Prepare your packet

With poetry (and a long list of potential recipients) in hand, it's time to turn your work over to the most trustworthy organization in the US: the postal service. There are very specific guidelines you should follow when preparing your poetry portfolio:

  1. Cover Letter: Whether or not you will need to include a cover letter depends strictly on the guidelines of the publication you are submitting to. If the guidelines don't specify, then throw one in anyway -- it can't hurt. It is important to keep the letter brief, succinct, and professional. Specifically, a cover letter should:

    • Be addressed to the poetry editor or magazine editor by his/her name. (No "To Whom it May Concern" openers.)

    • Offer the editor the poems for publication in their journal.

    • List up to three recent publishing credits (if you have them).

    • Thank the editor for his/her time.
    Don't explain your poetry, don't ask for critical feedback, and don't apologize for or boast about your work. Just tell 'em that you're submitting poems for publication and let your work speak for itself.

    There are certain circumstances when you can provide more information:

    • If the editor has previously rejected your work but included a personal note saying that he/she was interested in seeing more of your future work, then mention this in your cover letter.

    • If you're resubmitting work with changes suggested by the editor (we'll get into how to make these changes in step 6), then write that you've made the edits and thank the editor for the suggestions.

    • If you are sending poems for a specific issue of the magazine (say, the special "Disney" issue), mention that too.

  2. Your Poems: You should submit, in general, about 5 poems or pages, held together with a paper clip. Do not staple your pages (sometimes they like to rifle through and pick out a favorite one.

  3. A SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope): Make sure that you include enough postage for the return of your poems. Editors probably won't return them, but it can't hurt. A SASE makes it more likely that you'll get some kind of response, even if it's a rejection.

Your exterior envelope should be addressed to the poetry editor by name. Do whatever it takes to find it out (just call the magazine and ask for the name of the submissions editor). Send the package flat in a 9 x 12 inch manila envelope. Don't use a standard business envelope with your poems folded into thirds it'll make you look like a newbie. Remember to put enough postage on the exterior of your envelope (it'll be more than $.33), and make sure that everything looks professional. Use plain labels for the return address, and use boring stamps.

If you choose to submit to online markets, read the guidelines carefully and pay attention to submission requirements. Things may become wacky (e.g., submitting your poems as attachments), so follow the directions carefully and feel free to email any questions to the person in charge. Finally, do not email poems to online publications unless the editors specifically say they accept email submissions. Even websites sometimes prefer to receive their submissions on paper.

Submitting to more than one market

Technically, you're not allowed to submit the same poems to more than one publication. On the record, we encourage you to follow this rule unless the magazine specifically says that they don't mind multiple submissions. But off the record, most first-timers submit to many publications, wait for the first acceptance, and then tell the other publications that he/she would like to withdraw his/her poems from consideration. It's technically wrong, but sometimes you have to get cutthroat.

Just realize that you should NEVER submit a poem that has already been published in any form (no matter how crappy that online magazine was). This even counts if you put the poem on your own homepage -- it technically counts as a publication, and you don't want to jeopardize your chances.

Keeping track of your submissions

Make sure you keep tabs on all of your submissions. You can create an Excel sheet, you can make a tabbed notebook, you can blackmail your mother into memorizing them, you can tattoo them onto your stomach just keep track of them. Include:

  • The date you send the submission out
  • The name of the place you sent it to
  • Exactly what you sent
  • The date you got a response
  • What that response was
  • A copy of the response letter