Poet Flo Reynolds joins us on the pod to share their tips on getting published as a poet. This episode is packed full of practical advice, including what NOT to do, guiding you along the process of building your writer CV through zines and competitions towards being ready for larger pamphlets, chapbooks and collections. Flo has been writing for over ten years and is also an essayist and editor. Their debut pamphlet, the other body, is forthcoming from Guillemot Press in 2021. Recent poems have appeared in The White Review, Stand, The Interpreter’s House, amberflora, Magma, Datableed and more.
When they’re not writing, Flo is a literature programmer who works here at the National Centre for Writing. You can usually find them on our Discord community, where Flo runs the NCW Book Club and the Drop-in Writing Sessions. If you’ve been to any of our workshops or festivals over the years, there’s a good chance you’ll have benefited from their programming skills!
You can join our Discord community to ask follow-up questions here: https://discord.gg/3G39dRW
Here is Flo’s guide on what to do (and not do) when submitting:
Submitting your work for publication
You’ve written a handful of poems, have left them for a while and received constructive feedback from a trusted source, and know that they’re ready. If your hope for your poetry is to reach a wider readership, it’s time to think about publication. And whether you’re just starting out or are already building your poetry career, submitting to journals, entering competitions and sending manuscripts to publishers are great ways to build your writer’s CV and develop your readership. As you progress, you may even be sought out and paid for your work.
Here’s my guide to submitting your work for publication, gleaned from eight years experience of successes and mistakes, acceptances and rejections. You can even use this as a checklist for each submission you make.
Preparing a submission
First of all, edit and proofread your poems so that they are the best they possibly can be, with no typos or small errors. You might want to seek feedback from someone whose opinion you trust, or leave the poems in their file for a while before coming back to them with fresh eyes.
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It’s also crucial to research which magazines, competitions and publishers you might want to send your work to. Not only will you discover the right outlet for your own work, but you’ll also be supporting other poets and members of the poetry community by reading their work. A good rule of thumb is to never submit to a magazine you haven’t read before, and for every journal you submit to you should aim to read and support a journal. Buy a copy of the journal if you can, or support your local library or nearest specialist library and see which journals they have subscriptions to.
When you’ve found somewhere you would like to submit your poems, read the submissions guidelines, which can be found on their website or in the back of the print publication. Check that you meet their criteria:
- Does your work meet their stated theme for the upcoming issue? If not, will they accept submissions that are off theme?
- Do you meet any demographic criteria? If not, look for somewhere else to submit your work to – there is a poetry magazine out there for everyone!
- Have you formatted your poem according to their presentation criteria?
- Have you followed their guidelines about anonymous submissions? Many journals ask that you don’t put your name on your poem or in the file name. If this is the case, just make sure you write your name and the title of your poem(s) in your covering letter, and the editors will be able to cross-reference.
- Are you sending your submission in the preferred format? Most submissions can now be made by email, or via an online form such as Submittable.
- Are you submitting at the right time? A journal might have a set submissions window, or they might accept rolling submissions at any time. Make sure you know when they’re accepting submissions, and send your work accordingly.
- Have you included a short biography and a covering letter/email?
I’d recommend keeping the covering letter succinct, polite and honest. List the titles of your poems. Confirm to the editor that the poem(s) meet any criteria they list in the submissions guidelines. Include your contact details somewhere. Thank them for their consideration. Then let your poems do the talking!
Biographies tend to be brief (50-100 words) and written in the third person. You can usually include your website and/or social media handles. Writers include a little about themselves (where they live, day job, etc.) and then list their previous publication credits. If you don’t have many or any publication credits yet, that’s ok! You can say what sort of poetry you write and what impact you hope your poems will have – just remember to be succinct.
Things to look out for
- A reputable journal, competition or publisher will have Terms and Conditions you can read, a contact email or telephone number, and a named editor or judge.
- Lots of journals and competitions ask for “previously unpublished” submissions only. This usually means not published before in print and online, including your blog, social media, and any self-published books. If you’re not sure, play it safe and don’t send something that readers will have seen before.
- Some journals (especially in the UK) do not accept “simultaneous submissions”, i.e. poems you have sent to other magazines at the same time. Other magazines will accept simultaneous submissions as long as you let them know as soon as possible if the poems are accepted elsewhere. Check the guidelines for each journal you submit to.
- Be wary of any journal or publisher that charges a fee for an open submissions call. If a journal is charging then there should be a) a good reason for this stated clearly on their website, b) payment for the writer of each published poem, and c) a series of concessionary rates so that you don’t have to pay if you can’t afford it. It is normal for competitions to charge entry fees, as this is often how they pay for judges and prizes. A reputable publisher will never ask you to pay them in order to publish your book – see our free “Know Your Publishing Options” course for more guidance.
