Reasons for entering a poetry competition

In 2009, the year in which I discovered there were magazines in the UK and Ireland specifically publishing poetry, I also stumbled upon the wide world of UK-based poetry competitions.

I found the website the Poetry Kit   and entered one or two. I had beginners luck that year, having a poem come third in the Ledbury poetry competition, as well as poems placed in a couple of smaller comps. I was simultaneously making my first exciting forays into submitting to poetry magazines. I’ve always done both- that is submitted to a few competitions and quite a few magazines.

I didn’t (and still don’t) have any strategy for which poems I send where. People talk about the ‘competition poem’ but I’m still not sure what this is, and though I will sometimes read the winners, I don’t study the results to try to assess what type of work is being given prizes. As with the editorial  taste, everything will depend on the taste of the judge or judges, and, in-case you think you have hit on a plan, this may vary considerably from the work they themselves produce.

When I do look at competitions I can’t tell a ‘competition poem’ from one I might see in a poetry magazine. Then there are the variations in my perception of the quality of the work.  There are competitions where the work chosen has seemed to me to be exceptionally good, and others where I am surprised, bemused or, on one notable  occasion (when a very big prize was being offered) completely confused by the choices of the judges.

When considering whether to enter a competition I’ll see what unpublished and un-submitted poems I have available, who is judging, and if I think the entrance fee is reasonable. Other factors might be where the entrance fee goes- I understand that magazines like The Interpreter’s House run a competition to enable them to keep the cover price down- and that others, like The Ver (St Albans) and the Lumen support charities.  I’ve written a bit about these and other aspects of poetry competitions before, on the Poetry Submissions page of this site.

Some poets I know don’t enter competitions for various reasons. Others enter lots. I enter one or two a year, and have yet to enter any of the really ‘big’ competitions as I don’t like paying more than £6 to enter for some reason – perhaps that’s the cut off point because it’s the price of a drinkable bottle of wine – so that rules out the National Poetry competition and a few others.

Should you submit your poem to a competition or a magazine? Well, to help you decide you might consider how long it will take to get a response. In many cases the results may come back faster than a response from a good magazine. And if it’s a ‘smaller’ competition, there may even be less entries for a competition than there are submissions to a popular (in poetry terms) magazine. I suppose submitting to magazines could be viewed as a kind of competition, albeit one that is free to enter. It is possible that the competitions run by smaller magazines offer better odds, to use gambling terminology – after all, in entering a poem for a comp you are effectively placing a bet on your own poem.

I started writing this post because I wanted to flag up this year’s Prole Laureate Competition.  Prole is a small high quality print magazine based in Wales, and their annual competition is relatively inexpensive to enter (I don’t fancy drinking wine at that price, unless it’s by the glass) and affords better odds, I imagine, than some of the larger comps. Prole is a self funded project and has survived and flourished due to the hard work and dedication of its founders. So if you are in the mood to enter a competition and have a poem free, why not have a go. If you want to consider entering after reading an interesting and informative interview with one of the hard-working editors Brett Evans,  here it is. Goodnight and good luck.


A few thoughts on a Thursday evening

I’ve just dispatched some poems for consideration by the editors of a poetry magazine. After six years of doing this, I still find the process of submitting poems exciting.  I’m not a gambling man, but I think the buzz of putting one’s poems ‘out there’ might be similar to the experience of laying down a bet. Unlike gambling, there is really nothing to lose. Indeed, I’m sometimes quite glad when poems are returned- I get another go!

A friend of mine has just had some work accepted by a really good poetry magazine. After an initial (and ridiculous) pang of envy I was able to be genuinely pleased for him. This is because a) he is a lovely bloke and b) because his work is startlingly individualistic and as fresh as wet paint. James Giddings work was featured on this blog a while ago, and I’m pleased that he is sending work out and that editors are beginning to notice his obvious talent.

I’m also delighted to announce a new series of interviews that will be posted on here soon. The last batch was a year or so ago, and included Ian Parks, Matt Merritt,  Jodie Hollander, Maria Taylor and Kim Moore. The new series will begin with Martin Malone, editor of The Interpreter’s House. Martin’s second collection will soon be published by the excellent Shoestring Press.

