February 1, 2019

What Are Publishers Looking For?


Poets often ask other poets for advice on where to send poems and for tips about what publishers are seeking.

If you send out poems regularly, then you probably also regularly get rejections or a "declined" response on Submittable. For submissions to Poets Online, we reject the most poems for a very simple reason: they don't respond to the prompt, since we are looking only for poems from the current writing prompt, 

Publications always recommend that you look at a few issues (online or in print) to get a sense of "what they are looking for," but I have done that for some publications and have still wondered what made those poems the ones they accepted.

Writers should look at a journal or press' website for that submission guidelines page. A useful tool is the database at Poets and Writers magazine. If you look at their search tool and narrow the search to small presses that accept poetry, you will find many possibilities.

But the information given out by a press can really vary in its usefulness.

2River offers this EDITORIAL FOCUS "We prefer poems with these qualities: image, subtlety, and point of view; a surface of worldly exactitude, as well as a depth of semantic ambiguity; and a voice that negotiates with its body of predecessors."

Wow. That's a tough focus to parse. Do my poems have a "surface of worldly exactitude" and do they negotiate with some body of predecessors?  This would be a tough essay question for the final exam.

On the other hand, the next press in the alphabetical list is 3 Mile Harbor Press and their focus gives me a better sense of what they are looking for in submissions: "3 Mile Harbor Press is committed to publishing the best diverse work by new and established poets and is particularly interested in finding LGBQT, feminist and environmentally aware voices."

They further offer these TIPS FROM THE EDITOR: "Please no greeting card, overly sentimental or clich├ęd offerings--also nothing sexist, misogynist, racist or homophobic. 3 Mile Harbor Press is looking for strong voices and strong imagery. Virtually any genre of poetry is acceptable: lyric, narrative, experimental, magical realism, spoken word, etc., as long as it is within a cohesive manuscript."

You might think that Wake Forest University Press in North Carolina might be a good place for your Southern-focused poetry, but they say that they publish "Irish poetry only" and they do not accept manuscripts from American poets, including Irish-American poets. So, "If you are a native of Ireland and wish to submit a poetry manuscript, please email a representative sampling of your poetry and your biographical information."  Cross that one off my list.

Looking in the search under "literary magazines," I find one I am familiar with and have submitted to and have had poems published in. That is the Paterson Literary Review. But their description is not very useful "Poems: under 2 pages, high quality, any style... Please do not send more than five poems  at a time. We do not accept online submissions."

That is pretty basic and I know by reading the journal and by my own submissions that were accepted and also by being lucky enough to know the poet/editor, Maria Mazziotti Gillan, that "any stle" isn't really what they are looking for in submissions. If you submit "language poems," there is an excellent chance that they will be rejected. Looking in PLR, you will not find that style. Maybe you should send those to places like Poetry magazine, even though they claim a "desire to print the best English verse which is being written today, regardless of where, by whom, or under what theory of art it is written."

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