So, you write poems. Maybe you read your poems at a local bookstore, music venue or coffeeshop at a monthly or weekly open mic. And maybe you even sign up for a writing workshop and the teacher hosts a public reading at a fine art center or library at the conclusion of the course. But do you submit your poetry for publication?
Last month I submitted over 50 poems for publication. So far I’ve receive quite a few reject letters. Some replies were so quick I wonder if the editor read the submission. A week after I submitted poems to one editor I received this:
“I enjoyed reading your poems but I’m unable to use them…”
A day later I received this from a different editor:
“Thank you for your recent submission…. This group of poems wasn’t right for us, but we’re grateful for the opportunity to consider your work…”
These replies are courteous, non-confrontational and sterile. Last weekend I received my favorite rejection letter so far. It reads,
“We sincerely appreciate your interest … and are very glad you are getting your pieces published…. we wish you the best of luck in your continued writing. Never give up on what your high school literature teacher told you!”
Why do I like that rejection letter? Here’s three reasons:
- The editor actually read the cover letter. Not just the first few lines of the cover letter, but all the way to the third paragraph. You see, buried in the third paragraph of my cover letter is an homage to an inspirational high school literature teacher.
- Clearly it is not an automated reply to a submission for publication.
- The way the letter is crafted is a sandwich. By that I mean, the letter opens positively, nicely rejects the submission with two reasons and concludes with a personal and positive note.
Literary journal editors should take note of this rejection letter. It is a good model to follow.
If you submit your poetry for publication, I am interested to learn how it is going for you. If you don’t submit your poems for publication, I’d like to know why.
I kind of enjoy that there’s a hierarchy of rejection letter types. Even though my soul gets put through a meat-grinder every time I get a generic rejection, it makes the personal ones so much more meaningful. I like having an idea of which places might be amenable to more submissions in the relatively near future, and which journals are either not a good fit, or else venues I should avoid until I’ve honed my craft for, say, another decade -_-
I know what you mean. And thanks for reading and leaving a comment. A part of me cringes when I read a rejection notice. Another part of me sees it from their perspective. Editors receive hundreds if not thousands of submissions a year. I’m interested to learn how you keep track of submissions, especially those publications that are amenable to your work.
I’ve been using Duotrope (though I will soon have to decide whether it’s worthwhile for me to pay the $50/year to continue doing so) and a binder full of printed information and handwritten notes. When it comes to keeping myself organized, I feel much more comfortable having physical copies to leaf through and shuffle around.
My binder is split into two sections. The first has copies of all the pieces I’m currently intending to publish, and then, beside each poem, a page with notes on the type of magazine where I see it finding a home. This page also has a list of the journals it’s been sent to– with the estimated reply times, notes about simultaneous submissions, etc– and, of course, a note indicating if it has been rejected.
The second section is an alphabetized compendium of magazines I’m interested in submitting to. I usually just have a printed page for each journal, with the information available on duotrope, with some of my own notes below. Each page has a color coded post-it stuck in the right margin– I’ve got a different color for magazines that 1) I’m waiting to hear from 2) have rejected me with a form letter 3) have rejected me with a personal letter 4) have rejected me, but have explicitly encouraged me to submit again 5) have accepted me, or 6) I haven’t submitted to, yet. If I received a personal rejection, I’ll usually save it; stapled to the page dedicated to that journal.
I don’t know whether this is the sort of thing that other writers do, but I have to force myself to stay super-organized– because otherwise, honestly, I would just lose track of everything. When it comes to being orderly, I’m an all or nothing sort.
Sorry for the essay, hehe 😛
Love your essay reply! Your binder organization system is a great idea. Especially the part about writing notes next to a poem as to which publication would be a great home for it. I’m not nearly as efficient. Hope you don’t mind if I borrow some of your ideas.