You may have noticed that Leicester is in the news. Robin Houghton recently featured the city in the first of a series of articles about regional poetry scenes, continuing with Cumbria. Robin’s articles are well researched and definitely worth a look.

Finally, one of my own poems was recently published by The Morning Star. If you go to their webpage you can also read work by Leicester poet and reviewer, Emma Lee.         

Putting a poetry pamphlet together., Uncategorized

Putting a poetry pamphlet together.

This piece is addressed to those poets who haven’t had a collection published before, so I’ll be covering what I consider to be the basics of putting a pamphlet together based on my own experience and including ideas and advice I’ve picked up from my reading and listening to others.

The majority of poetry pamphlets contain twenty to twenty-five poems. The first thing you will need (apart from enough poems of course) is to set aside some



Selecting and ordering poems is a creative exercise that requires attention and care.  If you are hurried or under pressure to meet a deadline you probably won’t be able make the best judgements and as a result you are unlikely to enjoy the process or have the satisfaction of knowing you have put in your best effort.
It’s best to start the process and return to it over a period of days, weeks or months.

You will need print copies of all the poems you are going to consider. It is much easier to take an overview of your work and consider the ordering of your pamphlet if you have sheets of paper to handle rather than word documents to move about on screen.

If you have exactly twenty-two poems I would suggest that you should wait until you have a broader range to choose from.  Ideally, a number  of these poems will have been previously published in magazines or placed in competitions. I wouldn’t want to encourage anyone to send off for a pamphlet competition (most involve you parting with cash) without having had affirmation from a couple of magazine editors that some of the work is of a publishable standard.

If you have more than enough you are in a very good position.  It can be difficult  to select the poems you are going to submit. You could begin by asking yourself

Which of these poems do I love?

Thinking Poet

If you can also explain to yourself why you love those poems then that’s great. It indicates a knowledge and understanding of your work and of its qualities.  You may be reading this and thinking ‘of course I know what I like about my work’. But if you don’t then it’s worth thinking about this.

I felt largely clueless when putting my first pamphlet together.
I struggled with just about every aspect from selecting poems to
putting them in order and choosing the title. Everything turned out well in the end, and I am still very pleased with the finished product.


But I realise that I didn’t have much distance from my work and wasn’t able to see it’s qualities and flaws as clearly as I think I can now.
Another pair of eyes can help, particularly if those eyes are experienced at reading poetry. I was lucky enough to receive some advice from a poet/editor friend.   If you are lucky enough to have one (or preferably more) trusted poetry friends, get them to take a look at some stage in this process and tell you what they think.


Although other people’s opinions can be very valuable and useful, there is no shortcut to gaining a better understanding of your work. Only reading and writing and re-writing can help you develop this.
But feedback can be invaluable, and even those comments or suggestions you don’t agree with can be as useful as those you do in helping you understand your work (I hope to say more on this in another article.) In my experience, it may take a while for suggested changes to make sense. My first reaction was often to reject comments. First responses to critical comment are often defensive responses. This is another reason why it is important to have a bit of time to reflect on other’s input, returning to reconsider why a particular suggestion has been made at a later date when it may make better sense.

Back to the pamphlet. If there are no poems you love or even like, either you are having a confidence crisis day/week/ month/ year (poets regularly do this) or perhaps you really haven’t got to where you need to be in terms of writing what you would like to write. In which case it’s best to have a re think and don’t enter any competitions because you probably aren’t ready yet. That doesn’t mean you can’t make a start. It is exciting to open a word file and slot a few of your best poems, perhaps with a provisional title. Looking at how published pamphlets are set out with acknowledgements pages etc. might be useful in modelling your own work in progress.

However, you need to be sure (at least some of the time) that you have work of sufficient quality and quantity to be in with a chance of getting published before you start splashing  cash on sending a potential pamphlet to competitions or putting your work on the radar of publishers . Your poems present a part of you to the world, so you want them to be as good as you want them to be (if you see what I mean.)

Along with the poems you love there will be the poems you like. And there will probably be the poems that were hard-won; tricky to pin down, endlessly revised and perhaps in your eyes not quite satisfactory.  Some might be ‘alright’. You need to put all these poems in a pile.  The poems you leave out can always be included in a full collection or in another pamphlet at a later date. You might want a ‘definitely’ pile, a ‘maybe’ pile and a ‘not for this collection’ pile.

