With final selections for Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, Volume 18:The Dead complete, I feel the urge to offer some tips and encouragement from my experience on both sides of the publishing world, editor and writer.
Do your homework. Make good choices about journals based on how their interests intersect with your own. The best way is to read a copy or at least a sample of their work. (Some print journals publish samples online.) What (and who) do they publish? Do you like the poems? Can you see yours nestled in among them? If the call for submissions is thematic, do you and/or your poems fit? Do they tend to publish short or long poems, narrative or lyric, etc. What do they say explicitly about their journal in a mission statement or “about us” section?
Look for multiple points of connection to increase your chances of publication. For example, a journal that publishes poets in the Ohio River valley, and are asking for work touching on the themes you address in your poems.
Think local. There does seem to be a pecking order among journals: local, regional, national, for example. This doesn’t mean you have to follow it. But why not support your local or regional journal, which often publishes poems of as high or higher standards (subjectively speaking) as do the big boys. Smaller journals may also work harder to promote their work, sponsoring journal launches and readings and using social media. This provides exposure for you and the opportunity to connect with other writers and editors.
Online or print? Either may be a great place for your work. Because of the ease of online publication, there may be more issues of quality control in online publications than print, but there are also some great ones out there. Just do your homework!
Is your poem ready? Is it really ready? Look especially at beginnings, which busy editors may not go too far beyond if it causes them to stumble. If you have a workshop group or trusted friend, why not get another set of eyes?
Does your poem stand alone? Some poems work brilliantly within a collection, or when read aloud by the poet, but not as well outside of the context.
Don’t just send to one journal. Many journals accept simultaneous submissions, which means you can send the same poem or group of poems to many journals at the same time. (Just keep track and be sure to notify journals when a poem you sent them is accepted elsewhere!) You may also send totally different batches of poems to different journals. Different poets have different ways of keeping their work in circulation. Some send out on a regular schedule, and if a manuscript is turned down, they send it to the next on the list. I am a “binge submitter.” I tend to send out work to six or seven journals, two or three times a year. I have found that the more journals I send to, the more likely I am to get poems accepted.
Read the guidelines carefully, and follow them. They are there for a reason, even if it’s not clear to you. For example, the journal I edit asked writers to put all their poems, plus bio and address in one document, rather than sending multiple, and to use a certain font. When writers did this it took me about ten minutes to catalog their submission and prepare it to be seen by other editors. When they didn’t it doubled or even tripled my time.
Don’t stay discouraged (or disgruntled) by rejection. Feel what you feel, and then let it go! From my own experience as editor, I have an increased awareness of the strange mix of subjective and objective decision making necessary to put a journal together. I’ve had to turn down poems I really liked (a few of which I had even asked poets I know to send) because they did not fit within the context of the journal. I’ve seen names of poets we declined to publish declared as contest winners the same week I had to write the rejection letter. Maybe your poem wasn’t ready. Maybe you chose a journal that was not a fit for your work. But it is just as likely that multiple factors not in your control kept your poem out of that particular journal right now. If they say try the journal again, do! In any event, keep sending out your best work to their best possible homes