Before I begin my rant, let me say that much of what is here can apply to book publisher submissions as well. Now, the first tip I want to give should be so obvious, it’s not funny, but it’s astonishingly ignored by many submitting work to magazines: read the damn submission guidelines. They’re there for a reason; it’s not accidental. As someone who’s been in the writing and editing business for over two decades and as the current poetry editor for Ray’s Road Review, I’ve compiled a list of what I think are fairly generous (by many traditional standards) submission guidelines poets should follow when submitting work to RRR. For instance, while I won’t consider simultaneous submissions like many magazines and for many reasons, I will consider previously published material with credits, unlike many magazines. That seems fair to me. You would be astonished at how many submissions I get which do not follow the guidelines. It’s a very large percentage. Some of these follow some of the guidelines, while some don’t at all. I usually trash these, as most editors would. If you don’t respect your craft and if you don’t respect the business (for that’s what it is) of publication and if you don’t respect the publisher enough to follow basic guidelines, you won’t earn a dime of respect in return — and why should you! Show yourself and the editors some respect, and do it the right way.
The next points I want to make will actually probably mirror the current RRR guidelines, but they’re so basic, I want to just throw them out there.
Don’t submit work and request critical feedback in response. You’re attempting to pass yourself off as a professional writer trying to get work published for the world to see. You’re doing a job. If you want critiques, go to an MFA program somewhere and get them there. I’m not a damn MFA program and I’m not going to waste hours of valuable time critiquing people’s work for them, and certainly not for free! I didn’t work to get three degrees so I could just give away my knowledge and experience. I’ve taught seminars and workshops, classes too. If this is what you want, go in that direction. If you’re submitting work to a magazine, you’re telling the editors you’re a professional (or at least an aspiring professional) writer with work to review seriously. Got it?
Getting published is a job. Just like when you’re trying to get a paying job, proof the heck out of your cover letter/email AND your poems/work. This is your one chance to make a first impression, so why do you want to come off as an illiterate dumbass??? I can’t tell you how many submissions I get that are chock full of misspelled words (clearly unintentional), missing commas, periods, hyphens, apostrophes, etc., etc. It’s mind boggling. I don’t necessarily knock these ones out of contention, but it makes me wonder how serious the writer is about our magazine and about the craft of writing and business of publication. My guess is, if you’re sloppy trying to get published, generally you won’t, just as your sloppy resume or cover letter will typically kill your job chances.
Another tip: editors usually remember assholes and idiots. And some of them blacklist these people. If a magazine doesn’t accept simultaneous submissions and you send the same work to multiple magazines, and if this work gets accepted by more than one publication, what are you going to do? Let two magazines print the same poems? Get ready for being blacklisted all over the place if that is found out. I learned this lesson the hard way many years ago, early in my writing career, when I submitted the same poems to two very fine university literary reviews, only to have both accept my poems. Imagine my embarrassment when I wrote the second one that contacted me accepting my work to tell them another magazine got it first. Needless to say, I haven’t appeared in either magazine since. Editors remember. Don’t lie, don’t misrepresent, don’t make stuff up. If you’re not heavily published or don’t have certain credits, be open about it. I’ll take work from total beginners, if the quality of work merits it. And those writers with astonishingly great credits don’t merit exceptional consideration either. Everyone’s on a level playing field with me. Let your work do your talking for you. Be honest.
Here’s another tip: most publications appreciate “serious” bios, as opposed to someone bragging about their life philosophies or how much pot they smoke. Send a bio that represents you, but in a professional way — don’t look like a total idiot.
A final tip. Make sure you send current contact info, and make sure to check your mail/email regularly. I’m frustrated right now because I want to publish two poems by a poet who won’t respond to repeated emails requesting a bio — any bio — and a couple of minor grammatical corrections. You can’t imagine how maddening it is to have your issue held up for publication by an asshole writer who won’t respond to editors!
I could go on, but I’ve got other things to get to, so I’ll close by reminding readers of this blog that competition is fierce out there. Everyone thinks they’re a poet/writer these days. Even though there are many magazines publishing literary work, it still behooves you to enhance your chances of acceptance by adhering to submission guidelines, following basic common sense and rules of submitting. At RRR, our acceptance percentage is 8.8%, which might sound low, but it’s actually a bit higher than your standard university-based literary review. Still, with us, then, that means that fewer than one in 10 submissions is accepted. You’re going head to head with other writers and you’ve got to impress editors, so don’t be an idiot and do your best and in doing so, best of luck to you.