So, you’ve been writing poetry for a while now, and you think it’s time to take your craft to the next level and share your work with a public audience. Information on how to get started is overwhelming, and most of the competitions you find are asking for an entry fee. Shouldn’t you be paid for your art? You start thinking about self-publishing on social media, but you dream of seeing your work in an ‘established’ magazine, and maybe even one day seeing your collection in print…
If you’re just getting started with submitting work for publication, you’d be forgiven for any confusion . The world of poetry publishing tends to be much more complex than that of novels. Very few poets have agents, and most publishing houses don’t accept ‘unsolicited manuscripts’, often preferring to discover poets themselves.
Luckily, Nottingham Poetry Exchange is here with some advice on how to make your way into the poetry scene.
Avoid competitions you have to pay to enter
Writing competitions – especially run by national and international foundations – can be a great way to get your work exposed, earning yourself an impressive award as well as potentially a fair bit of cash. But many of these require you to pay per poem (often starting at a base rate of around £5 for the first poem and then a smaller amount per additional poem), and if you start submitting to a lot of competitions you’ll soon realise it isn’t always sustainable.
Writing competitions attract a large number of applicants, but many will only publish the ‘top three’ poems submitted, sometimes suffixed by a shortlist. Winning one of these accolades will show publishing houses you’re a force to be reckoned with, but as quarterly/monthly magazines publish many more poems per issue, your odds of publication will be higher in a free-to-submit magazine than a paid-for competition.
Paid-for competitions also favour the well-off. Some have no limit to the amount of poems that can be sent in, so submitting multiple poems (and potentially racking up a triple-figure entrance fee) is the poetry equivalent of buying more chips at a casino.
Get to know the magazines you’re submitting to
Often, undeniable masterpieces get rejected just because they don’t fit into the theme or style preferred by the magazine they’ve been submitted to.
Before you submit your poems to any publications, make sure you check out the kind of things they’ve published before to see if your work is suitable for them. Buy a copy or get a subscription to a magazine if you can (as well as getting a feel for the publication, it’s great to support small presses and check out what else is going on in the contemporary scene), but you’ll find that many independent publications, like ZARF, have their backlogs available for free online.
You might be the next Shakespeare, but if you’re writing exclusively sonnets, it’s unlikely you’ll be featured in a magazine of Linguistically Innovative Poetry.
To find the right publication for you, check out Neon Books’ list of UK Literary Mags here.
Don’t be afraid to go for the big guns
PN Review, Poetry Magazine, The New Yorker — in the world of contemporary poetry, these are the most prestigious names around. If you manage to land a piece in one of these, it’s likely editors of publishing houses will start checking you out. Carcanet even state that many of their ‘authors have come to [their] attention … by way of PN Review‘.
It might be intimidating to submit your work to these ‘big guns’ at first, but these magazines all publish new poets as well as more established names. Remember, everyone has to start somewhere!
Know the golden rules
The majority of publications will have their own house style they want submissions to follow. You might need to use a certain font, submit all your poems in the same or separate documents, hide or reveal your contact details … It’s all quite overwhelming or confusing at first, but most magazines will have ‘Submission Guidelines’ on their website detailing all these particulars. Don’t fall at the first hurdle and have your amazing poem rejected just because you didn’t follow the stipulations set out in the call for submission.
If you can’t see specific guidelines on a publication’s website, it’s unlikely that they require you to submit your work in a certain font, but if you have the time, it’s always worth emailing just to be sure: this shows you’re really interested in being featured in their publication too!
There are some guidelines most publications follow. One of poetry’s ‘golden rules’ is that of simultaneous submissions. Most publications don’t accept simultaneous submissions — that is, poems submitted to more than one publication at the same time. This is essentially for legal reasons, to avoid copyright disputes, and so publications don’t have to withdraw your poem at the last minute if they find out you’ve been accepted elsewhere. You might find yourself submitting to the same publication a number of times, so make sure to get on their good side by avoiding simultaneous submissions unless you know it’s 100% allowed.
And if you’re not sure what sort of document to submit your poems in, PDF tends to be best – that way, editors can see clearly how you want your poem to look on the page.
Patience is a virtue, but this might be more true for practitioners of poetry than advocates for any other art form. Often, publishing houses can take months to reply. If you’ve submitted your poems to a publication which don’t take simultaneous submissions, this can be particularly frustrating, as you have to wait a while before finding out if your poem has been accepted or rejected, and submitting it to a different magazine. I use a handy submissions tracker so I know where my poems are at all times, and if it’s safe for me to submit them elsewhere.
Moreover, many magazines, such as Witch Craft, only accept submissions at certain times of the year. It’s worth noting when your favourite magazines are accepting manuscripts so you know when’s best to send your poems in.
Submit to Nottingham Poetry Exchange’s Voices Magazine
Lots of places interested in publishing your work might ask for a portfolio of previously published pieces, just so they can check out your other work, or maybe for promotional reasons. Nottingham Poetry Exchange is currently looking for submissions for our second issue of Voices – just send up to 3 previous unpublished poems to firstname.lastname@example.org via PDF by the end of April. (No simultaneous submissions please!)
If you haven’t had work published elsewhere, this is the perfect way to start building up your portfolio, and getting your name known in the poetry scene.
If you have a collection ready, go for it
If you’ve already compiled a thematically or narratively unified poetry collection, it’s worth knowing that some presses, such as Wrecking Ball Press, do accept completed or partial manuscripts. Just keep in mind that publishing houses might take longer to reply to an entire collection than individual poems, and lots of places will want to read partial collections first to make sure your work is right for them. As with submitting individual poems, make sure to do your research first, read a couple of books published by the press you’re sending your manuscript into, and stick to their submission guidelines.
Good luck and happy submitting!
@MatteoEverett1 is a freelance content creator for Citylife, and has previously written for the Nottingham Post and Explore Politics. He’s also the founder and editor of Trapocul. Matteo edited Impact Magazine from 2016-2017, and has published poetry under the name Teo Eve in 404 Ink Magazine and the ‘Voices’ poetry blog. His microstory, ‘To Be Seen’, is one of the winners of UNESCO Nottingham City of Literature’s ‘MyVoice’ competition.