How to Start Submitting Your Work

Last year, at this time, I graduated from Sarah Lawrence Collage, moved to Brooklyn and started submitting my poems for publication. Years earlier while getting my Bachelors degree in History from the University Toronto, I submitted  to  several journals so I had a few publications under my belt. However at the beginning of my first year at Sarah Lawrence during a panel on publication, an editor made it very clear that she thought no one should submit before completing their degree. Looking back on this, it seems ludicrous that I would heed the advice of this stranger.  After all most of my favorite poets never got a masters degree in writing. Many of them didn’t even attend university. However at the time I took it seriously. Most of my fellow students were also not submitting, so I felt like had no great need to do so.

As graduation approached, I started to panic. I started to talk to professors about submitting, eager to hear any advice they would give me. Tom Lux, a professor and poet, told me that I should have forty pieces out at all times. Forty seemed like an impossibility. When I started to submit last June, I felt like just getting ten submissions out at the same time would be an accomplishment. However by October I had forty out and since that day I have maintained that number. Occasionally dipping down to thirty-eight but more often creeping up to forty-five.

The more I was accepted, the more I understood the reward  of submission. When you submit that much it is also easier to handle rejection. After all it is just one of many potential publishers that turned your poem down. I have several pieces of advice in regards to submitting. The first is to sign up for an account with Duotrope.

Duotrope is a website that lists almost all poetry and fiction journals. It has a huge list with thousands of journals all over the world. Besides listing and linking to the journals, it also tracks response times and acceptance rates for each journal. I use the Duotrope submission tracker in order to know which poems are submitted where. I have discovered some really great journals, both print and electronic, through Duotrope.  They also have a great weekly newsletter, both for poets and fiction writer. The newsletter lists all the new journals that have been added to their lists as well as every journal that has opened or closed to fee-free submissions.

My second tip is to set a submission goal for yourself. Set it somewhere that seems reasonable to you. Perhaps ten submissions per month. I often exceed my per month goal because once I reach that point, I want the feeling of accomplishment to linger. Soon those submissions will really start to add up. The more experience you have submitting the faster you get. So as you progress it gets easier.

The third tip is to create submission packets. Packets of poems you like, that interact well together. They should be five poems long, give or take a poem. I have eight packets right now. I always reserve two packets to submit to places that do not accept simultaneous submissions. The rest I submit to multiple places.

Submitting is sometimes difficult, and acceptance letters are sometimes  just as impersonal as rejection letters, but it is truly satisfying to see your poem posted in a lovely online journal next to the right photograph, or receive a well bound journal in the mail.

If you have any further questions, please ask them in the comments. I would love to answer them, if I can.

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2 Responses to How to Start Submitting Your Work

  1. Joanna Chociej says:

    Great advice Caitlin!
    It’s also easier to send out 40 poems when you think of it more in terms of 8 packages.
    My question is: for those packages you submit non-simultaneously, how long do you wait before sending it out someplace else? Sometimes things get lost in the mail, and you may never get the rejection letter that lets you know you can move on.

    • Caitlin says:

      Good question, Joanna. Duotrope is helpful with that because it keeps track of each publications average response times (as long as they have enough reports on the publication to do so), so you can know when to expect a response by. If there is no response time listed, I tend to think of 3-6 months as a good rule of thumb. Duotrope also tells you if the journal is good at responding to your submission. A few only respond only if they are accepting your work, others tend to lose a lot of there submissions. I tend to submit electronically because most American journals prefer it and more established Canadian journals are beginning to accept work that way as well. I have only once received a response from a journal that I submitted to by post, it seems to be much easier for journals that have an electronic submission process to respond.

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