My submission tracking is a spreadsheet that includes: poem title(s), publication, reading period, editor and contact info, submission notes, date sent, date returned/accepted, date published and pay received. The more I submit the larger the spreadsheet grows. It also helps me track response times.
I haven’t used Duotrope. I used to buy a copy of Directory of Poetry Publishers every couple of years. That allowed me to compile an extensive list of poetry publishers (as well as those who pay in contributor copies or money). Seems like more and more publishers are using submittable.com for online submissions.
What’s your experience regarding online submissions versus snail mail submissions?
Haha– of course I don’t mind if you borrow parts of my method! I basically ended up using it because I tried to make a spreadsheet, but quickly grew to loathe it. There’s just something about spreadsheets that makes me feel like I have a head cold when I look at them for too long!
In all honesty, I haven’t done enough snail mail submissions to make a fair comparison. I’ve only started trying seriously to publish my work in the past year or so, and the vast majority of my poems have been sent to magazines that have a strong online presence, and accept digital submissions. For some reason this makes me less nervous -_- On a more practical level, it’s easier for me to browse the contents of an online journal, and to figure out whether it’s a good match. I don’t have a large budget to spend on subscriptions to print publications, and I’ve delayed deciding which magazines are the most worthwhile– I’m afraid that I’ll be disappointed, or that, as soon as I’ve spent all my money, I’ll find a journal that I like even better. I’m also a bit lazy about doing the proper research 😛
Despite my relatively organized tracking of my submissions, I still take a very immature approach to the whole process, I fear. Having my neat, color-coded binder makes me feel less like I have no idea what I’m doing– but only just. I’m sure I’ll become wiser about the whole thing over time, but, for now, I’m still trying to gain confidence, and to understand the submission/publication process a bit better.
Love this post. I have not submitted my work to be published because I believe they follow a certain formula and being that I am not part of that equation I try not to waste my time. So I have dreams to self publish and help the voice of countless others. So until then I will try to draw up a worthy collection. So if I may ask…what was that advice from you high school teacher?
Thanks! I know how you feel about the publishing scene. When I look at some of the poetry publications I see, as you see, a lot of the same material. There’s two main camps as far as I can tell: one is the academic, elitist publications and one is the activistic, poetry-for-the-people publications. This is a terrible generalization, I know. For years I didn’t submit anything because, like yourself, my work doesn’t seem to fit into any of the poetry buckets out there. Self-publishing is a good start. I have helped several poets in that regard. As far as the advice from my high school teacher… ah, man, that’s my secret weapon. Just kidding. She said something like this, “Keep writing. And when you get tired of it. Keep writing.”
Lol you know my teacher once told me the problems with writers is that they don’t write, so I completely understand that statement.
Yeah, your teacher is right… the problems with writers is that they don’t write. Someone asked Ezra Pound what makes a good poet and he replied something likes this: write 75 lines of poetry every day. According to Pound’s definition, I’ve got a long way to go to be considered a poet.
you and me both
I’m old enough and have been publishing long enough to recall mailing submissions (using a typewriter) and then waiting eagerly for months (and months, and months…), checking the mailbox daily for a response.
I do not miss having to retype a poem and cover letter for every single submission. I don’t miss the long response times with the “no simultaneous submissions” caveat. BUT I don’t think that submitting online actually saves me any time.
Nor does it keep me more organized–I, too, loathe spreadsheets. I’ve gone back to using the index cards method my friend Barbara showed me two decades ago, very low tech but it works for me.
Ah, yes. I do recall mailing submissions after multiple typed versions/revisions. And I was excited to finally upgrade from manual typewriter to a Brother Electronic Typewriter. Wow, I have not thought of that in years.
Thanks for replying to this post. The spreadsheet I use for tracking submissions has organically changed as I try to fine tune that system. I am curious to learn how the index card system works. During the that has transpired since I wrote this post, I have shifted toward handwritten/analog systems knowledge work (i.e. note-taking, calendar, lists, first drafts, etc.).