As a poetry writer responsible for three books, and poetry editor for the Blue Mountain Review, I have experience on both sides of the submission divide. My goal is to help writers understand the nuts and bolts of the publication process. Let me say upfront that there will be no blog post written by me for the purpose of making fun of, disrespecting, or ostracizing people. My focus here is to create a hub of useful information. The submission process can be arduous. I want to help make it easier for you.
- Write What You Know, and Make it Accessible – Convincing, accessible writing is the best writing. As a writer, I feel like I’m lying to the reader if I try to speak from a point of view I don’t know firsthand, or for those whose lives I have no intimate knowledge. If the work isn’t accessible, it is a locked room only you can get into. As an editor, it is blatantly obvious when a submission isn’t coming from a genuine place. If the language is vague or cryptic, I immediately lose interest. No matter what genre you choose, stick to what you know using a creative language others can get into. When you live by this rule, the practice of writing will be less stressful. It will be a pleasure to read, and your quiet integrity will increase the chances of publication.
- Edit Your Work – The muse can ease into us with a slow trickle or as a mad rush. When either happens to me, I breathe deep, get it on paper, and then take a walk to give my labor time to simmer. A few hours, a day, or a week later, I will return to that project with fresh eyes. Editing is a vital part of the publication success. Read it aloud to “hear” any hiccups. Let someone read it for grammatical errors. Do not rush to submit.
- Familiarize Yourself with the Magazine – Do your homework before choosing a literary journal. Don’t pick one for its name alone. What do they like to publish? What is their audience? Make sure they don’t print work that’s in conflict with what you believe. If you get accepted into a magazine that takes anything willy-nilly, it will undermine your hard work. Remember as well, don’t try to copy the work you see published because that violates Rule #1, and the effort will come off as a cheap knock-off.
- Follow the Submission Guidelines – If the magazine asks for your work to be pasted into the body of an email as well as attached in a document, follow it to the letter. If they want the attachment in a Word doc, don’t send a PDF. Often a bio is required, and/or a cover letter. Send one or both along, of course, but remember that less is more. If they don’t accept simultaneous submissions, do not submit the same poem to other magazines. If they do, and your work is accepted elsewhere, tell them immediately. Editors have a deluge of material to sift through on a deadline. The easier you make it on them, the more attractive your submission will be.
- Do Not Annoy the Editors – Your wait time to hear a verdict on your work is given in the submission guidelines. Do not harass editors with emails before the wait time is up for an answer. If they do not accept your work, don’t take it personally. Writing an angry retort reminiscent of an American Idol reject will not cause them to change their mind. More than likely, that will ruin any chance of a future submission being considered.
Publication is a rite-by-fire that divides the good writers from the great writers. If it were easy, anyone could do it, and that would devalue your God-given talent. Treat writing like a vocation, because it is. If you love writing, chances are folks will love reading it. However, before that love can be shared, there will be blood, sweat, and tears. Don’t give up. Study, write, read, share, and repeat. Sooner than you think, you’ll be smiling, dancing, and announcing your newfound success.