Writing poetry can be
incredibly difficult

who can say
what is poetry
what is not?


It can all be so overwhelming,
That one can forget
The end goal of writing professional poetry:


Enough of that. ead on, and learn how you can get your own poems published. There are a lot of freaks in the poetry business so it's not nearly as difficult to break into as you think. All it takes is a little inspiration, creativity, determination, and persistence. Don't forget to wear a beret and to snap your fingers whenever you read something you like.


There's a huge difference between wistful poems in your diary every night before bed and writing for a wider audience. If you want to keep your poems purely to yourself, then go write anything you like. Haikus, sonnets, limericks, whatever.

But if you hope to see your poetry collection sitting next to the work of published poets in a local bookstore, some revision is going to be necessary. This is not selling out; this is just part of participating in an artistic community. So revise your poems until they are the strongest, most unique poems you are capable of writing. Your goal is to try to say what you want to say in the best way possible (and ideally by choosing the fewest words in which to say it).

But you need to be careful not to kill the poem's energy in the process. Here are some suggestions for revising your poems:

  • A good strategy is to spend some time reworking your poems and then shelve them for a few weeks. Heck, shelve them for a few months. Whip them out later and this time view them with new eyes. What were you trying to say, and how effectively did you say it?

  • Try to be as real as possible. Editors can always smell a faker, so be sure to be honest to your emotions and say what's in your heart.

  • Don't be freaky just for the sake of being freaky. It angers us. Every single word of a poem should have a point.

  • Show your poems to some friends who will be honest with you and offer some constructive criticism you will take seriously. Let their feedback be a guide as to how well your writing is saying what you want it to. What you were trying to say and how a reader interprets it can be vastly different.

  • An important thing to remember is that you are a member of your reading audience. When selecting your poems, ask yourself: is this something I would want to read? How would this poem make me feel had I picked it up off the shelf written by another author? Would I want to buy it? Because chances are, if you aren't connecting with the writing yourself, not many other people will either.


Once you have got a well-revised selection of poems to choose from, it's time to put together a manuscript of your poetry. You may think that the wrinkled paper with yellowed edges and coffee stains are signs of your bohemian artistic prowess, but the reality is that you are guaranteeing that those pages will get an inside view of some editor's garbage can.

Believe it or not, there are common standards to which you should adhere in order to have a top chance at publishing your poetry. Here are these all-important tips:

  • Typeface: You should always type your poems on a computer or a typewriter. It's important to use a clear typeface, such as Times New Roman or Courier. Also use a clear font size (10 point or 12 point). You can type your title however you prefer: in ALL CAPS, underlined, boldface, as plain text, or some combination thereof. If lines in your poem contain italics, then use underlining -- this makes it easier for the editor to spot (don't you agree?). Remember, you are trying to make the editor's job easier, not make them wade through piles of writing in dingbat fonts.

  • Paper: Use plain white 8.5 x 11 inch paper. Don't use tissue paper, cardstock, textured, or specially finished paper.

  • Page Formatting: Put your name and address in either the right or left top corner of the page, then space down a few lines for the title. If your poem is untitled, then just put "Untitled" on the title line and continue. Next, space down a few lines again and type the poem.

    Most poetry markets are fine with single-spaced stanzas, but some insist on double-spacing. So when you're picking where to send your poems, read the guidelines of the publication carefully.

    • Have at least a 1-inch margin all the way around your page.

    • If your poem goes on to more than one page, you can write ".../2" at the bottom right of the page to indicate it's continuation.

    • Be sure to indicate if the page break occurs in the middle of a stanza or after one by writing "[stanza break]" or "[no stanza break]" at the bottom of the page.

    • At the top of page 2, 3, 4, and the rest, only put your last name, the poem's title, and the page number.

    • Do not put copyright notices anywhere on your poetry. Not only is it insulting to editors to whom it will seem you suspect they may steal your work, but your poems are copyrighted simply by your writing them down.
  • Proofread: Make sure to spellcheck your writing and punctuation on a computer, and then have a friend give the poems a final proofread. Unintentional misspellings are the death of a poem.


These poems are your babies. Now it's time to find your babies a good home. If your poems are good enough, they'll come back later on and help put you in a nice retirement home. If your poems fail to make a cut, they'll live in your basement for years, mooching your Cheese Whiz. Bastard poems.

