How to master the art of poetry submissions

1. Here’s the headline: read the magazine you’re submitting to, before you decide to submit. You’ll get a sense of where your poems will best fit, and you’ll have an indication, too, of the editor’s particular taste, which will help you pick the poems that you think will most appeal. We often get submissions of book-length poems, for example, or poems written for children, and we’re not equipped to take them. A little research into the publication will save you time and effort.

2. . . . And then read the submission guidelines. If they request six poems, don’t send ten. Be sensitive to what you’re asking of the editor; if your poems are very long – eight pages a pop, say – then it’s not actually illegal for you to send six of those, but the consequence might be to make the editor campaign for a change in the law.

3. Don’t staple your poems together. We’ll just pull them apart anyway. No need to paperclip them, either. If your poem goes over the page, simply number them, and they’ll stay together.

4. Do try to select a range of poems that showcase the breadth of your ability. It’s unlikely that the editor will be able to take all six poems you send, so sending a diversity of pieces makes it more likely that something will appeal to them.

5. Please, please don’t send your poems in a padded envelope, or a card envelope printed ‘fragile’. It’s incredibly wasteful, bulky, expensive and environmentally unsound. Your seven sheets of paper arriving in pristine, uncrumpled condition will have absolutely no bearing whatsoever on whether or not we like your poems. Save your money, save the planet, and save us gnashing our teeth when opening your plastic padded envelope sends yet another plume of dusty packing matter all over our desk.

6. Do send work that catches the eye, that makes the reader turn their head. Well-worn clichés and tired tropes are not going to stand out from the crowd. In a magazine, unlike in a full collection, your poem will be standing by itself, and representing you as a poet.

7. If you’re including an SAE for return of your poems, please make sure it’s big enough to hold them, so we don’t have to wrap everything in duct tape in order to send it back to you. 

8. Do speak to the world! We love poems that show the trail of their reading, whose voice is energetic and engaged, whose horizons are wide. We like translation, we like poems that reply to others, we like poems that take the reader out of their moment (particularly if that moment is sitting in the office, nursing a cold cup of coffee) and bears them off elsewhere. Poems that absorb, beguile, entertain. To be contradictory, however, we also like the tiny, worked weirdness of a four-line abstract. Poems that resist can be just as seductive as those that unfold. Find what excites you, and write from there.

9. If you’re hoping to review for us, send one or two samples of relevant work – published or unpublished – along with a brief note describing your interests as a critic. Tell us what you’ve enjoyed recently, and what you’d feel comfortable reviewing. There’s no need to send a detailed pitch, since new releases will often already have reviews commissioned for them (publishing cycles are funny things). Do feel free to send a couple of ideas, but it’s most important just to get a sense of your experience and strengths.

10. Where possible, submit online. It’s much more environmentally friendly, less labour-intensive, and cheaper. Poetry London is now accepting online submissions, in addition to postal submissions, via Submittable