Editor's POV: How to Submit your Work
Lin Neiswender’s Post about Publication Leads was great. She reiterated that there ARE places to send our work, and that we writers and poets are a community; when we share resources, advice, ideas, and our hearts, we all benefit. We are the Poetic Muselings, with a published book of poetry, because others before us opened the doors, reached out to help us, and now we are continuing the process.
I’ve been Poetry Editor for Apollo’s Lyre e-zine for almost two years, having inherited a marvelous forum that I’ve made my own. We publish poets and poems from all over the world, from highly credentialed folks, and those who are courageously sending their work out for the first time — some of it decades old, but unseen by other eyes. I love this unpaid job, the discovery of a fresh voice, vivid imagery, the teasing of form. Our readers must love the publication, too, because they’ve commented about how particular poems inspired them to send their work for consideration.
We get LOTS of poems, and often the decision of what to publish is very difficult. When I first read the incoming items, I do a quick scan of the poem. Some grab me immediately, a huge “YES!!!” bounces in my head. I tag these stars, so they stand out. I don’t pay attention to the bio info yet — I just know I want to find a spot for these words in a future issue.
The next category are those where the poet didn’t follow any of the guidelines:
— a maximum of FORTY (40) lines of poetry, excluding stanza breaks
— spread out in up to FOUR poems
— subject line: Poetry, YOUR NAME, # of poems, # of lines total
— poem and bio in the body of the email. No attachments
— at a minimum, the use of “//” to designate stanza breaks.
(I also ask for “/” at the end of each line of poetry, but that seems to confuse people.)
— People may send in their work whenever, so long as it doesn’t exceed 40 lines and four poems in any three month period. In the guidelines page of Apollo’s Lyre, I lay out this information, with examples.
Ignore these and your poems are likely to be returned or ignored, depending on the circumstances. Send something with a blank subject line, or an attachment (unless I’ve specifically requested it), and it will travel directly to “Trash”. Do yourself a favor and make it easier for the editor or publisher not to say “NO”.
I’ve received emails from some folks who send (I kid you not!):
— one long email, with over 250 lines of poetry, in multiple poems
— one long email with ONE poem of over 200 lines
— one poem per email, with over a dozen emails received in a short period of time.
— collections of poems (often a dozen or more, with around 100 lines or so)
These leave me with the feeling that I’m looking in someone’s closet, and it’s my job to decide what they should wear. Don’t send me “everything” — send me your very best poem(s).
The next part is trickier, and always amazes me, since it gives the impression that the person submitting didn’t care where or to whom, and assumed we’d figure it out:
— maybe because my name is so often misspelled, I triple-check the editor’s name, spelling, title, etc., before sending anything out. So, when I see my name spelled in any of a multitude of variations, it says someone didn’t proofread before mailing, or didn’t pay attention.
— recently, I got a spate of poems addressed to me as well as about a hundred of the poet’s nearest and dearest editors — with all of our names listed in the cc’s. This really tells me that someone was hunting with a shotgun, not a rifle, hoping to hit and slow down at least one of us without extra effort.
We’re talking about email, people! It’s not like they were worried about postage! What would an employer say to a letter like this? “To Whom It May Concern: I would really like to work for your company, but I don’t think I should have to do any research about what you do, or what you ask for. I don’t have to follow any of your rules, since I’m so incredible you’ll be in a bidding war for my services. Oh, yes, I don’t have much in the way of publishing credits, but that shouldn’t worry you.Please call me back tomorrow. Sincerely, Princess Poet OR Frog Prince.”
Believe me, every time you send your work out in the world, you are applying for a job, that of writer.
If you don’t follow general guidelines, you leave the impression you might be difficult to work with. This leads me to a third category of poems — those with potential, maybe some minor fixing or clarification to bring out their souls.
This pile is reviewed several times, under different circumstances. Some poems take more concentration to grasp, and are worth the effort. Some may need a bit of rearrangement of images, or a shift to present tense, reduction of “ing” words and unneeded articles. Poetry doesn’t have to have complete sentences, cover all gaps. I read these poems aloud for cadence, rhyme, awkwardness or smoothness of sounds.
Before you send anything in — even (in my opinion) novels or non-fiction, but especially poems — read it aloud. Hear what you’ve written, listen to how the sounds complement, contrast, enhance your intent. Where do you breathe? Is it clear from the poem? I know that my Mac desktop computer, and my Windows 7 laptop, have a text-to-voice program that will read your words to you. Usually this is part of “accessibility” options. Turn it on and try it.
There are two other general categories of poems that don’t make it into our publication:
— Those that aren’t quite the quality level yet, perhaps too cliche-driven, forced rhyme, or otherwise not appropriate for Apollo’s Lyre in subject matter. Not all poems are right for all publications. That’s where the search for publishers is important. Read back issues.
— Some incredibly wonderful poems may not be used simply because we don’t have room to publish everything we want, and/or we have other similar poems we’re using. Choosing is hard! Two poems about very similar subjects requires a decision about which one is “best” for us, at the time. I wish the poets success placing the ones I’ve passed on.
I’m as susceptible as anyone else when it comes to being treated fairly, with respect, understanding, and a willingness for a poet to work with me to edit a poem. Usually I’m right with my suggestions, since I’m approaching it with some distance; it isn’t my baby, but I care about it. Sometimes I’m wrong; I just didn’t “get it” about what was intended. When I’ve heard the background, I understand, and might suggest a few words be added to the bio, to help the reader understand, too.
I’m blown away at the talent out there, and here with our blog. I hope some of this helps you get ready for your next batch of outgoing angels. Help them fly to their destination, and not get eaten by the nasty gatekeeping trolls (like me!).
Let us know if you try this, and it works — we’ll spotlight your success. And, if you share other ideas of where to submit poems, we’ll keep an active spot here, giving you credit for it, of course.