There are four major markets (that is, types of outlets) in which you can get your poems published:

Electronic publications
Literary magazines
Directories of poetry publishers

Unlike the process with longer literary works, you will be for the most part engaging in this process on your own. Agents are generally not hired to handle submissions of individual poems, and unless you are famous or have some clout in the literary scene agents do not usually handle book publication either. Don't panic; this is good news. It means that you're in the same boat as everybody else. Reading this SYW will set you on the right path to avoiding major screw-ups.

The toughest part about finding a publication that will accept your poems is that you have probably repeatedly heard that "there are no markets for poetry anymore." Bull. There are plenty (as you'll see below). So now is the time to prove everyone wrong and introduce your writing to one or many of the many publications and publishing forums that accept poetry. The more you submit to, the better the chance that one of them will have your name in its table of contents.

The best place to start is e-zines and small but widely distributed literary magazines. This is because they are usually more desperate for good work, and thus, are more willing to take a chance on a new poet. They're also generally more responsive to your questions and more forgiving of any errors you may make due to inexperience.

Electronic publications

It is here that the publishing revolution is happening right before our eyes. Many poetry magazines and publishers have already experimented by putting some or all of their back catalogues onto electronic archives. The following are just a few professional poetry websites that might be worth your while to visit:

Yes, getting published in an online journal still counts as getting published. You just want to make sure that the e-zine is reputable. To find out, just visit the site and see what you think. Each e-zine has its own requirements on how to submit, so visit the sites, see which one matches your poetry best, and ask for submission guidelines.

Literary magazines

Literary periodicals and poetry journals are the other places where newcomers should begin. They're very reputable, especially among literary scholars, so getting published in one is a big deal. Some of the more popular literary magazines include:

  • Agni
  • American Letters and Commentary
  • Antioch Review
  • Atlantic Monthly
  • Black Warrior Review
  • Boulevard
  • Conjunctions
  • DoubleTake Magazine
  • Fence Magazine
  • Field Magazine
  • Five Points
  • Grand Street
  • Jacket
  • The Journal
  • Kenyon Review
  • Literal Latte
  • Modern Poetry in Translation
  • The Nation
  • The New Criterion
  • The New Republic
  • Painted Bride Quarterly
  • Partisan Review
  • Passages North
  • Ploughshares
  • PN Review
  • Poetry Calendar
  • Poetry Daily
  • Poetry Flash
  • Poetry Magazine
  • Poetry Review
  • Poets & Writers Magazine
  • Prairie Schooner
  • Prose Poem
  • Quarterly West
  • Slate
  • Stand Magazine
  • Threepenny Review
  • Thumbscrew
  • Tin House Literary Journal
  • Triquarterly Magazine
  • Verse Magazine
The publications listed above are large operations that usually claim to represent poetry as it is today. Their success in achieving this aim varies considerably. The list is by no means exclusive; there are others magazines which could well make acceptable claims for inclusion. They can be tough to get into (especially for a first-timer), but there are also magazines that restrict their content to work from a specific region:
  • Atlanta Review
  • Boston Book Review
  • Boston Review
  • Chicago Review
  • Denver Quarterly
  • Georgia Review
  • Gettysburg Review
  • Gulf Coast
  • Iowa Review
  • Massachusetts Review
  • Mississippi Review
  • Missouri Review
  • New England Review
  • The New Yorker
  • Notre Dame Review
  • Paris Review
  • Sewanee Review
  • Shenandoah
All of these journals do not want the same kind of poetry (if they did, how could they ever compete with each other?). Some want traditional, some want modern, some want classical, and some want gobbledygook. It is IMPERATIVE that you find out what type of poetry a journal wants before you send your work in, and if you decide to submit, to follow its submission guidelines. So buy a sample copy first (or if you're poor like we are, stand in a bookstore, read the journal, and put it back on the shelf when you're done). See if they have a website, and if they do, go to it.

Directories of poetry publishers

In the "reference" or "writing reference" section of a bookstore, you should find a vast array of directories of poetry publishers which will give you guidance as to where to send your work. The American Directories: Poet's Market, Len Fulton's Poet's Market, and The Co-Ordinating Council of Literary Magazine's Directory of Little Magazines are quite popular and provide extensive information on poetry publishers. These guides will provide you with the basic information you'll need, such as:

  • Publication name
  • Contact name
  • Address
  • A few-lines worth of description of the publication

While these directory listings are incredibly useful, your best bet is to see the actual publications themselves before submitting any of your material. The directories will often provide snail mail addresses to which you can write for a sample issue of a magazine. Take a look at back issues and current issues to help determine what niche you think your poetry would best fit into before sending your work off on it's merry way.


