In this series I’m going to write a few posts about ways of getting your poetry out into the wider world, if you’re looking to widen your audience, and looking at different ways to do it. I’m always interested in hearing what your experiences have been, what you’ve found daunting and how you think the OCA blog might be able to offer advice on the ‘real world’ aspects of creative writing; performance, publication and so on.
In this piece I’m going to talk about submitting your work to magazines. Most poets come across this idea this sooner or later and it is definitely normal to have some fear when starting to make these submissions. It has to be said, however, that this is a big part of ‘becoming a poet’ in the professional sense – if you want to find a readership, this is a good thing to try and get your head around.
If you’re going to send the pieces you’ve sweated over to any one of the many magazines that are out there (The Poetry Library website is a good place to find a comprehensive list of UK ones) then it may as well be to a magazine that you know you like. If you like their stuff, there’s much more chance that they’ll like your stuff too.
A full-on poetry magazine habit can get expensive if you buy print editions but you may be able to find a few poems on each magazine’s website that give you an idea of the sort of thing they publish. You may also be able to read some copies at a local library or writing group which can save costs.
There are also now many web-based magazines that publish work of a very high quality, which you should be able to read some or all of online.
Read the Guidelines
Submission guidelines can be found on each magazine’s website and they will all be slightly different. They’ll tend to ask for up to six poems, but this can differ depending on the publication. They might ask you to ensure you make the documents anonymous, they might want your name and address on every page, or something else specific to their way of processing submissions, so do check.
Some magazines take submissions by email, some by post only and some use an online interface called Submittable to manage incoming submissions. Pay attention to these things because it’s not in your interests to make the editor’s job any harder.
As a general rule I’d say – make sure you give each poem enough space on the page (one poem per page, unless the poems are very short) and steer clear of wild fonts and clipart.
Really this comes under ‘read the guidelines’ but because it’s an important one I think it deserves its own bullet point. If the magazine specifies no simultaneous submissions, that means the poem you’re submitting is going to be tied up until you hear back from that publication. If two magazines want your poem at the same time, then it’s going to be very tricky trying to work out which one gets it after all!
A good cover letter doesn’t have to be a gushing one in which you describe everything you’ve loved about the magazine since its foundation in 1982. The best method is to be polite and concise. If you enjoyed the last issue of the magazine there’s nothing to stop you saying so of course. Generally this is the place to include a short writer’s biography (3-4 sentences will do, anything more is overkill).
If you’re planning to send out to multiple magazines it’s important to keep a record of what you’ve sent where. You might write a note in your notebook of which poems you sent and the date, or if you’ve got a lot of poems to keep track of you may even want to keep a spreadsheet. I have a rather unsophisticated one that lists all the poem titles across the top, and submissions down the side and that has worked pretty well for me so far.
This is the really scary bit, I think. Once the poem is out in the world you can’t accompany it anywhere (this is why it terrifies me when people describe their writing as ‘their baby’). You have to accept that you are putting out something out there that you like, because you want to see whether someone else will like it too. And that could take ages, because a lot of people submit to poetry magazines. I’d suggest doing something to take your mind off the wait as much as possible. How about some more writing?
You win some, you lose some
You’re a very lucky poet if you get an acceptance on the first go. And if you do, brilliant! You can tell everyone you know that you’re a published poet and make them all buy the magazine.
If you don’t, feel reassured that this has happened to every poet many times in their writing lifetime, even the established ones. And if nothing else, the rejection is proof that you tried, and you’d be surprised how many people don’t even do that. Aim for as many rejections as you can and soon enough you’ll end up gaining some acceptances in the process.
You may even find that the editor takes the time to add some helpful feedback to your rejection slip, or says something like ‘please send more poems soon’. You should definitely take them up on that offer.
Image credit: ritewhileucan.com
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