Trust yourself. There is a reason you are doubtful about a particular piece. Read the poem aloud; this is a good thing to do with all your work.  Reading aloud will expose any off kilter rhythms, areas where the eye and tongue stumble over your words, any ‘clunky’ areas or awkward lines.  It may be a poem needs more work or that it doesn’t seem to fit with the rest, in which case you could hold on to it until you are able to write other poems that are similar in tone.  What you are looking to do right now is to present your best work in the best order.

Your choices will no doubt be influenced by any or all of the following. The poem has been

a) published in a magazine
b) placed in a competition
c) praised by people when you have read it aloud. (In my case there was the time the slightly drunk chap in the cap and purple flares said
‘I bloody loved the one about the bird’. )
d) given positive feedback from any other source other than grandma, such as teachers, lecturers, poet friends, writing groups etc.

A poem that’s been published in a good magazine may well have added kudos in your eyes. But this does not necessarily mean you should include it. It might be years old and you may have moved on and feel you can write much better work now than when the editor of Paper Sandwich Tower published it two years ago. Try to revaluate each of your potential pamphlet poems. Read them aloud one after another. Would you be happy for the ‘weakest’ poem, the one you hare doubts about, to represent you? If not, take it out. One poem less is better than having a weak link.

The ‘success’ of a poem – publication in magazine or place in competition, for example-  should not count if you don’t like the poem or decide you can do better. Of course it is difficult to be objective, which is where a stout second opinion may come in. Sometimes, when making decisions about what should be left in or out, we need to make what can only be described as ‘little leaps of faith’.  If you wait until everything is ‘perfect’ you may never send anything away.

leap of faith

You have a pile of definitely and maybe poems. Now you can look at



You are going to take your reader on a journey. It is generally thought to be good practice to place one of your strongest (or the strongest) poem at the start of the collection. You will need to capture the reader’s attention, and obviously you want the next two or three poems to be among your best too in order to sustain that good start.

Themes, narratives, dialogues, connections

There are several approaches to ordering poetry collections. Single themed pamphlets can be extremely effective, with poems linking and building on each other to explore a subject or subjects.  If you have a set of poems like this that works well together than I’m sure you don’t need to read on.

If you don’t have a single unifying theme there are still likely to be themes running through your poems. You can think about how these might work together to create narratives that help you decide how you would like your pamphlet to unfold. You may be able to set up dialogue between poems by placing them in succession. Poems can enhance one another by echoing or expanding on an idea, emotion or image. You could group similar poems in section or sequence or space them throughout the pamphlet as a kind of recurring thread that ties the pamphlet together.

Poems on the floor

If you lay all your poems on the floor you can have an overview of how they may fit together. I’ve spoken to several friends who have assembled pamphlets or collections and all of them have followed this method. This  You can do this as many times as it takes, perhaps putting the poems away and spreading them out again at a later date to see how you feel about the choices you made last time.  You can experiment with different orderings and may even begin to enjoy yourself.


It’s a good idea to check that you are not covering the same ground with different poems. Repetition of images and use of the similar language can sometimes be ok in a larger collection, but should be avoided in a slim pamphlet where such these things are more likely to stand out.

You might want to show your versatility by including poems that vary in tone, rhythm and texture. This is probably an obvious suggestion, but it may be good to graduate and shade these changes so that a humorous piece is not placed next to one about a fatal industrial accident. It is also worth thinking about interspersing longer poems with shorter ones to vary the rhythm of the pamphlet and make varied requests of the reader’s attention to sustain their interest.


If you feel that there might be a poem missing that will provide the necessary cohesion you need for the pamphlet to feel more complete, you might try to write that poem. It’s not something I’ve felt the need to do yet, but I can understand how this situation might arise and how the poems might cohere around a particular piece, perhaps one that could draw together some of the main themes of the collection.

Just as the first poem needs to one of your best, the last should also be among your strongest. If it is memorable it will leave your reader with a sense of your work, and like any good finale, will leave your audience wanting more.



I think most people find choosing a title for a book or pamphlet of poems difficult, and I’ve written about this subject on here before. If you’ve kept a list of possible titles you might have one or two to try out on other people. If you haven’t got one you might try looking for significant words of lines or themes that occur in the collection.


