The World of Poetry Publication: A Guide for New Poets (2022)

How to Submit Poetry for Publication

Many poets view editors with the same distrust and frustration that musicians harbor toward their record labels. They’re often seen as little more than oppressive, bureaucratic barriers to poetry publication who, by some stroke of luck, became the gatekeepers of the larger artistic world that so many poets dream to be a part of.

This view is completely understandable. It’s frustrating to know that the fate of your work is in someone else’s hands. Why should something so subjective and personal be put on trial by a judge and jury whose credibility you already doubt?

And there’s a feeling of invalidation there, too. Implicit in a rejected poem is a rejected poet, damning feedback from the professional world that seems to say that you’re just not up to snuff.

And that’s to say nothing of the lack of closure. You’re more likely to receive a copy-and-pasted rejection email — if anything at all — than a thoughtful explanation as to why your poem didn’t make the cut.

When this happens (and it inevitably will), it’s easy to grow hopeless or even a bit resentful. But I’d like to paint a different picture of poetry submission for you — one that doesn’t see the process as a necessary evil, yet another hurdle that bars you from the life you want, or a barrier to creative freedom.

It’s worth considering that poetry submission is actually a lot like poetry: difficult, vulnerable, and vague.

That’s what we’ll explore today in The Editor’s Column, a poetry resource by Brian Geiger (founder and editor of Vita Brevis Press).

Tip 1. A Different Perspective on Poetry Publication

Over the past year as an editor at a small press poetry magazine, I’ve had a uniquely personal experience with publication and emerging poets during my run as a gatekeeper. And since I’ve found that editing is a profoundly personal thing, I plan to make this entire post personal. And that means subjective. And that means of limited use.

That’s just the nature of poetry publication: the only significantly useful tips are so context-dependent that they’re useless for more journals than not. As you’ve probably discovered, poetry publications are so overwhelmingly dissimilar that there just isn’t that much common ground when it comes to submission best practices beyond the absolute basics of being mannerly and professional.

Beyond that, it’s up in the air. While this may sound disheartening, it also means that no matter what you write, somewhere out there is a home for your work, a place that won’t just tolerate it but cherish it for all the reasons that you do.

So, treat this as a unique look into a single editor’s mind on the world of poetry publication. It’s going to be different. Maybe useless. But it might shed some light on the only certain thing there is about poetry publication: that it’s dreadfully uncertain — and that that’s ok because so is poetry.

That’s why this article isn’t going to offer catch-all guides on how to publish poetry, which poetry magazines are the easiest to get into, or even how to submit poetry for publication. Just tips. The rest will come with experience.

Tip 2. Find the Right Poetry Publication

I’ve created a list of respected poetry magazines with higher acceptance rates than the norm. This is the sweet spot for emerging poets because it can get your work out into the world — without diluting the value of your work at publications with little to no editorial standards.

I created a list of high-acceptance rate poetry magazines and a list of more selective magazines. You find can these, and plenty more, by visiting Vita Brevis Press’ free poetry resources.

Tip 3: Get to Know the Editor

I’ve published Pulitzer prize winners, veterans, professors, artists, plumbers, truck drivers, scientists, mechanics, a small zookeeper, and plenty of authors, to name a few. Some are retirees who are finally doing what they love. Others have lost their spouses and are finding ways to cope. Some have lost their children or their homes. And when you learn that, their poetry comes alive.

When I first interacted with them, none of these submitters were trying to stand out. They weren’t using their interesting lives as leverage. Instead, our conversations were subtle, organic, and prolonged, often starting with a “Contact Us” message which turned into a submission. At first, I’d receive nothing but their name and poetry. A month later they’d come back, and I’d hear a bit more about them. A month later a bit more. And soon enough, we were on a first-name basis. I learned about their jobs and some of their life stories, and we even check up on one another from time to time, with no talk of poetry.

That’s powerful. And our relationship often frames their poetry in a richer light. That’s the more personal side of poetry publication that 90% of poets never experience.

