As the author of five books of poetry and managing editor of U.S.1 Worksheets, the journal of the U.S.1 Poets’ Cooperative in central New Jersey, the question I most frequently get asked is, “How do you get your poetry published?’ The quick answer, “I work really hard at it.” There is no magic bullet for finding a publisher. I have had over 200 poems and short fiction published in journals and anthologies, and four different presses have published my books. Very often a press will be interested in a second book.
Before you tackle publishing a book of short stories or poetry, it’s important that you get some of your work published elsewhere first. This is not the case for fiction or non-fiction. Publishers want to know that you are not only a good writer, but also a serious one, and know the audience for your book, because very few have any budget to help you with marketing. That’s up to you.
A few years ago, I was entirely committed to placing my work in print journals; now I have far more work published in online journals. Although it is really cool to hold a copy of the journal in your hand, and admire the cover image and the layout of your poem, I find that I get as much satisfaction from seeing my work online at a beautiful website where there is a continuing audience, especially where journals archive your work indefinitely, but still return the rights to you after the work is published, so that you can publish the work in your manuscript.
You have to do your homework. Unless you are famous, no journal is going to come knocking at your door. There are many resources for locating journals to submit to, among them, Duotrope’s Digest, New Pages, LitLine, and Poets&Writers. Most journals have websites, so you can explore who and what they publish. Chances are slim that you will have work accepted by Poetry or Ploughshares or Narrative at first, but there are hundreds of other journals. More and more accept online submissions so you don’t have to waste money on stamps and return envelopes.
Before you send out work, revise, then revise again, make sure you have no spelling or grammatical errors, and don’t use crazy fonts or weird layout. Follow the guidelines to a T. If something is unclear, contact the editor and politely ask for an explanation. When your work is accepted, contact the editor and express your delight. If you are asked to forward additional information or okay proofs, do it right away. When submitting a whole manuscript or a short story you may be asked to pay a reading fee, but avoid journals that ask for a reading fee for individual poems. Expect a free contributor’s copy. Sometimes you will be asked to pay for your copy. That’s up to you, so know beforehand. Most journals are not greedy; they are just broke.
Write, write, write, and good luck!
Nancy Scott’s most recent book is On Location (March Street Press, 2011), which is a collection of poems inspired by the works of artists from all over the world. Find out more at www.nancyscott.net.