Coming to Publication

by Philip F. Clark

You’ve published a poem here and there; you’re always sending things out, and you’ve had your share of rejections. How to succeed more on a regular basis? Start with a goal of five: choose five publications that you know and always read — but choose five really good ones; yes, start at the top. Noted college journals, respected poetry blogs, publications with a large circulation, etc. But these must be publications with whom your work would resonate — your poems would compliment the publication’s editorial vision. For instance, if you want to publish in the Bellevue Literary Review, you must understand that they are only looking for work that examines the workings of the body and mind.

The direction to “send us only your best work, and only original, unpublished work,” is tantamount and should always be followed. Read submission guidelines very carefully; if you make one small mistake, you will just go into the reject pile and probably will be noted as someone who ‘doesn’t follow guidelines.’

Get yourself out there. Let people see you and engage with them. You’ll be remembered, and you’ll find that other poets will talk you up to others. Let your work be read by a small but serious collective of poets who know your work inside and out. Talk to other poets who have been published in those five choices and ask them about the process and how they were published: Did the editors make specific comments upon accepting the work? Were you required to make edits, or rejected on the first round but encouraged specifically to submit more. Let the publications know you are an avid and committed reader — subscribe to them. It’s worth the money. When you indicate you are a subscriber, you have a better chance of beginning a relationship with them when you submit work. It may take a year or two, but being published in five solid journals or websites is a good goal to a portfolio of writing that you can use as credentials for future publications.

Ok, you got published in Joe Smoe’s International Poetry Circus. Who cares? Is it a matter of who you know? Sure, sometimes. Many times. But publication is about honestly placing work in those venues that match what your own poetry reflects. And don’t keep saying, “Why does s/he always get published, and I don’t?” Make connections, develop relationships, but don’t lose heart. The more you submit, the more your name and work will get into certain editors’ consciousness. A former professor and poet mentioned how she was continually submitting to the Christian Science Monitor (a huge circulation), and would get rejected. But she kept submitting. But her poems were too dark and when the CSM told her once, “We are a publication that presents work of a positive nature; work of hope and human encouragement,” she realized which of her poems would work better for them. She submitted once again. She was published. But she was seen as someone who had the commitment to really understanding the publication’s vision and editorial stance. It’s not all just a wing and a prayer.

I’ve found writers and poets to be a community of camaraderie and support. Invest in yourself; be a part of the community.