With more and more people writing and submitting poetry to literary journals, how do you save your poems from becoming lost in a sea of verse? The good news is—you’re reading this blog, and we’ve spent the last twenty years helping poets get published. We know the strategies that ensure your poems are “easy” for editors to say yes to. And we’re happy to share our tips with you!
Here are some poetry elements that can help a poet float to the top with literary journal editors (who have a very tough job!).
1. Be smart with your line length. Some poems have lines that are barely lines at all, and look like a handful of words scattered across a page. There’s nothing wrong with that! But keep in mind that editors have to lay out your poem on their pages or have certain considerations when formatting for the Web. For that reason, poems with lines of relatively equal length—as well as poems that fit on one page—tend to be more readily published by today’s editors.
2. Read lit mags and be aware of trends. We will never advise writers to favor market trends over their own instincts. However, our job is to get our clients published, so we’re always tracking what type of writing editors are acquiring (and what they’re not). Contemporary editors tend to favor free verse, as well as neat groups of modern couplets, tercets, quatrains, etc. (they don’t necessarily have to rhyme). You do NOT have to write for the market, but it’s important to be aware of what’s being published—and where your poetry fits in.
3. Keep poems single-spaced. Editors have to make difficult decisions about which poems to include in a given issue and which to pass by. One thing we hear editors complain about is unnecessary double-spacing in poems. Some editors may offer to publish a double-spaced poem—but only if the poem can be single-spaced. Make it easier for them to say yes to your poem “as is” by skipping the double-spacing, if appropriate.
4. Know your form. Whatever form you’re going to choose for a poem, know it well. Many forms of poetry have their own innate rules, and as a writer, it’s your job to be familiar with the subtleties of each. For example: We often see “prose poems” that don’t feel especially poetic at all. If you’re going to write a prose poem, read many of them first.
5. Rhyme with care. Great rhyming poems can be breathtaking, but bad rhyming poems can be especially bad. If you’re going to rhyme, be sure you’ve read a lot of good rhyming poetry and have mastered your technique.
A Word Of Caution
There are no rules, per se, as to the “best” way to write a poem. Stay true to your muse. Experiment and push yourself to try new things. When you’re learning who you are as a poet, it’s important to step out of your comfort zone.
Even if the poems that you’re writing aren’t trendy, we say: Keep writing them. Markets change. People’s tastes change. And with luck (and good submission targeting), you’ll connect with editors who understand and appreciate your work.
Photo by *_Abhi_*