How to Submit Your Poetry to Literary Journals
If you want to be a published poet, it's a good idea to submit your work to literary journals. Not only will this build up your resume, but you get to see your name in print and possibly even earn a few dollars from your writing. However, this can be a tedious and overwhelming ordeal to a new writer. It took me hours of research and years of perfecting my submission process before I became comfortable with it. Submitting your work is part skill, part lottery, and part determination. Below is the process that I use to submit my work along with tips, templates, and a list of poetry journals that I submit to regularly.
Poetry Clip from "My Girl 2"
Every journal has its own set of guidelines. Most are similar guidelines, such as the number of pieces to send in per submission, their submission dates, and how to submit. Some journals have their own submission manager on their website. Others prefer that you submit via email. Some prefer attachments while others want your cover letter and work submitted directly in the body of the email. Even if you choose from the list of poetry journals below, be sure to check each website before you submit to make sure their guidelines have not changed. It is important to follow the rules to ensure that your submission does not get looked over. The competition is fierce enough.
These journals allow for free, electronic submissions and, unless otherwise noted, accept simultaneous submissions (meaning you can submit your poems to other journals while they are considering them). If this sounds like a lot of work, remember that not too long ago it cost about $2 to snail mail every submission and include a self-addressed stamped envelope so that they could send you a rejection letter. Electronic submissions are so much easier and cheaper in the long run.
Recommended Literary Journals
Find your best poems to submit.
Create A Cover Letter
Most journals like to have a cover letter with every submission. Keep it to one page and describe your writing history, publication history (include any school publications or blogs that you have posted online for free if you haven't been published by a journal yet), and explain what you are submitting. Add any specifics requested on the journal’s website (such as the names of your poems). Below is a template that I use with every submission.
Sample Cover Letter
To the Poetry Editor(s) of _____________ :
Background (schooling, writing background, writing interests).
Enclosed are # poems for your consideration. I would like to acknowledge that I do plan on submitting these pieces to several publications and will notify you immediately if any are accepted elsewhere. Thank you for your time and consideration.
(Website or Author Page)
Document Your Submissions
Once you have submitted your work, you have to keep track of your submissions so that you know what pieces you have submitted and where. I have submitted to some journals multiple times with no accepted pieces. I have submitted to other journals just once and been accepted. If you plan to submit more than once to a journal, you have to keep track of which pieces you are submitting to each one. Below is a chart that I use to record every submission that I send out. I even color code the submissions so that I know which ones have been rejected, which ones have been published, and which ones are still out there.
green: sent out
violet: needs to be resubmitted (problem with an attachment, email address or submissions manager)
orange: publication out of business
Sample of Poetry Submissions Chart
Name of Publication
Titles of Works
Poem 1, Poem 2, Poem 3, Poem 4, Poem 5
January 1, 2014
February 15, 2014
Poem 1, Poem 2, Poem 3
January 1, 2014
March 1, 2014
Poem 1, Poem 2, Poem 3, Poem 4
January 1, 2014
March 15, 2014
Because I'm super organized, I also keep a hard copy version of each submission on a handwritten chart in case anything ever happens to the one on my computer. After sending out few dozen submissions, I began to have a hard time figuring out which poems had already been submitted to each journal. It took hours to sort through all of my previous submissions and track which poems had gone out to a particular publication. So, I made a second chart where I list the name of each journal and the poems I have submitted to each one. I alphabetized the journals in a Word Document, and I add to them with each submission. It sounds like a lot of work, but it’s even more work to figure out which poems to submit every time you want to send out more pieces.
Keeping track of these things as you go keeps you better organized and more efficient. I can also see at a glance how many poems I have submitted to each journal to decide which ones I should try again and which ones just don’t seem to like my work. When I see those, I take a break from them, at least until I write some new poems.