You might feel that after all this careful consideration your choices have been set in stone. But if your pamphlet is accepted for publication, a good publisher should always be able to discuss the work and make suggestions for improvement. You may end up doing some revising  or being asked to consider substituting a poem or two or five.  My first pamphlet was changed a few times with poems dropping in and out of the line-up.

If your pamphlet does not win a competition or receive an acceptance from a publisher you sent it to, you will have to deal with the initial disappointment (along with the four hundred other people who also sent in work.) But your time will not have been wasted. You will have gained experience in selecting work and looked closely at it to gain an idea of its merits and deficits. You will have identified themes and narrative threads and tried different ordering of poems to see how they fit together, as well as perhaps receiving advice and suggestions on how you might improve your work. You may even have found a title that you like.


Where can I send my poems? Part 2

Yes, you are a brilliantly creative person who writes wonderful poetry.
We both know that.

You're Awsome

But if you want anyone to see your work  (and there are many good reasons for having work published, as expertly pointed out by Helena Nelson here,) you must approach the submissions process systematically and methodically.

Here’s a few more words on submitting poems to magazines. It’s fairly basic information but I  hope someone might find useful.

Find out what’s out there.


This will take some time but the internet has made research fairly easy. For the UK and Ireland,  The Poetry Library has a good list of both print and online magazines. They also publish a list of magazines they have received in any given month, and I like to have a look and see if there are any titles I don’t know, and to see which poets are being published where. The Poetry Kit also has a good list. Poet bloggers produce lists of current magazines. You can find a really good one  at Abigail Morley’s blog. Poets also post lists of places they have been published on their websites.

Bear in mind that no list can ever be absolutely inclusive or right up to date since editors’ change and small poetry magazines come and go. The good news is that while some magazines disappear, new ones (both print and on-line) appear all the time. Look at the acknowledgements in the books and pamphlets of the poets whose work you admire to see which magazines have taken their work. If you are lucky enough to be able to visit the Poetry Library on the South Bank or the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh you will find a massive range of magazines.


University libraries often keep a good selection. You might have friends who subscribe to poetry magazines. If you see something you like, borrow, buy or better still, subscribe. You might also find a good selection in your local independent bookshop (Five Leaves in Nottingham deserves a special mention here.)

If you live in the middle of nowhere, most magazines, even the small ones, have a website where you should find some of the basic stuff you need.  You can also keep an eye out for new magazines on social media.

Where would you really like to be published?

Have a closer look. Identify magazines that look interesting to you.
Are the poems the kind you write or aspire to write? Are the production standards high? Does the whole outfit strike you as well run and serious? Was the website last updated in 1998?  Does the magazine have clear submission guidelines?  Is the information attractively laid out and clearly written? Does the language put you off (eg. too formal/ too informal?)  Are there examples or indications of the type of work the editors prefer to see?

poetry  magazine

Make a list of magazines you are really interested in . It is not always easy to decide if the magazine is right for your work. If it’s not immediately obvious to you what sort of work they prefer
then  don’t spend too long in trying to figure out a particular editor’s preferences; look to see what they generally publish, and if you like the look of at least some of the work in the magazine, have a go, even if it’s a really ‘top flight’ magazine.

Some people advocate a ‘start at the lower end and work on up’ approach. By ‘lower end ‘ I mean the smallest magazines as opposed to the ones most established. Again, established is debatable term, but in this in context I mean those that most poets would like to be featured in.   But it might be an idea to spread your submissions across a range of publications. It seems reasonable that if you only send to the ones that everyone want’s to be in, you will receive more returned poems than if you aim a little lower. With the advent of the internet and the seeming increase in the number of people wanting to publish their poems,  small magazines can become bigger magazines very quickly. But you will never receive an acceptance from a magazine you love and aspire to be in unless you submit to it. And you can sometimes learn from having your poems returned, particularly if the editor takes the time to write something in response to your work (see below.)

Sometimes, it will be obvious that a particular publication is wrong for your poems. There is no point in getting rejections from ‘The Journal of Experimental Boiled Egg Related Verse’ if your poems are neither boiled egg related nor experimental. Editors are allowed to have preferences. Their taste may well differ from yours. That’s OK. They might even like different TV programs and types of sweets to you. Do you like the magazine? If you don’t like what they publish then don’t send them your stuff. Send it somewhere you do like instead. But revisit magazines too. They change and get better.

