If you want to publish your poetry in literary magazines or as a collection of poems, you’ll need to know what makes one poem exceptional and another poem merely ordinary. The fact is, when you’re submitting poems to editors, you’re vying with many other poets—you’ve got to be competitive if you want to stay in the game.
1. Read poems. If you’re not reading contemporary poetry, it’s unlikely that you’ll understand how your work fits into the modern poetry scene. Subscribe to a literary magazine or two before you start submitting, and read, read, read!
2. Know what good poetry is. There’s a difference between cathartic, teen angst poetry and well-crafted, thoughtful, challenging verse. Be realistic about your poetry. Look with an undaunted and critical eye. This always leads to improvement.
3. Strive to think like no one has ever thought before. Sure, we all know “there are no new ideas,” but there are ways to see old ideas in new ways. If you look at your writing and think, “We’ve all had exactly this thought at some point,” then it’s probably time to push yourself to make stronger, more attention-worthy connections.
4. Take risks. Once you’re writing poems with a steady hand, it’s time to step out of the box. What can you do bigger, better, wilder—or more quietly? Poems that challenge are poems that catch an editor’s eye.
5. Think like an editor. There are certain things that editors have to take into consideration: word count, format, and of course, aesthetics. Here are some tips to help: Seven Techniques You Must Know To Make Editors Notice Your Poetry.
6. Be brief. Poetry is about condensed language to varying extents, so if your poems are running long, it may be time to adopt the “less is more” approach to poetry.
7. Leave something to the imagination. Leave lots. Resist the urge to describe, to explain, to illustrate. Don’t try to manipulate your reader into coming around to your precise frame of mind; instead, invite your reader to experience your poems in his or her own way. It’s what’s not said in poetry that makes it come alive.
8. Be brave. Explorers don’t make a name for themselves by tiptoeing gingerly into dangerous environments—and poets should not be fearful either. Dig deep within yourself. Be unafraid of what you’ll find when you truly see who you are. And then, let the words fly.
9. Laughter matters. When you let a bit of humor, irony, or whimsy into your poems, you also let in the sunlight. Know when to curtail the urge to be funny and when to just go with it. Editors love a chuckle, nudge, or wink from time to time.
10. Write better. All of these prior tips come down to the same thing—if you want to stand out, write better. Take classes. Learn. Read. And, of course, submit your writing regularly so you can get more acceptances!
Writer’s Relief is an author’s submission service that assists poets and writers by managing the submission process. We help writers publish their individual poems in literary journals by making strategically targeted submissions. Visit the Writer’s Relief home page for more information.