Why submit poems to literary journals at all? Because journals are distributed widely, allowing many people in many places to read your work. And if you hope to eventually have a collection accepted by a publisher, an established history of publication in journals will be an important factor in the publisher’s decision.
But not in just any journals! “Will they accept my work?” is not the only question I consider. So before I talk about how to go about choosing journals, I’d like to show you a compilation of advice from Winning Writers that could save you trouble later on. It is soberly introduced by the following:
CONTESTS AND SERVICES TO AVOID
We suggest you avoid the following contests and organizations. Many appear to be disguised vanity publishers, whose goal is to sell you expensive personalized products and attract you to conferences. Others may charge you membership or service fees for which the benefits are questionable, or which can be obtained elsewhere for free. Winning prizes from these organizations will add little to your resume, and may even make you look amateurish to publishers and other poets.
Their list of organizations to avoid is here.
As Sergeant Esterhaus on Hill Street Blues used to say, Let’s be careful out there.
I was lucky enough to never encounter a literary scam—I began by beating my head against a different wall. When I first began submitting poems five years ago, I went right to the top, to The New Yorker. What was I thinking?
Submitting poems to The New Yorker is a waste of effort for even most established poets. Here is an entertaining article by David Cameron at The Review Review that makes quite vivid just how much of a waste of effort it may be. For a beginner like myself with a tiny portfolio of what I will gingerly refer to as “early work”… well, let’s just say I’m glad I have a hard head when it comes to rejection notices. A writer needs one. Stephen King said this about rejections in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft:
By the time I was fourteen the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.
Rejection comes in many forms — not only explicitly, in emails and letters. I had a conversation with a journal editor who looked through the sheaf of my poems that was on the table in front of us and told me how good they were. I never heard from her again. When such things happen, don’t bother the editor. Just take Stephen King’s advice and go on writing.