I once waited nine months for a scrappy coffee stained printed rejection slip to come back from a poetry magazine. Needless to say I won’t be submitting to that particular publication again. I have also heard of people not receiving any response at all, although I am fortunate in that this has never happened to me.( NB- I wrote this in 2012 and in 2014 this is no longer the case!) I can only imagine that the submissions in question got lost somewhere in the post/e-mail file. I can’t imagine any poetry mag. editor not being polite enough to reply. I can imagine however, that editorial staff (part-time, temporary, well-meaning, absent-minded humans with lives ) have left the country, been inundated with work, can’t make the computer work or have lost the will to follow the plot.
Even if your work is taken, poetry publishing can be a slow business. I once waited almost two years to see a poem of mine in print after it was accepted (this is not an unusual time frame).
On other occasions you will receive a polite and professional response within days. The newcomer will soon find out which editors usually get back quickly. I won’t list the ones I’ve had quick responses from here – individual experiences vary, magazines change editors and submissions policies and sometimes disappear completely, so no list can ever be up to date.
Editors work part-time; imagine a desk piled high with envelopes or an inbox full of e-mails waiting for you in the evening after work. A fellow poet once told me that a long wait for a response from a particular magazine almost certainly ment that my work had been accepted. She turned out to be right, so a long wait may be a good sign.
But it might not. Many magazines now use the electronic submissions system Submittable, where it is possible to check the status of your submission (received/ in progress/ accepted /declined.) Some poems of mine have been in ‘received’ for 5 months now. But I like the magazine , so I’ll be patient a while longer.
If a magazine states in its guidelines that it may take a year to respond, I won’t submit. For me, a six or seven month wait for a response from a decent magazine seems like a reasonable limit.
An editor once wrote to say he’d like to ‘keep the poem by me if that’s ok.’ He did, for a year, and the poem in question, which was in my first pamphlet and also in my first book, never appeared in his magazine. The magazine is prestigious and I’m told the editor is a lovely chap, so I will submit again (one day) but I won’t wait a year this time.
If you feel you have waited too long ( this is a personal decision) then you may decide to follow up with an email / letter to the editor (I seldom do) or alternatively, send the poem somewhere else.
I think it is entirely reasonable to decide on a deadline and offer your poem to another publication if this time has passed without response.
If the original magazine does respond at a later date, you can choose to forgive their tardiness and accept their kind offer.
If the second magazine then responds favourably, you can politely decline and explain that an unexpected response has arrived after a considerable period of time. I haven’t had to do this yet, and of course you may decide it is unethical (e.g. if the second mag operates on a ‘no simultaneous subs.’ policy, you are not complying). You must decide on your own approach.
All I can suggest is that you keep writing. The fortunes of magazines will rise and fall, many will struggle to survive, online websites will come and go. Through all this you need to keep developing and practising your art regardless of external recognition (or lack of it). There are some tips for those beginning to submit to magazines further down this page. If you want to get published don’t give up!
Here is A.L Kennedy from a Guardian article on starting out as a writer.
‘..if you haven’t given up yet, I can say – and I think I am being honest about this – that even this initial grind needn’t turn out to be 100% horrible. Really. It needn’t. When everything about writing is a slog and you seem to be getting nowhere, your lack of pressing demands from numerous admirers does mean you have the time to sit back and consider why you’re putting all this effort into what appears to be an unrewarding relationship. You’re flinging out the best love letters you can, you’re breaking your heart and no one’s answering, but on you go regardless – why? If your answer is that you love what you’re doing and couldn’t abandon it without being someone other than yourself, then you probably have to keep slogging. The certainty that you have to write can be a pain in the neck, but it’s also a great, firm truth to build around – the shysters and manipulators and compromise-peddlers won’t be able to shake you, if you fasten yourself to that.’
There is another wonderful piece about writing on the ‘ Poetry quotes ‘ page of this website with a link to the original article.
Submitting poetry to magazines. A short beginners guide.
Free advice on this subject from Helena Nelson, poet and publisher, available here.
Here is a facebook post from Mike Loveday, editor of the now defunct 14 magazine.
1. Make sure that your poem is as good as it can be. This may sound obvious, but often when it is new a poem will seem better to you than it might look after a few days, weeks or even years. Try and set the poem aside for a while, even if it appears to be a masterpiece. Go back and have another look. Maybe show someone who you can trust to tell you what they think. Ultimately it is you who decides if the poem is finished. If you feel that there is nothing you can improve, remove or tidy, the poem is ready to leave home.
