Publishing a Poem is like Arranging a Marriage – Make it a Happy One

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by Brian Geiger

If you’re here, you may have read this (or something like it, elsewhere):

We appreciate your submission. However, we’ve decided that your work isn’t a good fit for Vita Brevis, and we won’t be publishing it. But don’t be dissuaded–very few of our poets have been published on their first try! Read over some of our work, make sure your submission meets our exact guidelines, and then choose a new batch that you deem relevant. We make these decisions based on theme- and style-based criteria, so don’t take it personally! Thanks so much for your contribution! We hope to hear from you again.

We’re rooting for you,
The Vita Brevis Team

That’s a rejection email. Chances are, your first submission to Vita Brevis earned you one of these. If that’s the case, you’re in a pool of about 75%. Or maybe I only accepted one poem of the five you sent in for consideration. That’d put you in a pool of around 90%.

– Here’s our list of High-Acceptance Rate Poetry Publications – 

Though I’ve put much care into tailoring Vita Brevis to meet the needs of new and emerging poets, I’d be doing them all a disservice if I didn’t freely send out rejections. Mind you, I don’t do this to get poets “used to it”, but to bring them to a very important and often overlooked crossroads.


Rejection Gets you off of Autopilot and Lets you Change Your Trajectory

I won’t bother listing platitudes about rejection and growth here–you can find that in tall supply from most other sources online. Instead, I’d like to make a more nuanced case about not only the function that rejection serves but the optimal way in which you can respond to it.

Let’s start here: the way I see it, poetry rejection leaves you with two options.

  1. First, you could carry on and keep trying to send new work until it (hopefully) strikes the right chord, resulting in publication. That’s what I’ll call the passive approach. This is business-as-usual for most poets. And there certainly isn’t anything wrong with it, but it’s important to note that it doesn’t guarantee consistent publication. It’s just a more sophisticated version of throwing everything at the wall until something sticks. Typically, poets resort to this if they’re low on time or energy, if they’re stuck in their ways, or if they don’t recognize that there’s another approach available. And that’s ok. Sometimes it really works.
  2. But I’m partial to another approach. It’s the harder one. The more thoughtful one. The one that has you actively reach out to and research the publication that rejected you so you can figure out what went wrong. That’s what I’ll call the active approach. It’s much more conducive to being consistently published for reasons we’ll soon cover, and even if it doesn’t get your poetry into your publication of choice, it will no doubt be helpful elsewhere.

Poetry publication isn’t a numbers game. What matters more than how many publications you pitch is how well you pitch them. A few thoughtful submissions will always be better than many thoughtless ones.

So, I have good news–you’ll need to do a bit of research. That doesn’t have to be upsetting or boring. In any domain of life, when an opportunity arises to learn more, there’s really no sense in ignoring it.

If we do, we run the risk of overlooking a via regia into self-improvement. That hidden path will remain hidden. And we’ll keep marching down the same ineffectual road, never bothering to search the brush for something new.

It’s much better to look for a new way. To find something better. To do your damndest to figure out what works and what doesn’t. To think like an editor. And better yet, to think like the editor of the very magazine that you’re pitching your work to.

What do you think that person wants to see? What kind of poetry would they appreciate? What kind of poetry would they love? And what do you have to offer that most closely resembles that?

It might seem like you don’t have enough information at hand to know for sure. And sometimes that’s true. But in most cases, you have more than enough. Just about every major poetry publication lists some (if not all) of its poems online for free viewing.

Think about that: you have a long list of every poem that an editor ever decided was good enough for their magazine–just one click away from their submission page. Read them until you start to find patterns. Styles. Themes. And whenever you feel like you’re wasting your time, remind yourself: “One thoughtful submission is better than many thoughtless ones.”

Afterward,  you’ll have a much better idea of what kind of poetry should send in next time.


Poetry Publications are their Editor’s Dating Profiles–Find out if You’re Good Companions

Any poetry publication worth its salt should read like a well-written dating profile. All the likes, dislikes, and preferences are right there for you to see. It’s open. It’s transparent. It’s a digital mating call to attract someone like-minded, someone it could really settle down with.

And much like dating, it’s a two-way street. Just because someone catches your eye doesn’t mean they’ll reciprocate. We all want to get our work in The New Yorker or Tin House, but they might currently be out of our league.

But that works the other way too–plenty of publications might be happy to host your work, but they might not be what you’re looking for. If this sounds ridiculous, then you’re probably judging poetry publications by their utility. You’ll probably submit your work everywhere and anywhere to get as many eyes on it as possible. And you’re probably more of a passive-approach poet than an active-approach one.