I’ve even gotten to know some poets that I’ve serially rejected. One of them even wrote me a poem about submitting poetry to me — “Writing in the Void”. He rhymed Vita Brevis with “acceptance rarest”. It was horrible. And I rejected it. But I loved it. And we still talk today.

What I’m getting at is this: don’t force it. Sending a life story or directly inciting conversation in a submission email isn’t a good idea. A relationship is much more subtle than that, and a genuine one doesn’t need much prodding on. It comes naturally.

When both sides are willing to receive, they each give a little. And that subtle harmony is reinforced as more submissions are sent in and the tiny personal discursive at the end of each email grows longer.

I’ve found that, at least for my publication, it’s useful to publish poetry in a way that’s conducive to a (very) slow, (very) steady, and (very) subtle relationship. Maybe start with the “Contact Us” portal and ask a real and substantive question that you actually want to be answered. Let whoever answers you know that you appreciate their time. Then head over to the submission portal and sign off with the same name.

And when you’re ready to submit again, use the same name and remark about how you were previously accepted or rejected (this is a huge help to editors). You’d be surprised at how much an editor remembers — let alone how appreciative they are when they meet respectful and professional submitters.

This doesn’t mean you need to stress yourself out about finding ways to form a relationship with every editor you send your work to. But if you spot a publication that you love, it’s not a bad move. My publication — and my life — has been greatly enriched by some of the incredible poets that I’ve befriended over the years, and I send them a lot of publication opportunities just because I’ve learned their skill sets and interests. That said, this isn’t something to add to your “how to publish poetry” checklist. It needs to be authentic and come naturally.

Quick Tip

Of course, the value of certain tips will vary based on the publication you submit to. But what’s universally appreciated is adherence to guidelines and a clear understanding of what the publication wants. So read a bit of the magazine, if you can, or extract whatever information you can from the website. You don’t need to be too thorough, just don’t go in completely blind.

Tip 4: Put as Much Work into Your Submission as You Put into Your Poem

I can’t tell you how many promising poems I’ve rejected on the basis of a blatant disregard for the rules of submission. I’ve tried bold-facing them, numbering them, simplifying them, making them “required” input boxes — people still found a way to avoid filling them out. (And they were never excessive — I only ask for a name, PDF, and short bio.)

It seemed like these poets would compile one bare-bones submission email and send it out to as many publications as possible — which would have been more effective if they provided important details, like their names. Other people did this in a more sophisticated way that’s harder to detect, but there still tends to be a feeling that they just filled in my name after “Dear.”

Regardless, the reasoning that supports this kind of activity is misled:

Poetry publication isn’t merely a numbers game. Flooding magazines with a lot careless submission is not better than sending a few careful ones. Fish with all of the solo cups you want — you’ll never land a big catch. You’d be doing yourself a favor, instead, if you did your research, took your time, and equipped yourself for specific conditions of each spot. That way you’re going out to sea with everything that you need.

A lot of articles that talk about how to submit poetry for publication encourage this type of behavior, but it really isn’t worth the time or effort.

So, follow the guidelines. Keep it brief. And with complete clarity respond to every point that the editors ask of you. This approach isn’t too simple. It isn’t too boring. And it doesn’t rob your email of your personality. It’s perfect. And it speaks volumes about your character and judgment — letting your poetry speak for itself.

Ideally, you want some personality to shine through. But the threshold of being excessive is very, very low. Much like poetry, subtly in your submissions is indicative of talent. Always err on the side of professionalism — at least that won’t detract from your work.

Of course, sometimes people make honest mistakes — spelling errors or incorrect attachments to name the minors ones. And that’s ok. I’ve never held it against a poet for sending in an incomplete submission so long as they try again and fix it, and if the problem is obvious enough that I can figure out what they meant, I just keep it to myself. All of the editors I’ve spoken with have had a similar stance.

All-in-all, you can do yourself a big favor if you treat submitting poetry like writing it. Attend to it’s every nuance. Straddle the thin line between revealing too much and too little. Say a lot with few words. Be clear. And care about it.

This doesn’t have to be more work than sending out a lot of copy-paste submissions — just choose fewer publications and use the extra time to focus on writing a good submission for them.

