PUBLISHING: Get your work out there!

 Got a Jones for submission?
Try some of this on for size...

Published! Most poets dream of seeing their work in print, and rightly so. Poetry is a form of expression, and expressing yourself only into the ether might be okay for some, but most of us want to communicate with our poetry. That means we have to get it "out there" somehow. Once you've developed your work and your confidence in it, consider the following:

Q: How do I know I'm ready to send stuff out?
A: Part of it is your own intuition, part comes from friends/co-poets. The Inner NorCal area is rich with poetry readings, and most have open mics, which are a great place to share your work and get some feedback. [See and scroll down to the Reading section for some hints and links about reading in public.] Workshops are helpful, too—not just for advice, but to see how others' work progresses and to share yours in a (hopefully) supportive atmosphere. [See for ongoing workshops, or watch Medusa's calendar for one-timers.]
     If you go to a workshop that is NOT supportive, by the way, run out the door! Creative criticism is one thing, but there's no need to suffer cruelty in this process, in my opinion. By the same token, you'll have to decide whether you want a workshop that is only sharing without comment, or whether you want one that incorporates some gentle criticism.

Q: Where should I send my work?
A: There are thousands of possible venues for your work, both in print and online. (Whoever thinks poetry is dead in this country is nuts—there are millions of poets out there!) Purchase one or more of the resources listed below** and go through it for publications that sound like you might fit in. (Same with online venues.) Talk to your poet friends. Look through poet-biographies to see where those poets have been published. Send work to local publishers (see Medusa's bulletin board). The more you do it, the more venues you'll find. 

Q: Should I submit my work to print journals or to online ones?
A: Both, of course. Online publishing is more ephemeral—you can't hold it in your hand unless you print it out, which is less satisfying to me. But it will reach more people in more places, including overseas, and there is usually more room for poets, since space isn't a limitation. Print journals are struggling these days with the cost of publication and postage, but I don't think they're going to die. They're just too darn wonderful, yes?
     So cover all the bases, get to know what you like in each—including the lowly blogs like our Kitchen—spread your lovely work here, there, and everywhere. Rattlesnake Review was just a local publication, but we received work from Lyn Lipshin, Simon Perchik and B.Z. Niditch, all nationally-known poets, and three of the most-published poets EVER. They did their homework and found us, and I published them all.
Q: What about contests?
A: Well, when there's money involved, even a few dollars, we starving poets sure do come out of the woodwork! So competition is even stiffer for contests. And a contest is only as valid as its judge: poetry is SO subjective, and judges are just people with opinions, no matter how hard they try or how much experience they have. 
     My experience with judging is that you get a pile of poems, and some of them can be weeded out at the beginning. Then it gets tougher. Then it gets, well, subjective... (especially late at night). So keep these things in mind and don't kick yourself if you lose a contest, or get Second Prize instead of First. Keep it all in perspective, and in good fun.
     The other thing about contests is that a lot of the poems don't get published, so your poem sits in the dark for awhile and then comes back to you—which may not be the best use of its/your energy. People who are really into publishing see their poems like ponies—keep 'em working and out of the "stable" at all times!

Q: How do I put together a submission?
A: Choose 3-5 of your poems that you think are (a) good, and (b) appropriate to the venue. Try to limit each poem to one page. If you're sending them by snail mail, make clean copies with your name and contact info on every page. Be sure there are no typos and that the dog hasn't chewed the corners. Include an SASE, and remember—this is probably too heavy a load for a single first-class stamp. Pay attention to whether the venue wants a bio and cover letter; keep each of these short and sweet. Then mail the packet off and wait. And wait. 
     By the way, most publishers want work that hasn't been "previously published". Be careful about this—they might get really snarky if they catch you. On the other hands, some publications tell you that it's okay—which makes a second possible "home" for your poems that have been published. Medusa's Kitchen is in that category.
     E-mailing is, of course, easier and cheaper. Most places want attachments. Again, follow their rules. 