2. Get hold of some poetry magazines. See what sort of work they publish. Would your poems sit well with the others in a particular publication? Research takes a little time but is worth it. Go online and check out some lists. Try the POETRY KIT, THE POETRY LIBRARY and poetrymagazines.org.uk all are good. Subscribe. Support the small magazine scene, THEY NEED YOU as they may have no other funding. Which ones do you like? Do you want to appear in a magazine you don’t respect? Try on-line magazines. New ones appear regularly.
Start big if you wish. My first published poem appeared in the Rialto. No-one told me I wasn’t supposed to start with one of the biggest and best. Larger, more prestigious magazines are likely to receive more submissions from more established poets. You may prefer to start with smaller magazines in order to improve your odds of acceptance. This is up to you. Choose your magazine and go to their website if they have one. Read the submission guidelines carefully. Use the editor’s name if you can find it. Write a polite note with short bio. Keep careful records of what you send and when. I have a simple list with dates of submission and titles of magazine and poems sent. Most magazines do not take simultaneous submissions, although some do and state this in guidelines. Sit back and wait. Don’t hold your breath. Poetry publishing is generally a slow process. Start again. There are some more ideas and thoughts here. Where can I send my poems?
3. Celebrate your acceptance or brood over a rejection slip. There are various reasons for rejection; the editor may be trying to link poems by theme, or already has a fine one about a similar subject. He or she may have had five hundred submissions and is already short of space. The hardest thing for a poet to accept is that a particular poem is not very good. If it has been rejected 37 times it might be worth considering this, but it is still your poem and you are still allowed to love or like it regardless of what anyone else thinks. You might do worse than put that poem away for a while and come back one day(or year) with fresh eyes. See this post on Acceptance and rejection .
4. Be POSITIVE, try not to get bitter. Be resilient, rejection is hard and everyone who has ever sent poems to magazines has experienced it. If a poem comes home, send it back out again. Different editors like different types of poem.Polite hand written rejection slips from editors help ease the blow; editors are generally very busy and they don’t have an obligation to do this. Be encouraged by positive comments; if the editor says they liked your poem/poems and has suggested you send again then do. Keep it up. Remember, the Beatles were turned down by Decca Records. GOOD LUCK.
Thoughts on entering poetry competitions.
Two anecdotes; the prodigiously talented Kim Moore had a poem rejected 14 times by editors before it was finally accepted by a major magazine.
Another prizewinning poet told me that she had heard a judge describing their decision process. The judge in question had a rather large belly. The process was described thus “Get the good ones. Lie down and throw them in the air. The one that lands on the belly is the winner”.
Competitions can be a controversial subject amongst poets who often fall into strongly pro and anti camps. I can only say that I have enjoyed my experience of entering and have had good experiences in meeting and corresponding with people as well as financial rewards and publication opportunities. I am not a serial comp. enterer but like to have a go now and then. I start by seeing if I know and/or respect and like the judges work or feel some interest. For example if the comp. is linked to a festival and part of the prize is being able to attend and read if shortlisted. This is honestly better than winning cash…maybe.
If I know of the poet judging the comp. and respect their work then I would be thrilled if they chose my poem.
Often winning and shortlisted poems are anthologised or published on the competition website. Then there is the prize or prizes which can be money and/or publication or Arvon or other writing courses which I am unable to afford. (Although they do offer bursaries-a separate point.
There are an increasing number of poetry competitions. A few are free to enter (so why not enter?) . Many ask the poet to contribute, typically four or five ponds per poem with a reduction for multiple entries. Why part with your hard-earned ? Because you belive in your poem and you think it might win. Some writers think it is immoral to charge to submit poems. I feel O.K about this as the prize money has to come from somewhere and the Judge (a poet who needs your cash) will get paid. It may also help keep a hard pressed magazine or book publisher in business. For these reasons I am prepared to have a go once in a while. I might feel less inclined if I had not won a pamphlet competition and won prizes or opportunities in three or four others. The main thing is to move on if you don’t win. As with submitting to magazines, nobody made you do it, so try not to get bitter or angry if you don’t win. You may read the winning entries and think ‘mine’s much better than that!’ It’s good to belive in your work; then again you might read the winners and feel rather in awe or humbled as you think ‘ Oh, I see; that’s how it’s done’.
If you think you might want to spend your money and time in this way you might increase your chances of doing well by choosing the smaller competitions. Look carefully at the rules. It is unlikely that a 4 line poem will do well if the word limit is 70.
You are, in a way, in competition when you submit to magazines. The editor is looking at your work and picking and choosing from all the other submissions. And unless you submit on-line you can spend a fortune in stamps…
Scroll down to see Emma Lee’s useful comments on copyright.
For another take on all this and related matter, please see Becoming a poet