It might seem intuitive to try this forum first if your main goal is to find wide readership. Unfortunately, if you aren't Seamus Heaney or Rainer Maria Rilke (uh, they're famous poets), this really is NOT the best way to break in. They only want famous poets. Not you.

Above all, publishers are looking for insightful, thought-provoking verse that creates a mood or image. But hey, we can't tell you how to write poetry - all we can do is improve your chances of getting it seen by the right people.


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


Editors are constantly bombarded with submissions. Most of them are crap, but they still have to read everything that comes in. As you could guess, this takes a long time, so expect to wait several months before you even hear a response. Fortunately, some publications list a "response time" (how long it should take for you to get an answer).

Ultimately it all boils down to a combination of the editor's personal taste, how eagerly the publication is seeking poetry at the time, and whether or not you caught the editor on a good day or a bad one. But keep trying; persistence is key.

If you've been waiting much longer than a "reasonable time" (that is, past the response time or more than 6 months) and you haven't heard a word, you may want to write a submission status query letter inquiring as to whether the poems were received. In this letter, include a SASE for their reply. If you still don't hear back, you can then 1) send a letter withdrawing your work, 2) assume you were rejected, or 3) remember to actually include your poems in the submission packet.


You finally got an answer! Break out the champagne! There are actually three types of responses that you may get (some of which offer happier news than others):

Access granted
Access denied
Suggested revisions

Access granted

You're a poet! You're a poet! You're a poet!

  • You're first task is to double-check the acceptance letter to make absolutely clear what the terms are. It's important not to get caught in a scam where you have to pay to get your poems published. We'll make this crystal clear: you should never pay any money to get published. And if the publication doesn't pay you with either money or copies, don't shell out money just to see your name in some "lovely leather hardbound poetry collection" they're selling.

  • If a publication offers you a contract or "agreement to publish," check it carefully to make certain you agree with the terms. Pay attention to when the magazine expects to publish your poem.

  • Don't agree to sign over your copyright to a publication unless they pay you -- if you later want to include that poem in a book, you will have to write to the publication for permission and may even have to pay them a permission fee to publish your own work. However, most places that ask for copyright will grant you permission in the agreement for you to use your work in a later collection.

  • Never sign over moral rights to anyone. This means they can alter your poem, publish it under someone else's name, and in effect do anything they want, leaving you no legal recourse but tears.

  • More and more magazines now ask for the right to publish your work on the Web or in other electronic forms as well as in their paper publication. Be certain what they're asking for, and whether you want additional payment to appear in other media. Usually, you won't care, just being happy to have the additional exposure.

  • As far as payment is concerned, keep in mind that few small literary magazines pay in actual dollars. Most pay their contributors in copies of the journal. This will not be indicated on the acceptance letter, but if the publication does pay real money, most tend to pay at the time of publication rather than upon acceptance. Most literary magazines pay per page, some pay per poem, and a few pay per word or per line. Contest prizes can vary from tens to thousands of dollars but nearly all of them require entry and reading fees, which can end up draining your financial resources fairly quickly. Long story short: be in the know.

Access denied


  • If only one or two of the poems from your submission were accepted, have a mini-celebration and send the losing poems out to other journals with replacement poems.

  • If all of your poems are rejected at once, shed a tear and view the situation as an opportunity to send them out again as quickly as possible. It's a good idea to know in advance where you are going to send your poems next in the event that they do get rejected.

  • If you like, you can resubmit your poems to the same market. However, you should wait at least a couple of weeks (and preferably a couple of months), unless the editor has specifically requested that you send them more of your work. Any poems that you do resubmit should be sufficiently revised.

  • That's about all the advice we can offer you on getting the bad news. Just realize that the vast majority of poets get rejections, and you should be proud of them. Tack them on your wall. When you become famous, use them to inspire your budding poetry protgs.

Suggested revisions

Sometimes your poems will come back with some suggested revisions. Here's how to handle it:

  • Regardless of whether or not the revised version is promised consideration for publication, it's entirely up to you whether you make the revisions and resubmit the work. If revisions are suggested but the editor expresses no interest in publishing your poetry, you can revise them or not -- it's up to you. But don't send them back to that publication.

Many poets end up self-publishing their own writing. Going this route, all you have to do is find a publisher, pay them, and bam! -- you have a book of your own poetry. The catch is that it's up to you to get that book distributed and sold. If you don't, you are left with piles and piles of copies of poetry you've read a millions times over. And a much lighter wallet. Our advice is to not even give a second thought to this route, but we thought we'd tell you about it just the same.

We'll close with this haiku:

And now you know how
To publish your own poems.
Give us the credit!