Let’s start here: the way I see it, poetry rejection leaves you with two options:
- First, you could keep trying to send out 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 (who isn’t these days?), 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. Sometimes it keeps your work authentic.
- But I’m partial to another approach, 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.
Let’s take a closer look at the second option.
Taking the Active Approach
Poetry publication isn’t a numbers game (I cover this in-depth in my guide to poetry publication). 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, you’ll need to do a bit of research. Try to think like an editor. Or better yet, try 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 you should send in.
Poetry Publications are their Editor’s Dating Profiles – Are You a Good Match?
If you’ll allow some poetic license here, poetry publication read like a 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 call for 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 accepted at The New Yorker or Tin House, but they might currently be out of our league. And learning that can help you figure out how to find poetry magazines that really resonate with your style.
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 ideal audience — and your time could have been better spent pitching a like-minded magazine. Why settle with someone who merely tolerates your work if there’s a magazine out there filled with people who would love it?
Arrange a Happy Marriage for your Poems
Just like poetry publications will be selective of poets, poets ought to 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.
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.
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.