Again, that’s fine. More power to you. But it’s important to note that this might leave some of your efforts wasted. Think about it. If you get your work published in a magazine that doesn’t showcase the type of poetry you typically write, then you probably aren’t reaching out to the right audience–and your time could have been better spent pitching a like-minded magazine. Why settle with someone who merely tolerates your work?


Arrange a Happy Marriage for your Poems

Just like poetry publications will be selective of poets, poets must be selective of publications. Currently, the onus of selectivity is disproportionately placed on the publication. They’re the ones who weed you out. But why can’t that go both ways?

If you’re a new poet, as many here at Vita Brevis are, then this tip may be jumping the gun a bit. We all have to get our feet wet somewhere, and there’s little reason to be too picky about our earliest publications, which can springboard us to grander opportunities.

But I urge you, as you move forward, to be selective of the lifelong companions you marry your poems off to. Send your work to publications that won’t just tolerate them but will cherish them. Aim for harmony. Aim for mutual respect. And above all, aim for a happy marriage.


If you found this useful, I think you’d enjoy a more thorough article I wrote on Navigating the World of Poetry Publication. And if you’re new to Vita Brevis, I urge you to stick around for a bit. We have a wonderful community of supportive poets–and plenty of wonderful poems that you can browse at will.


About the Author

Brian is the editor of Vita Brevisa popular online literary magazine that he founded in 2017. He’s studying to become a psychotherapist and currently works as a freelance writer for numerous publications and clients. Some of his personal publications can be found here.

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39 thoughts

  1. Interesting perspective. A poetry match-up, like marriage, takes all kinds of combinations. Two people can love each other even though they are ying and yang, totatlly different, yet appreciating their differences Those couples that are just alike are the most boring ones. :-0

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Two people can be alike in their appreciation of their differences,” SO true Brian. That’s how im going ten years strong in my marriage. If you look hard enough differences ride off of similarity. It is at once fun, similar, and different!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Reblogged this on Yesterday and today: Merril’s historical musings and commented:
    Some words from Brian Geiger, editor of Vita Brevis, on finding true love–or at least a good match–for your poems.

    Like

  3. I loved reading every bit of advice you have given in this article. You have summed up the do’s and don’t of getting published and also added your wisdom and advice to it. I also loved the way you have explained the two approaches to getting the works published and also the pros and cons of both of them.It’s a very useful article in equal measures for the seasoned and the new poets in the literary world. Thanks for sharing your wisdom with us, Brian.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Reblogged this on Megha’s World and commented:
    Come read this thoughtful and profound advice on how to get your work published in the literary world by the editor, Brian of the Vita Brevis Magazine.

    Like

  5. Great article Brian. I’ve been writing a long time on and off but this past eight months I’ve been posting my own blog. I also have an idea for a Chapbook but I know the world of literature is a difficult world to navigate. I felt this article may have lifted the fog a little. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Brian, this is fantastic! I wish you had been around when I was first submitting my work. Another thing I find wonderful about the research process, is the reading. In looking for magazines that suit your voice and style, you get to read some amazing writing and get inspired. For me personally, what was once daunting has become fun!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Rayen,

      My comment moderator originally marked this (and other the comments you made) as spam, but I figured it’s better to approve this one and speak with you directly. I’m glad you stopped by one of my posts — but if you’re going to comment, please give the poets here the respect they deserve and make it relevant to their work.

      I figure you’re a new poet too, so you might find this useful: as an editor, I can assure you that this kind of self-advertising comes off as insincere — especially when you do it serially. You’re always welcome to join the Vita Brevis community — everyone here is living proof that substantive, thoughtful comments are conducive to growing your following, and your character.

      Feel free to stick around and enjoy more of our work! We’re always looking to grow our community

      Like

      1. Dear Brian Geiger
        Please excuse my ignorance for I’m not a new poet but I’m a new blogger who wasn’t aware of the rules and who means absolutely no disrespect to your credited writers and poets.
        I honestly didn’t know that what I did was a cruel gesture from my behalf so I sincerely apologise for such a behavior that I assure you won’t be repeated.
        I am a poet though and I like replying to poems written by other poets, it’s just a habit I have developed and I mean no harm. PS: again that won’t be repeated
        Thank you for your kind message
        Again accept my apologies
        Best regards
        Rayen

        Liked by 1 person

        1. No worries, Rayen! We’ve all been new bloggers. It’s hard to gauge what is and isn’t “the norm” on here, and the rules of ettiquette aren’t written down anywhere!

          Also, feel free to send in some of your poetry for publications here at Vita Brevis! It’s a bit competitive, but if we accept your work it will be visible to hundreds of visitors.

          Best,
          Brian

          Like

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