An Author’s Guide to Making Poetry Submissions

An Author’s Guide to Making Poetry Submissions

50 Dos and Don’ts

Let’s take a look at the dos and don’ts of preparing a poetry submission:

  1. First off, read submissions guidelines carefully. Many publishers don’t currently take submissions and find their poets from out in those literary communities you’re going to spend your time discovering and playing a part in.
  2. Don’t ask for feedback on your poems. It’s not the publisher’s job to act as your advisor.
  3. Don’t write to ask for submission guidelines. Check the publishers Website for details. If you haven’t access to the Web, go to an internet café.
  4. Do check whether a publisher is currently accepting submissions, Web sites often give detailed information.
  5. Make yourself a player. A mover and shaker. If you are out there participating in literature, publishers will notice you.
  6. Keep submission letters brief. Editors are ferociously busy people. Spend time planning what message you want to get across, and take time to ensure you’ve got it down in writing, clearly and concisely.
  7. Be completely familiar with the publisher’s list. If you haven’t bought any of their books, why should they bother to publish you? And don’t get caught out pretending.
  8. At the same time as planning a submission, prepare a marketing plan for how you will personally promote your book. That’s for the publisher when you get accepted.
  9. Make sure you include your magazine publishing history, citing where and when your poems have appeared.
  10. Find out the name of the person you are submitting to. Find out what they like. Find out where they live. Follow them to work. Alright, just kidding, but find out their name.
  11. Don’t threaten the editor, or be overly familiar.
  12. Don’t set deadlines for responses.
  13. Avoid the common pitfall of purchasing a book as a form of making a submission. Editors can be bought, but only for six figure sums involving a contract of employment.
  14. Avoid portentous, weighty titles: “The Succulent Dark of My Fading Time,” “Dread Fires of The Iron Soul,” etc., are sure to raise the hackles of every editor.
  15. Don’t spend time explaining why your work is important.
  16. Don’t justify your work through a negative reading of contemporary poetry. “All this modern poetry is just rubbish; please find enclosed my 20,000 line Life of Hephaestus written in Alexandrines.”
  17. Do check your spelling. Especially the words you think you know how to spell.
  18. Do take care with punctuation, and take special care with apostrophes.
  19. Echoing Raymond Carver, “No cheap tricks.”
  20. Avoid sending poems on the death of your cat, mother or Biology teacher. Or how crap your life is. Or about bee-keeping.
  21. Beware of sending poems which contain wild metaphor, clever descriptions of everyday phenomena, and make novel use of dialect and idioms, all ending with a stunning epiphany. It’s a tired old template now. Descriptive writing can be very dull.
  22. Poems on the wondrous nature of God’s creation aren’t.
  23. Manuscripts containing helpful marginal notes about what you are meaning at this point, or how to typeset the stanza or line are profoundly annoying.
  24. Avoid hyperbole, cliché, saturated adjectives, and extended simile. High-powered writing is never weakened by such features. Precision is everything in writing, even being precisely vague.
  25. Learn the rules in order to break them.
  26. Do break the rules. We are all so bored of the rules, especially the ones taught to you on writing retreats.
  27. An aside, if someone talks to you about finding your “voice,” they’re trying to sell you snake oil.
  28. Do not centre on the page everything you write.
  29. Do not set the whole manuscript in italics.
  30. Do avoid fads, like workshop poems in strict forms — sonnets, villanelles and sestinas can be truly marvellous, but writing exercises rarely make for saleable goods.
  31. Do not put © Copyright Denise Cuthbert 2005 on the bottom of every page. No one, especially the editor of a publishing house, is going to abuse the rights to your poems.
  32. Do send an envelope big enough to use to send your manuscript back to you.
  33. Do supply full postage or international reply coupons, if accepted by the country you are submitting to.
  34. Do not set the manuscript in 18 point bold Helvetica. Choose a font that looks like a book typeface in the appropriate size and weight.
  35. So many people write on 8.5 × 11.5 inch or A4 paper that they forget that most trade books are around 5.5 × 8.5 inch or 216 × 140mm in format — be aware of the likely size of the printed page.
  36. Don’t ask for a receipt for your manuscript.
  37. Don’t ring up chasing progress the week following your submission. Be patient. Publishers accepting manuscripts may receive several hundred per week. Even working 12 hour days no editor can keep pace with the deluge of submissions.
  38. If rejected don’t waste time demanding to know why. Dust yourself down and move on.
  39. Do mention if you have been recommended by another poet from the list.
  40. Don’t name drop unless the names explicitly bear upon the nature of the submission.
  41. Don’t waste time sending expensive bound volumes of your work.
  42. Do send a sample of six to ten poems.
  43. Do send some brief endorsements or review quotes, but not those from your mother or English tutor.
  44. Don’t handwrite your letter to the editor.
  45. Don’t handwrite the poems.
  46. Don’t include your photograph — especially the moody one with the Fedora.
  47. Do spend time researching and planning your submission. Choose the best poems to suit the publisher’s list.
  48. Don’t let a friend or family member submit on your behalf. They’re your poems, have the conviction to make their case.
  49. Do tell the publisher why you think the poems will suit their list.
  50. Finally, don’t give up hope. If you believe in your writing, keep on reading and developing your skills. Keep on building your profile. Spread your enthusiasm.

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Chris Emery is a poet and director of Salt. He has published three collections of poetry, a writer’s guide, an anthology of art and poems, and edited editions of Emily Brontë, Keats and Rossetti. His work has been widely published in magazines and anthologised, most recently in Identity Parade: New British and Irish Poets (Bloodaxe). He is a contributor to The Cambridge Companion to Creative Writing, edited by David Morley and Philip Neilsen. He lives in Cromer, North Norfolk, with his wife and children.


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