on submissions: guidelines


Once I had this idea that I’d write a few posts on what I’ve learned about submitting poems. I imagined it would take me a few weeks. Then life kept happening and happening. Life is very life-like that way. Anyway, I think I’ve promised a post about guidelines, so that’s what today’s topic is, lo these many weeks months.

Refresher: For those who might not remember in the gaps between posts, or who are just joining us, my mantra for submissions (and all of poetry, really) is from Aristotle: “One learns to play the harp by playing.” Which inevitably means making mistakes and learning as one goes.

BUT FIRST: A reader wrote (thank you!) and suggested I clarify something about placement rates, which I touched on in this post. There, I wrote that even a 10% placement rate is considered very good. This reader suggested that using 10% as a benchmark sets people up for discouragement, since many people will have much lower placement rates. So, I want to emphasize that a 10% rate would be *very good* (and if you are there or above, you might want to think about submitting to higher-tiered journals). I myself have a 7.8% placement rate according to Duotrope, where I track my submissions. So, if you’re rate is below 10%, fear not—you are so not alone.

Now: Guidelines.

Guidelines describe the format in which a journal desires to consider submissions.

They might go something like this: 3-5 poems, no more than one poem per page, maximum of 10 pages, standard font, contact information on each page (or not), online only, or postal only (though this is becoming rare), or postal and online okay, simultaneous submissions* okay (or not).

Some want a cover letter, others don’t. Some read blind—that is, without referencing the contact information—in an effort to remain unbiased. This is especially true for contests. Others don’t read blind; this is what’s typical for regular journal submissions.

Since every journal’s guidelines are different (someday I’ll write another post on my one of my dreams: universal submission guidelines), it’s important to read guidelines carefully and format each submission accordingly.

My process for making sure I meet a journal’s guidelines is to print out the guidelines and one by one, manually check them off as I prepare my submission, then double-check. Painstaking and paper-intensive, but it’s what works for me.

Even with this process, I have goofed on guidelines. You will goof on guidelines. It’s not the end of the world. Some journals might read your submission anyway (don’t plan on this); some won’t. Although you don’t want to make a practice of it, you can always withdraw and submit again if you’ve submitted online.

WARNING: Many journals list their guidelines on their website, as well as on their submission manager webpages. I’ve found that these sets of guidelines sometimes contradict one another. When in doubt, I typically go for the more rigorous guidelines (e.g., if one asks for a cover letter, but the other doesn’t mention cover letters, I’ll include a cover letter). When in extreme doubt, I’ve queried the editorial staff (maybe once or twice).

Here are some examples of guidelines from a few different journals:

As you can see, guidelines vary widely from place to place. Follow them. Followed guidelines are your poems’ first foot in the door.

Yet to come in this series (I use the term loosely) on submissions: formatting and cover letters; being strategic. Previous posts are available here:

Thanks for reading!

*Note: Simultaneous submissions are when you submit a poem or set of poems to more than one journal at the same time. Some journals are fine with this, others aren’t. This is almost always stated in their guidelines, but Duotrope is a place to double check. Here is a helpful piece from The Review Review about sending simultaneous submissions strategically (and some other stuff). The gist is this: if you’re submitting poems simultaneously, send them to journals that you would be equally happy to place the poems with.


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