Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What Places Should New Poet & Writers Submit To?

A new reader asked me this question and I thought posting my answer to everyone might be helpful to some of you.

Here was the question:

Perhaps, if you have a moment or two, might you offer a few suggestions as to where I could begin to get my words out there? Maybe they are not worthy of being read ... I am open to your thoughts ...

My best advice to the young, new writer starting out in trying to get their work published is to look around your community for what local journals there are.

Many community colleges have literary journals that are published once a year (the deadline is usually around January or February).  These are great places to start submitting because many times they also have release parties and may invite you to read your poem.  This is a plus as not only do you get to celebrate the experience of being published (and have good punch), but you also get the experience in reading to an audience.

There may also be other literary journals in your area you can submit to as well.  Go to your local indie bookstore and browse what journals they have in.   Buy them and read them cover to cover to decide if your work will fit in.

Do not start with the best and biggest journals (read: The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, etc.)

I told a story a few months ago how as a youngish poet beginning to write after a few years of doing nothing important I sent the Paris Review a lovely cover letter stating that I was getting back into writing and I "want to start with the best."  I'm sure there was also a large penned, "Enjoy!"  Or something equally dorky and unprofessional.

Larger journals want you to work your way up to their journals.  And while I'm sure there is a small majority of poets writing incredible poems as they just begin, I'm going to suggest that most of the newer poets aren't.  This is not to say anything bad about you, I too was a new poet and when I look back at the poems I was writing as a new poet they are not as wonderful as I thought.  In fact, some are painfully bad.  Painfully. Bad.

But you have to write these poems (some being not-so-good) to become better and get to the next level.  What does Malcolm Gladwell say in the book Outliers: The Story of Success, it takes 10,000 hours to become great at something.  This is just as true with writing.

So start with the smaller print journals, first in your community, then look around (I suggest New Pages) to learn about what journals your work might fit in.

Also, notice I said "print journals."  I'm going to be honest here, if you are a newish poet and you publish your first poems on an online journal, you may not be happy about this 5 years later because you might look back and feel there are not your best work.  The good news is that as you publish more, some of these links just disappear and it's harder and harder to find your not-so-great poems.  But just think about that.  Your name will be associated with your poem indefinitely on the internet, just make sure you are okay with that.  (And yes, I do have a couple poems I published online that I'm not super proud of, here's one - Though I loved having my poem in a bubblegum machine.)

Really, the choice is yours, but I've found it best to start with your local regional journals and move out from there.  Susan Rich plays a version of the license plate game with her poems, getting them into journals in all the 50 states by submitting to journals in states she hasn't been published in.  I like the creativity with that; it keeps submitting fun.

So choose what works best for you and what feels right.  Read many different varieties of literary journals when starting out to find where your work fits best and also to hear the many different voices publishing these days.

Also, do not fret rejections.  They happen.  Do not think because you receive a rejection on your first submission you are a bad writer.  We all get them.  And if someone says they don't, they are lying.  No writer gets everything.  So just consider those rejections as your paper evidence that you are a real writer and following (hopefully!) your desire to write.

Good luck to all of you!



  1. Thanks for this piece, Kelly. I sent it on to my step-son who just graduated from Seattle U. with a degree in creative writing and I've been after him to start submitting.

  2. You offer some excellent suggestions. New Pages is a very good recommendation. I follow it.

    One thing that needs to be considered, because it can be surprising if not expected, is the cost of submissions, sometimes called reader fees. While the fees may include a subscription to the journals, they can and do add up. Since retiring from editing full time, I have to be careful to budget my submissions.

  3. T - glad that was useful to you (and hopefully to your stepson).

    Maureen-- that's a good point about fees. I submit to poetry contests of journals I want to support as I've learned that these contests really help keep the literary journal funded.

  4. Good solid advice! I firmly believe in the trying local first although I'd be ok with early publications online if unlined the work the journal was publishing.

    I tell new writers to avoid contests until they've had a few publications unless, like you said, it is to support a journal they admire :)

  5. I'm a fairly new poet and have found this post to be extremely helpful. Thank you!



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