There’s no need to spend an hour on it — just write thoughtfully and you’ll do fine.

Tip 5: Understand Your Rights Over Your Poetry

It might not be a topic that creatives find compelling, but as you navigate the world of poetry publication, you need to understand your rights.

I wrote a poetry copyright guide for the Vita Brevis community that covers all of the basics of copyright. You can read it below:

Tip 6: Avoid These Things in Your Submission

This definitely isn’t relevant to you, but I’ve received enough strange emails to make it worth stating: There aren’t any mind games that you can play with editors that will increase your chances of publication beyond sending in your best work exactly as they want it.


If I can summarize every “how to submit poetry for publication” article on the internet, it’s “Send in your best work.

At this point, I’m speaking to a very small — but not nonexistent — audience. Don’t use novel fonts that are associated with prodigious works (like heavily ornate serif fonts that seem lifted from the Constitution). Long words are rarely impressive and can almost always be avoided, so don’t use those either. Don’t send in YouTube video submissions if no one asked for them. And don’t send in multi-color type to be eye-catching — it just makes it that much harder to format the poem if it’s accepted.

Finally, don’t analyze your own work. A bit of background is justified, though not always recommended. But a complete literary analysis of your own poem doesn’t impress editors. They want poems that can speak for themselves.

To address a more general audience: It turns out the simplest solution is the best. Be genuine, respectful, and professionally casual — and let your poetry speak for itself. This is faster, easier, and you’ll have nothing to worry about.

Quick Tip

The most useful way to improve an already concise and professional submission is by making it clear that you understand the magazine’s theme and have only submitted work that you deem relevant to that theme. It’s one thing to follow the letters of the law, but that shouldn’t be at the expense of the spirit of the law.

Seriously, if you have a comprehensive understanding of the magazine you’re submitting to, it won’t go unnoticed. Even if your poem is still rejected, charming the gatekeeper is never a bad thing. Especially if you plan on coming back.

Tip 7. Picking the Right Frame

None of these tips will guarantee publication. But if you’re careful and thorough in both creating and researching your submissions, then you’ll give the editor’s only one thing to worry about: your poetry. At the end of the day, everything else should come secondary.

But though your submission is just a frame for your poetry, it has to be picked with care — though it can compliment your work, it can also ruin it.

So, don’t frame the Mona Lisa in neon pink. And don’t frame a Pollack piece in rich, Rococo wood. Though there are museums that would proudly display either, if you’re exhibiting it at the wrong place, you’re going to get shot down.

Next time you send in your work, remind yourself that you don’t need to go overboard to be impressive. The “right” way to submit your poetry happens to be the simple way. So, with a bit of care and thoughtfulness, you’ll do just fine.

And that means you can worry less about your submission and more about your poetry. So get writing and enjoy the world of poetry publication — it doesn’t have to be a frightful place.

If you want to connect with emerging poets and receive a weekly batch of poetry, join the Vita Brevis Poetry Network!

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About Vita Brevis Press | A Resource for Poets

Vita Brevis Press is a bestselling small publisher dedicated to emerging and established poets, circulating their work in an online magazine and in physical anthologies. Vita Brevis Poetry Magazine publishes some of the best emerging poets out there, pairing their work with tonally relevant artwork

For the first time in nearly five years, Vita Brevis is closed for submission. Read the full story here.

Vita Brevis Press has published two #1 bestselling new-release poetry anthologies. The first anthology, Pain & Renewal, explores the highs and lows of the human experience. The second anthology, Brought to Sight & Swept Away, explores the many faces of time. A third anthology is forthcoming.

48 thoughts

  1. Thank you, Brian. Very useful and helpful information. The more I learn about the craft, the more I realize like most things in life it lives in relationship. I will remember this next time, I submit a piece of work. Jordan

    1. Dear Brian: I am fortunate enough to surf your innovative tips meant for getting a poem published. I will send my poem soon. With regards.
      Dr Nar Deo Sharma India.

  2. I enjoyed reading this. Thank you, Brian. And I do remember that the first time I submitted something to you, I forgot to send the attachment–and you let actually replied and asked for it. That bit of thoughtfulness has stayed with me.

