If you want to get editors at literary magazines or publishing houses to notice and publish your poetry, there are a few key things you can do to increase your odds of having a poem accepted.
At Writer’s Relief we’ve been working with poets since 1994—helping writers submit their work to literary agents, magazines, and journals—and we’ve picked up on some pretty significant trends. Our clients get published by the hundreds (thousands, if you want to get technical). Here are some of the things they do (and don’t do) to ensure their poetry has a competitive edge.
Skip the rhyme. Rhyming poetry is difficult to place. In fact, it’s so difficult to publish rhyming poetry that we won’t work with poets who primarily focus on rhyme. If you want to rhyme, feel free. There are plenty of outlets online and even a few print journals that adore rhyme. Just be aware that at most magazines, it’s a dead end. Rhyming poetry done well is beautiful. Done poorly? Ugh.
Keep it short. Poems that are one page long tend to be more readily accepted than any other length poem. Also, watch your margins. A poem that is too many characters wide may not fit on the narrow pages of literary magazines. Tight poems are more easily publishable and more readily accepted. (Also see Poetry Turnoffs: Styles and Formatting That Make Editors Cringe.)
Submit three to five poems per submission. Submitting more than five poems makes you look demanding and overeager. Submitting fewer than three poems implies that you don’t have a significant body of work. Also, don’t submit more than ten pages MAX (5-8 pages is best).
Avoid clichés. Money, love, and death are said to be the big three topics for writers. But be sure that you’re approaching them in a truly new way. (Tip: The only way you can be sure your writing is not cliché is by reading poetry. Lots of poetry. If you love poetry, read and support the magazines that keep poetry alive.)
Steer clear of one-word titles, unless your one-word title is truly an amazing and unique word. Titles like “Death” or “Friendship” tend to be more often overlooked by editors. Consider the wording of your title just as important as the rest of your poem.
Use eye-catching titles. After one-word titles, lackluster titles also tend to go unnoticed (as do lackluster poems). Pep up your poetry titles to get better results.
Develop a strong bio. At some point, everyone has absolutely no writing credentials. But the fact remains that the stronger your bio is, the more likely you’ll be well-received. For some tips on how to build up your bio, read Building Publication Credits and No Publishing Credits? Get Publishing Credentials: How To Build Up Your Writing Bio Super Fast.
As always, be sure that when you submit, you’ve researched the proper markets, prepared stellar cover letters, and followed all appropriate guidelines. If you’d like help submitting your poetry for publication, check us out. Our clients regularly publish poetry in hundreds of print journals. At Writer’s Relief, we remove the pressures and frustrations of the submission process to improve your acceptance rate and give you more time to write!