own book in my hands. And when the author copies came in the mail, I felt them with my whole hand and slowly flipped through them and read my ISBN number, and it was all very exciting. My friend Erika and her kids even made me a cake that read “Yay, a Book!” which was so sweet, and after that I would run into family and friends who would tell me they had read the book and give me a few of their thoughts, and these interactions sincerely meant the world to me.
If you are just getting started or want a quick refresher on SDSPS’s submitting/ publication options: The SD poetry society has a variety of options when it comes to getting work published. We have a spring and fall Pasque Petals which is a great place to submit individual poems. We also have the annual contest where you can win money if your poem places 1st, 2nd or 3rd in either category. And when you have a collection of poems, we have an annual chapbook contest too. We are also starting a new youth poetry contest this year, so there is a particular place for SD youth to submit work and win money. It’s wonderful for me to work with the very publication which gave me that boost of confidence I needed to write and submit more.
By Jodi Andrews, MA