 Be good at the basics

Check guidelines with care. Find out the editor’s name. If it is available use it in your e-mail or letter. Does the magazine have a submissions window? Do they specify a maximum number of submissions? Any special requirements (font type, SAE only, e-mail subs, poems in the body of the e-mail or attachment?) Is there some indication of how long a response might take (for various reasons, these are not necessarily accurate reflections of the response time, and in some cases are rather optimistic estimates.)

Review your poems and put them into groups for submission.   You might select poems that some your versatility or put sequences together. I can think of one or two magazines that state that they like sequences, but generally this is up to you. Reread to make sure they are as you want them and free of mistakes.



A covering  letter should be brief. I understand that editors have preferences. Some are interested in and enjoy reading personal information, others do not. I think it best to keep your biographical details short.  Ending the letter with ‘Yo, big up to you bro’ is probably not appropriate (particularly if the editor is female.)  I always end with something like ‘Thank you for your time and consideration.’ If you truly like something in the magazine you’ve seen you might want to mention it briefly. Everyone likes positive feedback.

If you have publication credits, don’t list them all. Maybe two or three of the ones you are proudest of. You want the editor to focus on your poems. A commended poem in the East Flitwick poetry competition matters a great deal to you. It probably doesn’t matter to the editor.

Before you seal the envelope or send the e-mail make sure your records are up to date. I keep a simple list with the title of magazine and poems submitted and date of submission. Other people have more sophisticated systems such as spread sheets,  and you can’t go wrong with a system such as Jo Bell describes here.

Keep your poems out there. They won’t get published if they are not circulating. And don’t give up on getting into the magazine’s you love. If you are happy to keep your poems at home, fine. If not
set aside a little time every so often to concentrate on the business of sharing them.

Never Give up

But try, if you can, to concentrate on reading and writing new poems while your old ones are away. It is hard to be patient while waiting for responses. The best thing to do is not to wait. (I have just broken away from writing this to run to the front door. Junk mail and bills instead of a response from the editor of ‘The Amazing Singing Machine.’ I sent them may best poems seven months ago. Back to the writing..)

When you have an offer of publication you should be in a position to immediately respond with something like this;

‘Thank you for your letter.  I’m delighted to be able to accept your kind offer to publish my poems in Bottoms up Review.”

Simultaneous submissions can make things complicated. If a magazine doesn’t specifically state that they take them I think it’s best to comply in order to avoid the awkward possibility of telling the editor that your poem has already been accepted elsewhere and that you have wasted their time. It’s a personal choice, but even if a magazine states that they take simultaneous submissions, I tend to avoid them.

Acceptance and publication

Not all magazines send proofs. It’s great if they do. It is probably inevitable that one or two of your poems will not appear as you intended. The editor didn’t leave out the space between your first two stanzas to cause you pain. Mistakes do occur. Humans make them.


Enjoy the moment.  Support the magazine if you can afford to subscribe. Share the news on social media if you feel inclined. If you do share your news, you will find that there are plenty of people who will enjoy and celebrate your success with you.

And success leads to success. Editors read magazines and notice poems and names. Meeting editors at readings may also lead to requests to submit poems (but don’t expect publication to result).

Dealing with rejection (or the ‘returned poem’)


If your poem comes back send it out again. Burn the rejection slip or use it as wallpaper. I’ve thrown all mine away, but I know some people like to keep them. I remember the encouraging ones. I wish I could advise you on how to be good at accepting rejection. I’ve said something about this subject on the Poetry Submissions page of this blog.  There’s probably quite a few books on the subject. I think a little (or a lot) of disappointment is inevitable. Send the poems out again.



Suggested changes and rewrites

There is no obligation for editors to comment on your work. They might have taken a little time to write to you and they see promise in your submission. If your poem is returned with something encouraging like ‘Enjoyed these, please do try us again’ —then don’t ignore this. Try there again. Not everyone receives these comments and they suggest that your work was near to being accepted. If you don’t have other poems ready, wait until you do and then send again, perhaps starting your cover letter with a little reminder such as; ‘thank you for your encouraging response to my last submission. I have enclosed further poems as per your suggestion.’