  3. Thank you Brian, for your very informative article, and I enjoyed reading your Tips. I’ve not being doing any online submissions lately, my poetry energies have been immersed in my writing of poems. I suppose it’s time for me to start submitting some poems again.

  4. Thank you for an extremely informative and well articulated post. I found it very helpful. I would also like to thank you for publishing my very first submission anywhere, A Touch of Summer (Vita Brevis, July 10th.Ed.). Hope to submit another work soon. Have a great day.

  5. An excellent article Brian with lots of useful information and insights. I need to work on Tip 2!

    Very early on, I found an article that suggested setting rejection goals. Aiming for 100 rejections in a year, and you’re sure to get a few acceptances. It was strangely liberating as it turned a negative into a positive, and I’m still doing it……..

  6. Many thanks Brian for a most informative piece R/T @CJBLACK2012 thank you for your words of encouragement on my last submission to Vita Brevis and your publication of my poem Picture of The Mind (1) look forward to mailing off more submission for your consideration in the near future. Regards Chris.

  7. I agree with pretty much everything you say here Brian, with One exception. The submission process with every publication can be different! It’s frustrating! This one wants a bio, that one doesn’t. This one wants a PDF, that one wants a Word document, still another wants it copied and pasted directly into the email. One wants your name on the submission document, others want the submission to be blind. And on and on and on!! You get my point. My submitting has slowed to a crawl simply because of ALL of the many differences. I taken to Printing Out the guidelines and going step by step. This is a SLOW and tedious process. Unfortunately, it seems to be just the way it is now. We are at the mercy of the publishers, of course. There seems to be no solution to this.
    I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

    1. Very true, Penny. One thing that constitutes the “thoughtful submission” I talk about in this article is exactly what you’re talking about — taking the time to tailor your poem to the publication.

      I speak a bit about this in another article, I think it’s “Marying off Your Poetry” or something like that. It sounds like you’re a very thoughtful submitter for going through all of this work to follow the rules — editors make these rules for selfish and selfless reasons. Following their rules helps -them- more easily evaluate poetry, but that standardized format in turn helps -poets- get a response sooner, and in many cases, not have to pay reading fees (because the submission process isn’t as gruelling)

      Here’s my issue with this: since editors ultimately decide who does and doesn’t get published, they’ve been put in the ‘rule-maker’ position. That’s justifiable in terms of theme (for continuity of the publication and curation of art the editor appreciates) and file type (for speed and safety from malicious viruses, which are commonly hid as non-PDF/.doc files and could hurt poets if a proxy is infected).

      But beyond those two things, it shouldn’t matter. Fees should only exist for upper tier poetry mags to avoid exploitation (yes magazines need funding, but I’ve managed to do this with donations just fine — a good magazine can attract a community of good, supportive people), name can go anywhere, bio can go anywhere, etc. Your poetry should be the focus — everything else should come second.

      Unfortunately, there are a lot of logistical factors that editors need to account for. But they need to be reasonable about how they ask for them. Most editors I speak with seem like they understand this, but I have seen publications that look more like DMVs than a poetry magazines.

      Running a publication is tough. And trying to submit to publications is tough. But I think poets and editors can find a good middle ground if they can both understand where the other is coming from.

      Editors need to remove as many barriers to publication as possible, and poets need to follow reasonable guidelines. That way, they both lend a hand to one another — It’s a labor of love for both parties, after all

      I hope this is legible. Typed it in one go on my phone

        1. Form a relationship with the editor? So, what you’re saying is that poetry really only means something when you know about the person writing it? Meaning the poem cannot stand on it’s own, you must know about the writer to glean the value of their poetry? Isn’t that the opposite of what poetry is suppose to be and do? Aren’t the words suppose to be enough on their own? That part of this article honestly makes this process seem even more disheartening.

  8. If we are underage, and submitting poetry. How would you like us to present our parent/guardians approval

  9. Found your suggestions/guidelines very helpful. Must submit my poems. Already published a book ‘Sediments of Silence’ (Writers Workshop, Kolkata, 2018). Your guidance would be valuable in the future.

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