If you want to get editors at literary magazines or publishing houses to notice and publish your poetry, there are a few key things you can do to increase your odds of having a poem accepted.
At Writer’s Relief we’ve been working with poets since 1994—helping writers submit their work to literary agents, magazines, and journals—and we’ve picked up on some pretty significant trends. Our clients get published by the hundreds (thousands, if you want to get technical). Here are some of the things they do (and don’t do) to ensure their poetry has a competitive edge.
Skip the rhyme. Rhyming poetry is difficult to place. In fact, it’s so difficult to publish rhyming poetry that we won’t work with poets who primarily focus on rhyme. If you want to rhyme, feel free. There are plenty of outlets online and even a few print journals that adore rhyme. Just be aware that at most magazines, it’s a dead end. Rhyming poetry done well is beautiful. Done poorly? Ugh.
Keep it short. Poems that are one page long tend to be more readily accepted than any other length poem. Also, watch your margins. A poem that is too many characters wide may not fit on the narrow pages of literary magazines. Tight poems are more easily publishable and more readily accepted. (Also see Poetry Turnoffs: Styles and Formatting That Make Editors Cringe.)
Submit three to five poems per submission. Submitting more than five poems makes you look demanding and overeager. Submitting fewer than three poems implies that you don’t have a significant body of work. Also, don’t submit more than ten pages MAX (5-8 pages is best).
Avoid clichés. Money, love, and death are said to be the big three topics for writers. But be sure that you’re approaching them in a truly new way. (Tip: The only way you can be sure your writing is not cliché is by reading poetry. Lots of poetry. If you love poetry, read and support the magazines that keep poetry alive.)
Steer clear of one-word titles, unless your one-word title is truly an amazing and unique word. Titles like “Death” or “Friendship” tend to be more often overlooked by editors. Consider the wording of your title just as important as the rest of your poem.
Use eye-catching titles. After one-word titles, lackluster titles also tend to go unnoticed (as do lackluster poems). Pep up your poetry titles to get better results.
Develop a strong bio. At some point, everyone has absolutely no writing credentials. But the fact remains that the stronger your bio is, the more likely you’ll be well-received. For some tips on how to build up your bio, read Building Publication Credits and No Publishing Credits? Get Publishing Credentials: How To Build Up Your Writing Bio Super Fast.
As always, be sure that when you submit, you’ve researched the proper markets, prepared stellar cover letters, and followed all appropriate guidelines. If you’d like help submitting your poetry for publication, check us out. Our clients regularly publish poetry in hundreds of print journals. At Writer’s Relief, we remove the pressures and frustrations of the submission process to improve your acceptance rate and give you more time to write!
For a year, I have been self-publishing a little booklet of rhyming poetry, FROM THE RHYMYES OF FATHER GANDER, HUSBAND OF MOTHER GOOSE. You’re right, of course, when you say no publisher wants it, and yet I have no trouble getting rid of copies. The poems are also humorous, and we know that humor is practically prohibited these days. Nevertheless, I get requests from some in academia as well as friends of friends who have read the work. The original Mother Goose poem is on the left and the Father Gander poem on the right. I see other books like the "All I ever learned. . . " and "Chicken Soup" but so far no one has seen the possibilities for my wee opus.
Which reminds me that I have to print some more copies. I just gave my last ones to my dentist and his secretary.
And so it goes. . .
Writer’s Relief Staff:
Thanks for the valuable advice on how to get editors to notice my poetry. When I’m ready (soon, I hope), I intend to use your Submission Services for Writers.
Thanks for this article, which underscores the basics of getting published minus the luck, which materializes out of elbow grease.
Wilber (Webb) Scrivnor: your experience with self-publishing sounds like it suits you to a "t." Your poetry readings must be something! By coincidence, I’m revising a Humpty Dumpty novel and have a few nursery rhyme poems to my credit, too.
Aren’t writing them fun? Your success is inspiring.
Definitly suggestions that can be put to good use. Thanks
For Mary Caffrey and her Humpty Dumpty novel:
Poor Humpty dumpty sat on that wall,
And that was when he had that bad fall.
And all the King’s Horses and all the King’s Men
Couldn’t glue Humpty together again.
There are lessons to be learned from Humpty’s sad tale,
Truths that we know will never, never fail.
First, glue is not good for mending a fall,
And those with round bottoms should not sit on a wall.
And so it goes. . .
as a newcomer to the world of poetry,and a specialist in traditional,narrative, rhyming verse, i was somewhat put off by the editorial comment that writers relief will not work with rhyming poets unless they are exceptional.Does this mean that i have very little chance of my work being accepted,but if i am then i am very good indeed?
Terryc, So few editors of reputable, mid- to upper-tier literary journals are accepting rhyme these days. We don’t create the market; we just advise writers as to what it is.
I’m puzzled by the same issue Terryc raised. Is there no market for good poems that rhyme? There shouldn’t be any market for lousy poetry, and lousy poetry with a forced rhyme scheme is worse. But a good poem with rhyme (with or without a set scheme), I should think would be in demand.
If your answer to Terryc is that rhyme (good or not) is so out of fashion that no one wants it, then fair enough. Please clarify if that’s the case, or if publishers are just sick of lousy poems with lousy rhymes.
GSDVII, Both of your inquiries are correct. To reiterate, most mid-to-upper-tier journals want more contemporary, free-verse poetry and frown upon rhyme. The few journals that do accept, or rather, consider rhyming poetry (which are usually lower-tier journals) want them to be exceptional in nature. It’s just the way of the market.
There once was a lyrical poet who rhymed,
intrigued by this technique was so inclined,
to share his rhymed verse-
now a decrepit olden time curse,
considered both uncouth and passé.
He continued to muse anyway,
and quietly pray that one day,
someone will say, “Today a rhyme is ok-
for children, but is certainly no Monet.”
But he won’t hear that last part-
believing his poetry is truly fine art.
I have submitted some poetry to Rattlesnake publication online as they say they accept all styles but am confused by their selected poems in the end.The type of poems they accept are very abstract pieces.Some make little sense or are too chaotic for me to understand and occasionally are peppered with expletives .This is in spite of their guidelines saying they accept all styles of poetry and what matters is to send unique poems of the type they have never seen before.But then why dont I see calm ,reflective poems or rhyming works being published? Maybe Im old-fashioned . Are you familiar with Rattlesnake and if you can advise to their preferences please? thank you for your helpful tips..
We can’t speak for Rattlesnake specifically. But we can tell you that different journals have different aesthetics. What works for one journal may not work for another. That’s why it’s important to keep submitting to different literary journals. The more you submit, the likelier a poem is to get accepted.
Hi read all the comments. I have written around 40 poems ready to self publish. But it is all rhyming like lyrics . Iam now scared . Will it be marketable?
Here are 20 magazines that publish rhyming poetry: https://writersrelief.com/2020/04/08/20-literary-magazines-that-publish-rhyming-poetry-writers-relief/
I’m very new to writing poetry and am looking for some basic information. Where can I look that may help me? Any advice will be greatly appreciated.
You may find some of these articles of interest: https://writersrelief.com/writing-techniques-and-craft-tips/#poetry