How To Prepare Poetry Manuscripts For Submission
Learn how to properly prepare poetry manuscripts for submission to an editor.
Many fledgling writers are faced with the difficult challenge of submitting their first works to an editor or publisher. After hearing nothing but praise from well-meaning friends and family members, the time has now come to face the often cold and impersonal world of professional publication. This process can be confusing at first, and can lead to moments of self-doubt and anxiety for the would-be poet. Here's how to properly format and submit a batch of poetry to an editor or publisher.
1. Evaluate your works as honestly as possible. You may even want to call in your most trusted friends and teachers to help you with this step. Editors are severely pressed for time, and usually request that you submit only the best of the best you have. Eliminate poems that need serious rewriting or are so specific to the writer that the outside world would not understand the references. Have your friends critique your work as brutally as they can. Select only those poems that survive. A good poetry batch usually contains 4-6 poems, unless the guidelines for that specific magazine request more or less. If you don't see a limit in the guidelines, assume this 4-6 number as gospel.
2. Get all the contact information for that publication, and make sure it is accurate. For poetry, get the latest edition of Poet's Market or a similar guidebook to writing markets. A good bookstore should have these books in the reference section. Once you find a publication that is open to beginners, read every guideline and follow it to the letter. Some magazines have specific places for author information, others require biographies or cover letters. Again, many magazines limit batches- check the numbers. Make sure to include everything the guidelines ask for, including a short bio and Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope (SASE). Find the specific editor assigned to poetry, or address your letter to the general editor. Sometimes the information you have is not entirely accurate, because the editor may have been replaced by a different person since the guidelines were published, but don't sweat the mistakes. As long as the mailing address is correct, they should find the right recipient for you.
3. Don't worry about using large manila envelopes for small submission batches. Take your selected poems, plus any cover letter or bio, and fold them into thirds. Place them in a standard #10 envelope along with a SASE and mail them off to the magazine. Manila envelopes are not essential, and can be expensive in the long run. Editors are used to receiving standard #10 envelopes, so don't worry about appearances. Always make a notation on where and when you sent a batch of poems, because you will forget over time. Keep a set of notecards handy, and jot down any other information you learn along the way, such as the name of new editors or a changed address.
4. You may have a long wait on your hands, so spend the downtime wisely. Work on other batches of poetry or work on rewriting weaker poems. You are not restricted to the number of batches you send out, but you may be restricted on how many copies of the same poem you can submit at the same time. The practice of sending out multiple copies of the same poem(s) is called 'Simultaneous Submitting' and can be a dangerous maneuver. The long wait for a reply can tempt you into sending out the same poems to another magazine, but don't do it. Once a poem is accepted by an editor, they usually acquire at least one-time rights. If that same poem is accepted by a different magazine before the first one has the opportunity to publish it, then you are not playing by the rules.
Never resend a poem until you are sure of its current status.
5. A good batch of poems is arranged to create an impression in an editor's mind. Many writers place their strongest works last, and hope that the other poems will hook the editor into reading the best pieces. Consider this bit of psychology when arranging your poems for consideration. Demonstrate a level of skill and control and you'll have a much better chance of acceptance. But even if you do receive a rejection letter from your first batch, do not give up hope. Rejection letters are not pleasant, but are a necessary part of the business. Occasionally, an editor will make a remark or two concerning his or her rejection, but don't be surprised if you don't receive much more than a form letter at first. If the editor does offer encouragement to send other pieces, take them up on it. Don't waste time and effort on a market that is obviously not suited to your style, but do resubmit to magazines that take the time to comment on your work. Wait an appropriate amount of time, however, before resubmitting any new work to a magazine you've already approached. Most poetry magazines and journals are swamped with unsolicited submissions, which they refer to as the 'slush pile'. Give editors time to reduce the slush pile before resubmitting.