Q: Then what should I expect?
A: Now those poems have to sit in a folder and wait to hear from the publisher. Most editors do NOT accept what are known as "simultaneous submissions"—sending a poem to two different venues at once. BE CAREFUL about this; it can get very messy if you cheat, knowingly or not. So DO keep careful records. Know where all your poems are and what they're up to at all times, just like with kids.  
     And it may well be a long time before you hear; months are not uncommon. (It's not rude to inquire if you haven't heard any response within a few months.)  
     Your work may be rejected though; that goes with the business. I heard of a famous poet who STILL drinks a martini before opening her mail. It's kind of like trying to pick up someone in a bar, or selling a car—persistence (and nerve) counts. A lot! But if you've done your homework on the publications you chose, and you've been careful about selecting and polishing your work, you will succeed if you keep at it. Don't give up! There are big journals, little journals, good journals, bad journals, small presses and big, shiny ones. It is, as my friend Carol Frith says, a numbers game. It takes grit (and time, and organization) to be rejected and to bounce that submission right back (the sooner, the better) to another market. But you can do it, and you will.
     And when you get that longed-for acceptance, don't forget to write a short thank-you letter to the editor while you're rejoicing. S/he is showing faith in your work, which is a great blessing.



•••Send 3-5 poems. This doesn’t mean to send ONE poem, or a complete chapbook, and say “pick 3-5 from here, please”. It means that editors like to have a few choices, but not too many.
•••Put your name/contact info on EVERY page. If I receive an online submission, I like to see that info about every poem, especially with attachments.
•••For print journals, send an SASE if you want your poems back.
•••Use a readable font or typeface—nothing fancy—and please don’t use all capital letters.
•••Edit carefully. It’s considered VERY tacky to send a poem, and then to write and say, “Please change the comma on the 19th line. No, not that one, the other one…”
•••Send your submission all at once, not one poem at a time over a period of days/weeks.
•••Keep track of each submission period and avoid sending more than one submission packet per deadline.
•••Think about what season your poems will be published in, which issue of the journal you’re submitting for. Editors often like to have seasonal poems come in, as long as they arrive in PLENTY of time.  
•••Likewise, know the journal you’re submitting to. Don’t send bowling poems to Bird Talk—or carefully consider it first, at least. Hint: editors are flattered and relieved when you send something that shows you’ve been paying attention to their “baby”. Never underestimate the power of flattery!
•••Some publications have VERY slow response times; it's okay to write and ask whether they received your poems if you don't hear within a few months—sooner if it was e-mailed.
•••Mind your manners: Send a thank-you note when you get something accepted, and always be friendly and polite. Editors are doing you a favor by putting their reputation behind your work, a favor that will cost them time, money and energy.


•••Ignore the admonition against “previously-published” poetry—which is, I agree, a fuzzy area these days with the Internet. But something that appeared in a journal or chapbook (even your own) or even a contest-winner booklet has been previously published, to my mind—other editors may feel differently. As for the ‘Net, let them know and they'll decide. (Medusa does take previously-pub’d work; just let me know where it appeared.)
•••Ignore the admonition against “simultaneous submissions”—which means, don’t send your poems out if anybody else is looking at them, even ‘Net-wise. This seems unfair, I know, but editors can get very prickly about it.
•••Once your work is accepted, DO NOT send it anywhere else until it's published, or at least until you know who owns the rights. Technically, the venue that accepted it owns the rights, usually until they publish it and, if it's their policy to do so, let the rights revert to you. Some publishers keep the rights forever, hoping to later use the piece in an anthology.
•••Don't write a copyright sign or “first rights only” on your poem. That’s not the way you copyright things, so not only does it mean nothing and therefore label you as a rookie, it’s also a veiled accusation that the publisher might steal it. [See item above about flattery.] And it’s the publisher who decides what rights will be kept and which will be returned, not the poet. If you’re not okay with his/her policies (which are always listed), don’t submit to that venue.
•••Don’t, if possible, let somebody else send in your poems unless you’re under 18 or disabled. For legal reasons, they need to come directly from you unless you’re under 18, in which case they need to come from your parent/guardian.
•••Forget to keep good records of what went out where/when. and what got published where/when. Otherwise, you can get into all kinds of difficulties. BE ORGANIZED!
•••Allow another publisher to publish your work without crediting where it first appeared. Editors take pride in having found your “gem” first.
•••Be put off by all these basic rules. Use them to practice your submitting procedures until they become second nature. You’ll get more poetry accepted if you do; I’m not the only editor who values these things. 

Getting Chapbooks Published:

(Michael Bugeja’s book, Poet’s Guide: How to Publish and Perform Your Work is a great source of information about this subject, as is Patricia Wellingham-Jones’s Self-Publish Your Chapbook from PWJ Publishing.)