- Most magazines can’t afford to pay for poems that they accept from open submission, though usually they will send you a free copy of the magazine you are published in. If they don’t do this, you are well within your rights to ask for one. Some of the larger magazines will pay, and will ask you to invoice them once the poem is published.
- Magazines and journals will not hold ongoing or exclusive rights to your work after an agreed period of time, so you can place it elsewhere or publish in pamphlets and collections in future, provided you credit the magazine with first publication.
Once you’ve submitted
Don’t send emails asking for updates on your submission. Editors will have lots of submissions to read and this may take several weeks or even months. Be patient, and only enquire about your submission after their stated reading period is over.
If you have a poem accepted, the editor should contact you to let you know they would like to publish your poem, and to ask whether you are still happy for them to publish it. They might send you proofs to check over. They will then let you know once the poem has been published.
Unfortunately, rejection is part of the writing life. If you receive a rejection, simply thank the editor for their consideration, and move onto your next submission. Often editors of poetry journals and small presses won’t be able to send personalised feedback to everybody who submits to them. When they can occasionally give feedback, recognise it as an investment in your work and take the time to consider their suggestions.
Keeping your submissions organised
As you start to submit your work for publication more regularly, you’ll need a way to keep track of your submissions. This is especially important for when journals do not accept simultaneous submissions or previously published work.
There are several ways to keep track of submissions. You might use a list or make a note in your calendar or diary. Personally, I keep a spreadsheet of all my submissions, listing the journal, the date I sent it in, which poems I sent, when I can expect to hear back, and whether a poem is accepted or rejected. That way I know which poems I can send out, and when.
I also keep a list of all my publication credits. As you build your writer’s CV, it can be difficult to remember all of your poems and where they were published, so it’s good to keep track as you go along. You can share the ones you’re proudest of on your website/ etc. and in your writer’s biography.
Update your author biography regularly. As you build your track record, you’ll have more accolades to include.
Keeping my submissions organised is also a really important way for me to recognise my own progress and to stay motivated. Whenever I receive a rejection letter or email, I can look back at how far I’ve come and keep this rejection in perspective.
Other things you can do to build a track record
Seeking traditional publication for your poems in magazines, pamphlets and collections is not the only way to build your writer’s CV. You might also like to consider:
- Entering competitions. The process is largely the same as submitting to magazines. I’d suggest researching the judges and previous winners, checking the T’s and C’s, and making sure you follow the presentation and anonymity guidelines. Most competitions will charge an entry fee to pay for judges and prizes.
- Submitting to anthologies. These multi-authored volumes are another way to see your work in print, and are often themed. They also have the added benefit of having your work included alongside other writers; not only can this combine the writers’ individual readerships and help you reach new readers, but it can also help extend your network of fellow writers who are interested in similar themes to your own.
- Pitching for commissions. Occasionally poetry publishers or magazines will invite open submissions for proposals that they will then pay you to write. You can submit to these open calls as you would any other submission – while you might be providing a proposal rather than the finished piece, the process is largely the same.
- Most magazines also publish reviews and articles, and if the submissions guidelines indicate that they accept pitches, you can contact them and offer to write one. Read reviews written by other people, and try writing your own, even if you don’t wish to publish them. Getting under the skin of other writers’ poems by reviewing them is a great way to discover new techniques to try out in your own work. [Simon – do we have a podcast or similar about pitching non-fiction that we could link to here?]
- Readings and performances are a great way to meet other writers and connect directly with audiences. You could start off by attending a local open mic, or try entering competitions such as slams. As you publish your poetry in more journals and anthologies, you can ask if you can read at the launch parties for these publications. It’s also worth noting that even after you have published a book, events and readings are a crucial way for publishers to sell books to readers. Performance skills are increasingly in demand from writers of all stripes, so it’s well worth building your skills and experience in this area.
Flo Reynolds is Programme Officer at the National Centre for Writing, and a poet, essayist, and editor. Their debut pamphlet, the other body, is forthcoming from Guillemot Press in 2021. Recent poems have appeared in The White Review, Stand, The Interpreter’s House, amberflora, Magma, Datableed and more. Flo’s website is floreynolds.com.
Hosted by Simon Jones and Steph McKenna.
Flo’s website: http://floreynolds.com/
Noirwich Crime Writing Festival: http://noirwich.co.uk/
Drop-in Writing Sessions: https://nationalcentreforwriting.org.uk/whats-on/drop-in-writing-time-0920/
Music by Bennet Maples.