Swing the odds in your favour by doing the DOs and dodging the DON’Ts
Do: Obtain (and preferably buy) several publications by the publisher(s) you intend to approach. Think carefully about whether your proposed publication fits into the list. If doubtful, contact the publisher.
Do: While checking through the publisher’s previously published work, think about poem types and lengths. If you’re submitting mostly lengthy poems, or poems with lines a foot wide, and the publisher does only A5 booklets, there may be a problem.
Do: Check whether the publisher has submission guidelines. Look on the website. If you don’t use the web, find a friend who does. But you probably do, if you're reading this.
Do: Follow the submission guidelines. To the letter.
Do: Check you’ve stamped your submission adequately.
Do: Include a stamped addressed envelope big enough to include the poems you sent to be returned to you.
Do: Type or word-process your work neatly and accurately. And consistently.
Do: Word-process your poems in an plain font – Times Roman, or Arial, or Garamond, or Palatino Linotype. Something that doesn’t draw attention to itself rather than to your poems.
Do: Use the size of font that you would expect to find in a book—probably size 12 and on no account bigger than 14.
Do: Avoid text language. Don’t use lower case i unless you can find a very good reason for doing so (except in the middle of words!).
Do: Present your work on crisp, clean paper.
Do: Make sure you know the name of the editor who’s likely to be reading your work. It shouldn’t be too hard to find.
Do: Include a covering letter (word-processed), briefly (don’t list every single published poem) mentioning reputable publications where your work has been published.
Do: Include your name and address somewhere clear but not obtrusive with every poem. Give each poem its own sheet of paper, even if it’s very short.
Do: Check your use of apostrophes. As far as the world goes, it doesn’t really matter whether you, or anyone else makes an error with an apostrophe. But where your poetry is concerned, you need to show you care enough to get it right. Every time.
Do: Tell the publisher if you have won or placed in a competition.
Do: Tell the publisher if you have read and liked, or found interesting, (be truthful though) publications on her list.
Do: Tell the publisher if you play an active role in local poetry groups, writers’ circles, festivals etc
Do: Tell the publisher if another poet on the same list has recommended you submit.
Do: Read any written communication from the publisher carefully. Even if it’s a straight rejection, it may contain useful comments. Remember publishing is a business. The main reason for rejection is because the publisher doesn’t think he or she can promote and sell your work effectively enough to keep the business going. Reflect on this.
Do: Reply to a rejection letter if it says something useful. Say thank you if someone has spent time with your work. Courtesy gets your name remembered. You want your name to be remembered. You want to be a person, not just print on a page.
Do: Keep in touch with the publisher if invited to—take a look at the website every few months to see what’s going on.
Do: Check whether the main editor is also a poet, and if so where he/she publishes. Try to get your poems into those same magazines, since it’s likely he or she reads them.
Do: Keep an eye on the poetry publishing business. Read about what’s going on. Go to festivals. Meet other poets. Make contacts. Make friends by being nice to people and interested in what they’re doing. Support other poets, and they will support you.
Do: Find good readers for your poems, astute people who will give truthful reactions and help you improve. Distrust people who say everything you write is marvellous.
Do: Talk to other poets who have published first collections. Ask them how it worked and how they managed it.
Do: Look meticulously at the acknowledgements page of new poetry collections, especially those of any publisher you’re interested in. See where those poets are placing their poems—which magazines. Try to get your work there too.
Do: Be ambitious for your poems. Aim to make them better and better and better. As good as you can get them in a lifetime.
Do: Have fun. Somehow. Do have fun. Make poetry friends. Laugh about it all. If trying to get your poetry published is making you miserable, change the game. But don’t stop writing the poems.
Do: Write short reviews of poetry publications that you’ve read and post them on Amazon or GoodReads. Say what you found interesting or different about them. This is good for your own prose style and it’s good for the poets you’re supporting.
Do: Keep buying newly published poetry books and pamphlets and magazines—buy those you like and/or want to support. It’s crucial to keep the business going. If you don’t, the chances of your work being published diminish accordingly.
Do: Write good prose. Remember Coleridge’s dictum: prose = good words in the best order; poetry = the best words in the best order. If you can’t get the order right for the good words, your poetry may not be that hot.
Do: Read 101 Ways to Make Poems Sell by Chris Hamilton-Emery, but don’t let it drive you nuts. Not all of it is quite true.
Now contemplate the DON’Ts on the next page....
Don’t: Present your poems in italic or bold font.
Don’t: Centre all your poems.
Don’t: Offer to pay for publication of your poems.
Don’t: Expect too much if your track record of publications is all local to where you live—you need to penetrate a wide geographical area if possible.
Don’t: Present poems that include tipp-x, deletions or spelling mistakes.
Don’t: Send more poems than the submission guidelines invite.
Don’t: Tell the publisher by what date you would like her to reply to your submission.
Don’t: Put © Millie Mathiesson at the end of each poem. It will drive the publisher NUTS. a) He or she has no possible interest in stealing your poem. b) You automatically own copyright of your work and do not need to assert it in a publication submission.
Don’t: Telephone the publisher to follow up your submission. If you make them feel pressurised, you will alienate them.
Don’t: Brood about rejection. What the hell! Just think hard about your options. Use your intelligence. Keep sending to magazines. Good magazines. Keep writing poems.
Don’t: Send self-bound copies of your poems, pamphlets or books. Send things in the usual submission format of loose leaf pages, each with the poem & your name and address.
Don’t: Assume that publishing your poetry is the only way to prove you write good poems. It’s not.
Don’t: Expect applause.