Back in April, I attended a submissions workshop put on by the James River Writers and led by Dana Isokawa, Associate Editor of Poets & Writers Magazine. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that being in the same room as Ms. Isokawa was a pretty surreal privilege, but I probably do need to tell you what I learned, which why I’m writing this blog post, as well as a follow-up later this month.
Submitting your writing–particularly your poetry, which can be deeply personal and painstakingly crafted–is scary, to say the least. You’re sending your work (AKA your soul) out into the world for all to see, and it’s probably going to get ignored (best-case rejection scenario) or bludgeoned (worst-case rejection scenario) for years before it ever finds its publication home (if it ever finds its publication home). Despite the vulnerability submitting your writing entails, there are many compelling reasons to put on your big-girl pants and start submitting. Here are a few:
- Submitting your work helps get your work and your name out there.
- Submitting your writing helps it–and you–find an audience, and once you find one, you can work to keep it.
- Sending your writing out into the world, while it may open it up to abuse, is also one of the best ways to support your writing. You’re putting your stamp of approval–your faith–in its merit, and if you don’t believe in it, who will?
- One of the most effective ways to network and build a writing community is through sending your work off.
- Submitting your work such as poetry, essays, short stories, or articles can help lead to the accomplishment of larger publishing goals you may set–such as a book deal.
- Sending your writing to contests, journals, and magazines can help motivate you to write, revise, and keep writing. Contest and submission deadlines, as well as the sense of validation you’ll feel when one of your pieces does get accepted, are excellent motivators.
Knowing When a Piece is Ready
Okay, so maybe I’ve convinced you of the worth of risking not only your ego, but also your sense of identity as a writer, in submitting your writing to publications. But how do you know when a piece is polished enough for potential publication? Here are some signs:
- It has successfully undergone an editorial review
- Other people–readers and fellow writers alike–have read it and liked it
- You have set it aside for a while and you like it when you reread it–you impress yourself
- Your sure your own skin is thick enough to handle potential rejection
- You’re ready to share and prepared to have people read and react to it.
Finding the Right Journal or Contest for Your Writing
You can increase your chances of acceptance and decrease your chances of rejection by finding the right home for your writing before you send it off to knock on journal doors. Instead of just sending your writing off blindly, do some research first, and find the publications most likely to welcome your writing inside. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Know the publication. Be familiar with its style, layout/organization, types of work it tends to publish, sections, etc. Read it. Be familiar with its tone, voice, and subject matter. Make sure the work you plan to send aligns with these qualities in the publication.
- Know your own genre, form, style, voice, and subject matter. Do they align?
- Think categorically:
- Consider your background as a writer and a person. Think about factors like your location, your career, or your religion, for example.
- Look for publications that focus on specific themes or styles. For example, journals that focus on a certain place, on nature, on conservation, on sports or a particular sport, etc.
- Consider your subject matter.
- Submit to publications where you find writers you admire.
- Consider your form (flash fiction, short story, poetry, long-form essay, etc.).
- Consider your genre (sci-fi, speculative romance, crime, etc.).
Vetting Journals and Contests
While you may be eager for the sense of recognition, validation, and success an acceptance provides, don’t be so over-zealous that you miss important red flags. It’s best to avoid sending your work off if:
- The contest of publication requires you to pay a high fee to submit your work
- A high fee is required–and paired with comparatively low-value prize or award
- The fee is over $10 and the contest of publication offers no payment
- The contest or publication has no “about page” or masthead.
If the publications you are considering pass the above tests, there are still a few items to consider. Make sure, for example, that the promised prize is actually awarded consistently by checking past winners’ page.
While there are red lights, there are also green lights that should encourage your submission to a given publication. Here are a few:
- Your read the publication and like it.
- You admire the work it offers.
- It promotes its writers.
- Its entry fees for novels cost more than those for poems.
- There is not more than a $10-$20 fee for prize of $1000 or more.
- If you are submitting a book or manuscript, a $40 fee or less for a prize up to $10,000 is appropriate.
If all this talk of publiation has you rearing and ready to submit some writing (and I hope it does), The Avocet, an online literary journal of nature poems, is currently and actively seeking submission. See their guidelines and several opportunities below.
Time to share a Summer-themed poem
Please read the guidelines before submitting
Please take a minute to pick a poem of your choice and send it to us.
Please send only one poem, per poet, per season.
Let’s do Summer-themed poetry for The Weekly Avocet.
Please send your submission to email@example.com
Please put (early or late) Summer/your last name in the subject line.
Please do not just send a poem, please write a few lines of hello.
Please do not have all caps in the title of your poem.
Please no more than 45 lines per poem.
Please use single spaced lines.
Please remember, we welcome previously published poems.
Please put your name, City/State, and email address under your poem. If you do not, only your name will appear. No Zip codes.
Please send your poem in the body of an email. Please do not send in an attachment.
We look forward to reading your Summer submissions…
Let’s all take this Garden Challenge.
Send us your 3 best poems of your love of gardening…
Please no more than three, following the same guidelines as above.
Please put Garden Challenge/your last name in the subject line of your email and send to firstname.lastname@example.org
Please send Summer haiku