Publishing Strategies and Tips for Poetry and Prose By John C. Mannone

To assist you in accomplishing your SMART creative writing goals, in particular, your publication efforts, remember to follow the submission guidelines to the letter because not adhering to them is the number one reason for rejection. (SMART is mnemonic for setting goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable and Realistic, Time-limited.)

With the hundreds (and likely over a thousand) literary and genre magazines available, both print and online, it’s simply a matter of matching up your work with the publisher. But finding the right market(s) requires some effort. If you choose a “scatter gun” approach where submissions are blindly sent to multiple markets, then expect very poor results. However, if you use a targeted approach, then you can maximize the chances of getting an acceptance.

Here is a general outline to help you find markets to which you might subsequently submit work:

 1. Explore multiple resources to find a venue/market based on interest, recommendation, etc. In addition to word-of-mouth recommendations, library holdings and topical searches on the Internet, there are numerous databases and writer resources available to help you begin finding a market. Here are a few:

(i) Creative Writers Opportunities List (CRWROPPS) is a free Yahoo group, https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/CRWROPPS-B/info, which is facilitated by Allison Joseph (editor of Crab Orchard Review). After you join, you’ll receive daily calls for submission and other writing-related announcements (contests, workshops, positions).

(ii) New Pages, http://www.newpages.com/ is another excellent resource. Besides calls for submissions from lit mags, there’s an extensive review of many lit mags on a per issue basis. These often provide insights that would be difficult to extract from simply reading the venues’ websites.

(iii) Duotrope, https://duotrope.com/, has a searchable database with many magazines and journals not listed in New Pages (because genre venues are included). The once free service is now modestly priced at $50 per year or $5 per month. It’s worth signing up for at least a month to search their databases with a variety of filters. They also provide a submission tracking service at no additional cost.

(iv) The (Submission) Grinder, http://thegrinder.diabolicalplots.com/, is a similar submission tracker and market database to Duotrope, but it is limited, but free. Presently it is only useful for writers of fiction (though there are plans to include poetry and non fiction).

2. Having found a potential market, proceed with a cursory examination to determine general compatibility. To help organize, start a file on your desktop and populate it with information. (This is a good practice especially if you have to revisit the journal webpage to finish your investigation later.) For example, after having been enticed by a submission call, you might copy and paste the guidelines into a Word document and start annotating that page with what you read about the magazine. (Highlighting the text for salient features is often helpful.) Pay close attention to see what is their aesthetics—what appeals to the editors, how the venue is put together artistically, what their sense of artistic beauty is, which could be linked to the magazine’s posture on politics, religion, philosophy, ethics and morality.

Read samples from the current and archived issues (if this is not possible, then your strategy will be almost immediately subverted). These readings will help clarify/concretize the aesthetics as the editorial tastes on preferred style, voice and theme might emerge. If you like what you read, and feel your work might be a fit, then you’ve the market deserves a serious pursuit.

You might have several works coming to mind. If so, jot them down in that Word document to remind yourself.

3. Given a market of great interest, determine craft-level compatibility. To make an intelligent decision about whether you will submit and what, try to assess the editorial focus. This will be closely linked to the aesthetics—it is more specific. Of course, a more thorough review of the journal contents would help, but often, studying the masthead will shed some light. The personal tastes of the editors might be implied, or in some cases, inferred. The Baltimore Review is an excellent example where the editors express their preferences are/what they look for in the submissions, http://baltimorereview.org/index.php/staff.

Another place where insights like this might be garnered is Six Questions For…, where blog site owner, Jim Harrington, interviews editors of online journals—in various genres—http://sixquestionsfor.blogspot.com/. But before you are ready to commit to the submission process, a quality assessment might be necessary. This is actually a 2-pronged question: is the journal high enough quality for your purposes and is your work up to the caliber of what they have been publishing?

Lit mag reviews are helpful (see New Pages) as well as their rankings (say, with respect to how many awards their poets have received for work published there, e.g., see Clifford Garstang’s 2015 Pushcart Prize Ranking of Literary Magazines—Poetry, http://cliffordgarstang.com/?p=4785. Anything on this list is an admirable venue. The rankings are relative.

Author bios also significantly help is assessing the quality, at least if credentials mean anything. You may also find it useful to learn if the venue makes a public declaration of its ethics. When a venue is identified with the branding [clmp], it is like its having a “Good Housekeeping” seal. Here, it’s the Community of Literary Magazines and Presses, https://www.clmp.org/#.

4. Finalize steps toward submission and follow through keeping records. Once you’ve decided there’s compatibility and desire to submit, preparing the submission package requires your continued attention to detail.

Comb your files to identify potential pieces to submit. (I use Excel worksheet, which is sortable and easily organizes my extensive portfolio.) Or if there’s enough time, plan to write new work targeting that venue (especially for themed issues or anthologies). Just be sure to leave plenty of time between the initial draft and subsequent revisions. Closely examine selected pieces and revise them accordingly. You’d be surprised how often a piece might need to be tweaked!

Be sure you follow the guidelines meticulously.

Include a short cover letter and bio. Personalize it whenever possible. Editors often like to know how you learned of their venue (don’t do this for the top tier ones!), you might mention something specific about a recent issue (a story, poem, artwork, layout, etc.), especially if it’s relevant to your submission. Address the managing editor and/or the genre editor by name if it’s on the website (or in the sample issues).

Be sure your bio is in 3rd person and is professional unless specifically requested otherwise (Rattle likes 1st person bios that are very casual, but they are the exception). I edit poetry for two journals (Silver Blade and Abyss & Apex) and have guest edited three others (Inkspill Magazine, Eye To The Telescope, Subprimal Poetry Art). I will say that the cutesy stuff, though not a deal-breaker, is a real turn-off. It could be a deciding factor if it’s a close call between two authors.

Spell check, grammar check and, at least at first, ask someone to proof read your letter and bio. Double check the guidelines for compliance (the main reason for rejection; see below* for others).

Send your submission (usually electronically via a submission manager, sometimes via email with or without attachments, etc., and less commonly, by postal carrier).

Log your submission or use a submission tracker. (Again, I prefer an Excel spreadsheet because of its versatility and it doesn’t depend on the Internet.)

*Reasons for rejection—over things you have control over—1. Guideline noncompliance, 2. Too many grammatical and syntactic errors, 3. Poorly crafted work, 4. Not consistent with aesthetics or editorial focus, 5. Lack of literary depth (poetry), 6. Logistical errors (poor timing, careless cover letter)—over things you have little or no control over—7. Editorial preference or bias on style, voice, content, etc., 8. Similar to previously accepted and/or published material, 9. Doesn’t integrate well with other selected pieces.


These four items are summarized in a downloadable flow chart (see diagram below) to help you visualize the strategy at a glance.

It is a lot of work, but it also gratifying to see a return on investment of time. The table below attests to this with my statistics over the last two years:

  2014 2015
Total submissions 413 296
Number of venues submitted to 141 110
Average submission per venue 2.93 2.69
Number of acceptances 104 93
% acceptances 25.2 31.4

(click on the image below to download a pdf file of the flow diagram)

Publishing strategies flow diagram

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