Different versions

I have, a few times, re-drafted a poem between submission and acceptance. I might then write in my acceptance reply to say I’ve made another version in case the editor would like to consider it.  If they prefer the original, fair enough, that is the poem they accepted.

One of the first poems I submitted was accepted on the proviso that the first two lines were deleted. I agonized over the proposed change and decided I couldn’t do it so politely declined. A year or so later I realised that the editors suggestion had been a good one.

This has to do with how quickly you send your work out after ‘finishing’ it. I have got a little better at putting a poem away and waiting before sending it out.  When you are certain that a poem is as good as it can be, it often pays to wait and come back to it. You will nearly always discover things that can be cut or changed to improve the poem. There are no rules for this. How long this takes depends on the kind of writer you are.

Hare and Tortoise

Some poems will never be exactly as you want them to be. But an editor might like or even love them just the way they are. You won’t know unless you send them off.

Whatever the merits of your work, the chances of it being published in the manner in which you would like it published are improved by organisation and research. Presentation and persistence are vitally important. The choices you make in submitting your work and your responses to the highs and lows of the process, will be, like your poems, unique. But remember, in facing the frustrations, uncertainties, pleasant surprises and triumphs you will encounter,
you will not be alone. It’s all part of the job.


Where can I send my poems? Part 1.

Part 1.

This post has nothing at all to do with the process of writing or with enjoying writing.

But, regardless of whether you enjoy submitting to magazines or not, if you want to get your work published, you will need, at some point, to try and learn and understand as much as you can about the process. And you will need to become organised and methodical if you want to increase your chances of publication.
A few years ago I started to send my work out to magazines.
I was somewhat anxious.

Nervos person

I wondered if any of my poems were any good.  I was in love with one or two. I wondered which magazines to send too. Should aim high or low? Because my mate, Pete, thought my poems were great, perhaps the editor of Shoot the Moon would too? Not that I’d ever seen a copy of Shoot the Moon, or any other poetry magazine at that point.

I wondered if the magazines I was considering sending to were too good for my work. Or maybe there weren’t good enough.  Maybe I was being a fool in thinking anyone would print my stuff?

I got hold of some poetry magazines and sent poems to the ones I liked the look of.

Over the next five years I must have submitted to over sixty different  magazines of varying quality and with vastly different circulation numbers. (You can see a list of some of them on the ‘About’ page of this site if you are interested.)  The more I experienced the undulating ride of acceptance and rejection, (I sometimes think we should these something less pejorative – ‘returns’ perhaps?) the more comfortable I became with the process.  At first, rejection was a jolting pot hole. And I would become airborne at every hump-backed acceptance.


But these undulations became less acute and the ride got a little smoother.

I received some rejections for what I considered to be my best work, and acceptances of poems I thought weren’t  particularly good.  Sometimes my first submission was accepted and was followed by a succession of rejections from the same magazine. Sometimes I persisted after repeated rejections. On other occasions, I decided to submit elsewhere and stop bothering that particular editor with poems that obviously (for whatever reason) weren’t for them.

During this period some lovely magazines that took my work sadly ceased to exist ( like Smiths Knoll and The Shop)  while others came into being. Once or twice I must have come close to having work taken by magazines I’d love to tick off my list, because the editors took time to write a few encouraging words or ask me to send them more work.
I’m not sure I realized that they meant what they said and so I didn’t always follow up their suggestion. But there is still time.

Many people will tell you nothing comes close to your first poetry acceptance.

victory 2

It’s true in my case. But every offer to publish is still something to celebrate.

I’ve been thinking about submissions from the other side of the process, and thought it might be useful to look behind the mirror – to think about The Editor, the person who has taken on the task of sifting through hundreds or thousands of poetry submissions.

Letters to the editor

This is the person who hopes to find something new, something beautiful that they can share with their subscribers.  This is the person who is committed to giving their readership the best selection of poems they can muster. In the case of all but the largest magazines, they don’t do this for money or for reflected glory. Their greatest wish is for your poem to arrive complete, developed, revised and (if at all possible) stunning. That is all. There is nothing else they want. And yes, of course this is all about the subjective appreciation of art. But when it comes to the rejection of your poem, it’s not personal.


