So you’ve never submitted your poems to literary magazines before. Where do you start? It can definitely feel intimidating (and time-consuming) the first time you send your work out to potential publishers; but once you’ve gone through the steps a few times, it just becomes another part of your writing routine. To help you get going, here are some tips to guide you through the process and proper etiquette.
Before You Submit Your Work
This might seem obvious but it bears saying aloud: read lots of literary magazines! This is essential homework if you’re going to start submitting work to them. This helps you to know what is being published by these journals, and what they’re looking for. Two great resources for discovering literary magazines are NewPages and The Review Review, which regularly publish reviews of literary magazines and maintain a fairly comprehensive database of their listings. And, most of all, consider subscribing to literary magazines, if you can. Regularly reading the new issues of journals in which you hope to publish can often lead to breakthroughs in your work. Remember: there are no good writers without good readers. Here are some helpful resources and links:
Entropy runs a quarterly “Where to Submit” list on their site.
You can also subscribe to Duotrope, which is a database containing information about thousands of literary magazines and journals.
A Duotrope account also comes with the ability to log your submissions and responses on the site, which helps you track your submissions while also contributing data to the statistical information that Duotrope gathers & provides for each lit mag profile.
Start a little smaller at first: submit to literary magazines that focus on work by emerging and/or unpublished writers. You can always find this information on the publication’s website.
Most literary magazines and journals receive submissions online (some exclusively) and many of those use the submission management platform Submittable for receiving and responding to those submissions. So, you should also go ahead and set up your free Submittable account. Other literary magazines either receive submissions by email or through an alternative submission management platform.
How to Craft a Cover Letter
Most literary magazines and journals will ask you to include a brief cover letter to accompany the packet of poems you’re submitting. Although most publications will not disqualify a submission based on the cover letter, it is important to make a professional first impression. There is definitely an art to the submission cover letter, so here are some tips for how to do it right:
Use the appropriate editor’s name in your opening address (you can find this on their website, usually on the masthead page),
Briefly state your intention (“I am submitting my poems XYZ for consideration for a future issue of Lit Mag Name.”)
If this is a simultaneous submission, let them know here, but you don’t have to say where else you’re sending your work. (“These poems are simultaneous submissions but I will inform you promptly should they be accepted elsewhere and need to be withdrawn.”)
Do not describe your poems or give your life story. If you choose, you can give a very brief third-person biographical note (generally 50–100 words). But this is usually optional.
Briefly thank the editor(s) for considering and reading your work.
Close with your first and last name, and your contact information.
Cover Letter Template:
Dear [Insert Editor Name],
I would like to submit my poems [insert poem titles] for consideration for a future issue of [Insert Magazine/Journal Title]. I have also included a brief biographical note below, should that be needed.
[Insert brief bio here.]
This is a simultaneous submission. Thank you so much for reading my work!
[Your Mailing Address]
[Your Phone Number]
[Your Email Address]
How to Track Submissions
This is so incredibly important to remember: you are responsible for keeping track of your submissions! This is the information you need to keep a detailed record of:
The titles of the poems you submitted.
The title of the publication to which you submitted them.
The date you submitted the poems.
The submission fee you paid (if any).
The type of response you receive (acceptance, personalized rejection, form rejection, or author withdrawal).
We recommend keeping a spreadsheet customized for this purpose. If you simultaneously submit poems to multiple places (which is standard practice, but check the guidelines), and one or more of those poems are accepted by a publication, you will have to know which places you need to withdraw those accepted poems from. It is your responsibility to keep track of this. It is also your responsibility to withdraw those accepted poems from the lit mags still considering them in a timely manner — which means the same day you receive the acceptance for the poem(s) in question.
What to Expect (When You’re Waiting & Waiting & Waiting)
It will take anywhere from two months to one year for literary magazines to send you a response. Check the submission guidelines for this information. Many times, they will let you know how long they tend to hold onto submissions before responding. They will also let you know when it is acceptable to query about a submission — do not do this before the prescribed response time has lapsed. You don’t want to annoy the editors who are often working on hundreds of submissions at any given time.
You will want to make sure you are checking your email account regularly, so that when you do receive a response, you are able to get to it right away. Always check your spam or junk folder because sometimes they get erroneously filtered there! It’s also a good idea to log in to your Submittable account at least once a week to check the status of your current submissions because sometimes those emails can go astray.
If you receive an acceptance, don’t leave the literary magazine waiting! Make sure you respond to their message as soon as possible — in the precise manner and with the exact information they request — so that you don’t end up missing out on this publishing opportunity. Some publishers have a shorter turnaround time for issue production, so letting them know they have permission to publish your work sooner rather than later will be most helpful for the editors. If an accepted poem is simultaneously submitted elsewhere, you need to make sure you withdraw the accepted poem (from the lit mags still considering it) as soon as possible. If another publisher sends you an acceptance letter for the same poem, you’ll find yourself in an uncomfortable situation where you have to disappoint one editor or the other. If you receive a rejection, first of all, don’t take it personally. Allow yourself to feel the disappointment briefly, then let it go. There will be more of these than you will want to count. Second, do not reply to a rejection letter, unless it is absolutely clear that the letter has been personalized.
The best advice we can give you is this: always read the submission guidelines! They will be slightly different for each publication. Make sure you follow them, or your submission could be disqualified without being read. Here are a few terms you will need to become familiar with:
Blind submissions: If a publication says that submissions must be blind, that means that no identifying information is allowed to appear on your submission document: no name or contact information, either within the document or even in the file name.
Simultaneous submissions: This refers to submitting the same poems to multiple publications at the same time. Most journals accept this practice, but you must inform them about it in your cover letter. And, as mentioned numerous times above, you must also be responsible about withdrawing poems promptly if they are accepted at one publication while under consideration at others.
Finally, this is a very important thing to remember for first-timers: posting your poems to Facebook, Instagram, a blog, etc. will count as “previously published” for a literary journal. Most of them (not all — check the guidelines) will only consider work that is entirely unpublished. So, if you want to publish specific poems in literary journals or magazines, do not post them online in any form before publication.
Did you know that Tell Tell Poetry also offers Submission Support services? Reach out to us here for more information. We’re wishing you the best of luck with your poetry submissions!
Pssst. We’re launching a submission course soon! Drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in hearing more when we launch!