Self-taught MFA

How to submit poetry/creative writing for publication + tons of tips!

These tips include the basics as well as links to several articles and posts to help even the most seasoned poet/writer, including terminology you need to know, things to do before you submit, general tips, and links to posts on my site and other sites related to submitting, handling rejection, and other submission strategies.

If you have more to add or an article you love on submitting to literary markets, please leave a comment below.

Terminology

  • Market–a literary magazine, journal, press or other literary organization.
  • Acceptance–your submission will be published.
  • Rejection–your submission was not a good fit for the publication; this does not mean your work is poor quality or not worth sending elsewhere. I’ve had poems rejected over 30 times before receiving an acceptance.
  • Withdrawal–if you need to cancel your submission for any reason, you will need to follow the specific guidelines for each market on how to the withdraw the work, e.g. if it’s accepted elsewhere, usually via email or by withdrawing via the submission manager.
  • Tiered rejection–some markets send different levels of rejections; a tiered rejection typically includes some comments related specifically to your work or will invite you to submit again. See Rejection Wiki in the Handling rejections section.
  • Simultaneous submissions–most allow you to send your work to multiple markets at the same time; some markets specify they do not accept simultaneous submissions, meaning, if you send them work, do not send it elsewhere until you receive a response.
  • Multiple submissions–a few markets, usually contests with entry fees, will allow you to send in more than one submission for the same contest or reading period, but this is uncommon.
  • Contributor copy–a market may provide a non-monetary payment in the form of contributor copy(ies) or they may provide both. A contributor copy will be provided either in an electronic format or print.
  • Previously unpublished/published–if your work has be published elsewhere, including on personal blogs or social media, most markets will not reprint the work; see the Other tips section below for more info.
  • Response time–some markets will provide a submission response time on their submission guidelines page; anywhere from a week to several months.
  • Query–if you have sent a submission and have not heard back and it’s been longer than indicated on their submission guidelines page or several months have past, you can query the market usually via email or by adding a note via the submission manager to ask if your work is still being considered.
  • Slush pile–submissions a market has received from unsolicited submitters, vs. those they have solicited personally asked to provide work, e.g. The New Yorker has a huge slush pile.
  • Token payment–a small payment, not always specifically stated and the amount may vary depending on the budget for the specific issue or publication.

Before you submit

  • Always read submission guidelines carefully.
  • Subscribe to the journals you want to submit to, READ them, get to know them, comment on their blog posts, etc. The most important part of this tip is be familiar with contemporary poetry being published today.
  • Set up a system for tracking your submissions. You can use a spreadsheet, a notebook, a recipe box or sign up for a submission tracker. Duotrope has the best listings, but does require a small fee for membership. The Grinder is free, but has fewer listings and originally focused on prose.
  • Use the submission tracker to check all the stats on each market before submitting know what you are getting yourself into. If the Acceptance rates are VERY low, you may not want to waste time putting together a submission unless you have done your homework already and know your work is a good fit and is your very best.
  • Research the editors, read the About pages on their sites, pay close attention to what they mention they are looking for in the submission guidelines, read any related editor interviews posted on Duotrope or search the web.

After you submit

  • Don’t get discouraged! Most writers I’ve talked to only have their work accepted from 5-20% of the time. My stats are on the lower side, but they do get better the more I study up on the markets I’m submitting to in order to make sure they are a good fit. Of course, if you aim high with top tier markets or don’t submit very often, your stats may be lower.
    • For full transparency, I calculate my % of acceptances a couple of ways. A) Divide the number of acceptances (individual poems or manuscripts) by the total number of poems submitted (total count, not unique poems). When calculated this way, my acceptance percentage averages 6% from 2015 – 2019; B) Divide the number of acceptances by the total number of markets submitted to (say I sent 100 poems to 25 markets, use the 25 markets rather than full count of poems), then my acceptance % averages 23% from 2015 – 2019.
    • However you choose to measure, or not measure, the reason I share this is to encourage you to keep submitting, even if it’s months between acceptances. The literary market is vast and greatly varied by subjective tastes, issue themes and needs. A rejection does not necessarily mean the quality of the work was the problem, but rather, it was just not a fit for what they are trying to accomplish. It could simply mean they received several poems of the same topic and prefer another, therefore, can’t publish yours. For example, there was a poem I truly believed in, so I just kept sending it out. One day, after 31 rejections, I finally got an acceptance! And it was in a journal I admire.
  • Keep reading and keep writing, the more you produce, the more refined it is, the more you can submit.

Other tips

Submission strategies

Handling rejection

Additional submission resources

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2 replies »

  1. Trish, thanks for this. I always appreciate your articles. I wouldn’t want to give writers false expectations though — I believe the 10-20% acceptance rate you quote is higher than average for poets if you add to the mix writers who are just beginning to be serious about writing and submitting. Or if you consider more seasoned poets who don’t submit much. Even those of us who are well published have periods of time with really low acceptance rates (like 2% for me). I’ve been published in some really picky journals like Diode, Pedestal, and Prairie Schooner, and my poems have been featured on the Writers’ Almanac and Tracy K. Smith’s The Slowdown, yet my highest was 15% and that’s when I was submitting a lot. For me, my percentage has dropped when I don’t submit much, which I believe proves it is somewhat of a numbers game. The more you submit, the higher your percentage rate rises. If you’re not submitting much, and you aren’t getting acceptances, rather than getting discouraged, you should submit more. And like you say, Trish, study the journals and send them your best work that fits their aesthetic.

    • This is a great comment and yes my acceptance rates have often been below 10% based on sending less and/or choosing more challenging markets, so really there are so many variables. I should add some additional commentary. Thank you!

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