Updated April 2023
It’s our job to stay tuned in to trends in the publishing industry, and we’ve noticed that some poetry formatting choices don’t resonate well with editors of literary journals. If you’d like to get your poems published in literary magazines, consider these tips before making your submission.
Rhyming Poetry And Contemporary Publishing
As disappointing as the news may be for some poets, very few literary journals are accepting rhyming poems or formal verse poems. From the lack of popular interest in rhyming poetry, it seems that many modern readers have come to regard rhyme as naive, outdated, and contrived. Literary editors of well-known journals are simply not banging down poets’ doors to publish rhyming poetry.
That said, some editors love and publish rhyme. Poets who excel in traditional verse may well find an outlet in literary journals; however, the writing must be exceptional in order to overcome the apparent editorial disinterest in rhyme.
Poetry Format: Double-Spaced Lines
One of the tell tale signs that a writer is new to the craft is unnecessary double-spacing of free verse or rhyming poems. Many double-spaced poems can easily become single-spaced poems without doing significant damage. The new writer may feel uncomfortable changing from double spaces to single spaces, but if you leaf through the pages of a literary magazine, you’ll find that most poems are single-spaced.
That said, some poems simply must be double-spaced. The writer selects double-spacing not just because it “looks nice” but because that format supports the meaning of the poem in some way. You can double-space your poems; just be sure you’re doing it deliberately, with sensitivity and awareness. If you can remove the double spacing without doing damage to the poem, it might be a good idea to do so. The format change will also help you keep the page count down.
Poetry Format: Centering Lines
There is a perception among some newer poets that centering the text of a poem somehow makes it look and feel more poetic. Few editors fall for that ruse, and some have been known to be dismissive of centered poems.
If your poem can be left justified without doing damage to the meaning of the poem, you may want to consider ditching the center justification if it helps your work get published in a well-known literary journal. That said, as with spacing, if there is a reason other than “it looks nice” that your poem must be centered, then by all means, stick to your guns. Hopefully, you’ll be able to connect with an editor who gets your work and will not dismiss your poem simply because of the center justification.
The Best Length For Poems
As the page count of your poems goes up, the chances of your seeing them published go down. One-page poems have the best shot at being placed. And poems that have long lines of text may not be eligible for publication in narrow literary magazines. For more on this issue, read Why Length Matters When Submitting Your Stories And Poems For Publication.
One Final Note About Poetry Format
The above tips are based on the experiences of Writer’s Relief in helping poets publish their poems in literary magazines since 1994. However, we do not advocate writing poetry only for the market. If the muse moves you to write a certain way, you should do what makes you happy, consequences be damned. Writing poetry is a very personal matter, and the decisions you make about your poems should be made with care and authority—regardless of the market.
If you find you are relying too heavily on any of the above, we recommend familiarizing yourself with the kinds of things that editors are publishing in your favorite literary journals. Being familiar with the work of contemporary poets is important to your craft, your muse, and your career. Read more: Seven Techniques You Must Know To Make Editors Notice Your Poetry (in a good way!).
QUESTION: What is your poetry pet peeve?