03/19/2014 12:36 pm ET Updated Mar 19, 2014

How To Choose Poems To Submit To Literary Journals

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By Writer's Relief Staff:

Generally, literary journal editors encourage authors to submit three to five poems at once for consideration.

The question is, how should a writer choose which poems to include in any given submission group? Should the poems be wildly different, or should there be some continuity?

There are four practical strategies to guide you in creating a group of poems for submission. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages.

1. Grouping Poems That Are Dramatically Different In Style, Tone, Or Theme

Advantage: By casting a wide net, you may be more likely to garner an acceptance letter for at least one of your poems—because if one type of poem doesn’t resonate with the editor, maybe another will. If you are not overly familiar with the market that you are submitting to, this can be a good strategy.

Disadvantage: By including very different poems, you may give the impression that you as a poet are not yet confident in your voice. Over time, experienced writers tend to discover what they do best, and that creates a natural continuity. (Note: This is not true of all poets, but we feel it’s worth mentioning.)

2. Grouping Poems That Are Similar In Style, Tone, Or Theme

Advantage: When you submit a group of poems that are similar in style you are confidently proclaiming, “This is who I am and what I do.” If you are submitting to a themed literary journal or anthology, you definitely want to be sure that your poems match the theme.

Disadvantage: By not submitting a wide variety of poems, you may miss an opportunity to connect with an editor who doesn’t like the particular style or theme of your group.

3. Grouping Poems Of Different Lengths (Very Long Poems Or Very Short Poems)

Very Long Poems: If your poems tend to be very long, sometimes it’s better to send fewer than the maximum number that an editor is willing to consider in any one round. Sure, an editor may say, “Submit up to five poems.” However, submission guidelines that include such language tend to refer to poems of standard length: one or two pages.

If you’ve written a ten-page poem, you may want to send that one poem and nothing more; this demonstrates respect for the editor’s time. Also, editors only have so much space per issue, so sending one long poem is a smarter strategy.

Very Short Poems: If you’re writing short poems, feel free to send the maximum number allowed in one round of submissions.
It’s okay to group long and short poems together—just be sure to consider the points mentioned above.

4. Grouping Poems That “Must” Be Published Together

Some poets submit individual poems that they feel belong together as part of a larger collection of poems. However, writers need to have realistic expectations. Most literary journals prefer not to dedicate a high number of pages to a single poet in any given issue—unless, of course, that poet is being featured.

So what should you do when an editor offers to publish only one poem from a larger group of poetry? The answer is ultimately up to you. If you insist upon seeing your group of poems published together, then you will have to turn down the offer of publication. But if you’re excited to see one poem from your group published on its own, you should send your I accept! letter right away!

Now that you know how to arrange your poetry into the best possible groups for submission, you’re one step closer to getting that coveted acceptance letter.

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