Ah, publishing! Your own book in print! So seductive—and a hard row to hoe, actually. There's lots of competition out there, and the definitions are changing: publishing, self-publishing, online publishing, publication-on-demand. It's too much for me to cover here, so do your research, but do remember:

•••Knowing when you're ready to put together a chap relies on friends, on your own intuition and whether you think your work is ready to be viewed in a package, which is what a book is. Some chapbooks/books are theme-based and some are general. Books based on a theme seem to hang together better, in my opinion, but plenty of people do "hits from the hits" books—random selections of poems—successfully, of course. Your choice. But there's no rush on any of this; be confident before you proceed.  
•••There will be expense, energy, and time involved. Most houses charge reading fees, plus there's the increased postage. Response times can be just as slow as print—plus, you can't do this online; they have to see a hard copy.  There aren't very many publishing houses that print chapbooks, so the field is narrow, and it narrows even further for perfect-bound books (as opposed to saddle-stapled chapbooks). The good news is, though, that you do get to do simultaneous submitting, in most cases—if you can afford the expense. 
•••Your work needs to be top quality. Workshop, either with friends or a group. Form a group, if you don’t have one, and be compassionate-tough on each other. Get better and better and better; the competition out there is tough, tough, tough. Think of famous poets who are still alive; odds are, you’ll be competing with some of them in contests and other publishing opportunities. Some poets have lucked into niches where they can be regularly published (usually in universities), but if you submit to any of the larger publishing contests, you’ll recognize some of the names on the list of winners. Don't let this put you off, but don't be in any rush to publish, either. (This is where friends' opinions can be helpful.)
•••Your work has to be of the shape and size that will fit into a chapbook-style format. Are the lines too wide? Do you favor page-long, concrete poetry or other complicated visual styles? Is your work mostly spoken word that doesn’t translate easily onto the page? 
•••Learn how to put together a decent-looking package and follow the publisher’s requirements to, literally, the letter.  Presentation matters. Again, be organized!
•••A word about self-publishing:  I’m not the least bit against it, though many poets are. It does mean that you have to publicize yourself and bear your own costs, and some may consider it a second-class product that we used to call “vanity” publishing. But at least it will get your work out there, and it’s so cool to have a collection of  your own work available at readings. 
     But be careful that you put out a good product! Some of the self-published books I see are tacky-looking and hard to read and would have benefited from at least one more proofing by a competent reader who knew spelling and grammar and could see the mistakes that you’ve glossed over.
     I guess self-publishing boils down to what you want from a book: do you want a few copies to hand out to family and friends, or are you trying to take carefully controlled stepping-stones toward a career in poetry? Are you concerned that future publishers (or tenure committees) may look at your “creds” and say, “Hmm. Self-published. Not interested…”  Or are you more intrigued by getting a collection together about this or that, maybe have some local audiences come along with you for the ride?

•••And a word about reputable publishers: There are plenty of publishers out there who you can pay to publish your book. In my view, this is a form of self-publishing, though not necessary bad—some of them have reputable "names" in the industry which will help you. But these publishers often charge more than you would pay if you did it yourself, and they rarely provide other services, such as publicity. So think about that, and be sure that their prices are not 'way more than other such publishers would charge, that the quality of the workmanship is good, and that you’ll actually get what you pay for. (Ask around.) 
     Also: occasionally the “opportunity” comes up for you to pay to be published in an anthology. Be careful about what kind of product they’re talking about, even if it alleges to be a big, fat hard-bound tome for the ages. Is it good quality, or can anybody with the right number of bux be in the book, no matter how awful their work? If in doubt, save your hard-earned cash. There are plenty of anthologies out there that won’t charge you for your work, general collections about everything from food to Fall to footwear. Watch for them.

*Much of this information was initially published by Rattlesnake Press in Littlesnake Broadside #42: Snake Secrets, which is now out of print. The broadside was culled from my years of publishing, of submitting my own work, and from conversations with other small-press publishers across the country. Of course each publisher has his/her own guidelines—be sure to know what those are before you submit!

**Resources for Poets Hoping to Get Published:

•••Watch Medusa's b-board for publications in our general area and beyond.
•••I Street Press ( has info and resources for self-publishing, as well as the Espresso Book Machine.
•••Publishing for kids!
•••Subscribe to Poets & Writers' online newsletter for submissions venues and tips: email to sign up—it's free!
•••Buy the current Poet's Market (local bookstores or Amazon).
•••Check out Dustbooks: for great small press resources, such as The Int'l Directory of Little Magazines & Small Presses; The Directory of Poetry Publishers, and the bi-monthly periodical, Small Press Review, for publications seeking submissions.