Most journals suggest that you purchase a copy of their journal so that you can see what kind of writing they accept. This can be costly, but there are ways around it. Some sites post sample poems on their website to give you a feel for their content. You can also go to thrift stores and resale shops to buy old copies at a fraction of the cost. You can even ask for subscription as a birthday or Christmas gift.
Some literary journals that have published my work.
Some Things to Consider
Don’t expect a response in the event of a decline. Some journals receive too many submissions to respond to them all. If you don’t hear from them in six months, they probably didn’t accept them.
Do not withdraw your work, especially if you are sending in simultaneous submissions. I read a poet who said that one of her poems was accepted for publication over a year after she submitted it. I didn’t think this was possible until it happened to me. One year after submitting my work, I had a poem accepted for publication. It’s rare, but it’s satisfying.
Don’t expect your best poems to be the ones that bite. I myself have no idea what draws people to the work that gets accepted. Some pieces that I consider my best work have never been published while others that I threw in just for good measure have been accepted right away. There is no logic behind it. Just keep anything worth submitting in the mix, and hope for the best.
Don’t expect overnight success. I submitted poetry for about three years until I was accepted into a journal that wasn’t college-based. I was warned about this ahead of time while in college. One professor said to expect about one accepted piece for every 100 poems you submit, and he was a well-respected poet. The biggest thrill of writing is getting published and having someone else say that your work deserves to be in print and read by others. The competition for this feeling is fierce so there’s no other way to achieve this without giving it your all and getting rejected over and over again until you strike oil. Once you do get that first acceptance letter or email, you crave more of the euphoric feeling that you get from being published, and you'll be willing to go through the rejection process all over again.
Don’t expect to get rich – or even to get paid. My poetry has been published 10 times, and I was only paid once for my work, a whole $10.00. Starting out, most journals are small and can only afford to pay you in copies of the journal that you are in. Consider this before submitting. If you want more than to see your name in print, you have to start at the bottom and work your way up. Once you build up some publication history, you can start to submit to the journals that pay. I broke away from poetry when I started writing novels so my publication history in the poetry department has been less frequent. This just goes to show that you have to keep at it in order to gain any ground in the publishing industry. So, if this is not what you enjoy doing, get out while you can or switch to a different genre.
Don’t shell out money for postage. I specifically choose journals above that don’t have a reading fee or a snail mail requirement. I’m happy to say that there are so many publications out there that allow for free, electronic submissions that you don’t have to waste your money the way I did when I was first out of college and trying to figure out the publishing process. The competition is fierce no matter where you submit. Why should you have to pay for a likely rejection these days?
Once some of my pieces were accepted for publication, I created a new Word Document where I kept track of all of my publications. Some journals even ask for a separate document with this information. It is also useful to have on hand when submitting to other genres, such as novel and agent submissions. A list of publication credits is often requested, and keeping it on standby ahead of time gives you one less thing to prepare when submitting your work. Make sure you include the name of the journal, the title of the piece, and the date of publication. I like my list to be in descending order with the most recent publication at the top of the list.
Journals Where I Have Been Published
Name of Publication
Title of Poem
June 17, 2013
First Day of High School
May 13, 2013
Unsold Aquarium Fish
August 2, 2012
When I Used to Like Books
Blast Furnace Press
May 16, 2012
Rune Literary Journal
March 29, 2012
you once rode your bike down devil’s hill
Falling Star Magazine
August 26, 2010
A Driving Lesson from My New Parents, Two Days Old
Voices from the Garage
June 12, 2010
I Met You On Your Worst Day
March 18, 2010
In the end, I hope that this guide has given you a realistic yet encouraging view of the small publishing world. Your quest for publication starts here, and it’s typically a long road ahead. Don’t get discouraged or hold tight to any statistics or rumors that you have heard. There is a journal that is right for your work out there somewhere. You just have to hit the right place at the right time. It can be discouraging, but it pays off, especially if your main goal is to see your name in print. Good luck, and feel free to share your publishing tips and stories below.