I mention this because I’ve often heard people use the phrase ‘They rejected me.’ I may have even used it myself. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you this; you are not your work. If your work is returned (and there may be many reasons for this – I’ve written about before on the Poetry submissions page of this blog.) I know it’s only a phrase, but it is important to remember that the editor is not rejecting you. Nor are they rejecting your entire body of work, possibly forever. Developing belief in your work takes time. Confidence in your ability fluctuates.

Pablo Neruda looking sad

Ok, it’s not the best feeling in the world to have your work sent back.
And it’s hard to get a perspective on the situation.

But your returned work is just one in a batch of a maybe a few hundred poems the editor wasn’t able to publish this time.

Imagine this. The editor comes home from work.  She/he kisses the dog, strokes their partner, feeds the kids, puts the bins out, then sits down to read some of the 147 poems that have recently arrived.  The editor opens a submission and likes the first line, only to feel disappointed at the next. There are four spelling mistakes and a grammatical error. The title of the next poem, ‘To Autumn’ does not inspire with its originality. The next poem is nearly there; if only the last three lines weren’t. Promising, but it could do with a re-write; shame. The editor yearns for something to surprise them, to delight them, something to sweep them up and away so that they forget the desk, the rain-rivuleted window, their aching back, even the pile of submissions.  But it isn’t happening tonight. This funny poem isn’t really funny. The editor goes to put the kids to bed. The editor returns refreshed, or possibly more tired, only to open a poem typed in a weird font. The sender has not read the submission guidelines.  The next has an interesting image of a crane (the bird) on a crane (the mechanical lifting device). The poem starts well but unfortunately breaks into unconvincing rhyme towards the end. You get the picture.

Panning for gold

The editor is dedicated. So they have another coffee and go back to work. At last they find some good pieces which are set aside to be re-read. Or perhaps to bring to the editorial table where they will discuss and argue over the merits and deficiencies of the work until agreements (and possibly compromises) are reached.  When the stack of poems has been sifted and considered and carefully re-considered and the best work selected, it’s time to contact contributors, to make sure the poems are available, to request and collect biographies for contributors notes, to assemble  pdfs, letters and e-mails, to put the magazine in order, to write an editorial, to set  layout and send proofs, to arrange printing, publicity and dispatch and possibly a launch night. And here come the next batch of submissions. How can you help the editor in their quest to find work that is appropriate for their magazine? How can you help them support your work?  Where do you start?

Part 2 coming soon.



Submission, rejection, acceptence, reward.

I actually enjoy the process of submitting poems to magazines, the to-ing and fro-ing of mail and e-mail, the potential for something to happen.

I sometimes feel impatient with the slowness of poetry communication, but as I write this I realise slowness can be a good thing in a world where almost everything is moving too fast.

I’m lucky in that I’ve had a good ‘hit’ rate, a high percentage of acceptances.
No doubt this affects my perspective on submission, acceptance and rejection.

Occasionally the poem I sent seemed marvellous when I sent it, but rejection has been positive in that it has made me look at the poem again and realize that it my work of inspired genius may require some further work.

I write letters of submission which generally end with a phrase like “Thank you for your time and for your fine magazine.” And I mean it; I really do appreciate the editor’s work. I take care with submissions so I don’t like unprofessional responses; jokey or scrappy correspondence or no response at all will mean I won’t submit again. And I prefer acceptances to be personal. Once or twice I’ve felt less pleased by an offhand acceptance than by polite and careful rejection.

I suspect there may be may be many reasons for rejection of a good poem. Volume of submissions is one (see Poetry Submissions page of this blog for a quote from a poetry magazine editor on this.)

I wonder if the recognition by the editor of poets name will affect their choices, either consciously or subconsciously. I imagine that as a magazine takes shape the editor will be looking for poems that reflect certain themes, or for work that reflects or compliments poems she/he has decided upon.

Once I have felt despondent over a rejection or elated over an acceptance I remind myself as soon as possible that publication has nothing to do with writing. It is the making of the poem, the attempt to do this as well as possible that is most important. Although publication is of course gratifying, it is in the mysterious arrival of phrases or ideas combined with time and effort involved in shaping the poem that the real reward is to be found.