Saturday, February 23, 2019

Tobi Alfier - Prepping For Being Published

INSERT /Page Break vs. Enter Enter Enter

The goal for this post is to get our work accepted and published more often. If you’re a submitting poet like I am, you want to be published. I doubt you spend your discretionary time submitting just for the fun of submitting. (NOTE: if you write poetry and you do not submit, you are still a poet. I wrote for years, and the only thing I submitted before 2005 was a letter to the Los Angeles Times food section about ice cream in Paris).

I’m putting on my publisher’s hat today. Let’s talk about what things we can do as writers that may make our work easier for journals to accept, format, and publish.  I can speak mostly just for Jeff and I as editors, and for myself as a submitting poet. If I know anything about other journals/publishers, I’ll include that below.

Most important of all, read the guidelines. I cannot stress that enough. This is where you will learn not only the aesthetics of a journal, but what they are expecting. If they ask for three, five, or seven poems, send them three, five, or seven poems. If you just send one, you lose out on possibly having more than one accepted. The journal also can’t get a feel for how you are as a writer.

If there’s a theme, some journals are 100% on theme, some aren’t. We are 100 % on theme and will not even consider other poems. If the guidelines don’t say, you can always drop a quick email under the “contact us” tab and ask. That’s what that tab is for.

If the journal uses Submittable, check Submittable first. There may be information under the “more” drop-down than what is on the website.

Embarrassing digression: I recently emailed a publisher to find out when their window opened for reading poetry. He said they read poetry year round, and it was on the website. No, it wasn’t. When I went to Submittable and clicked on “more” next to poetry submissions, it said they read year round. I felt like an idiot. Not the first time I’ve asked this publisher a dumb question.

You may have a writing style that’s unusual, and may be perceived as difficult to understand. In particular, lack of punctuation, and allowing Word to capitalize the first word in each line can leave people scratching their heads in confusion. Hard to read, means hard to accept for publication. If it’s your style, it’s your style.

Occasionally we see poets who write completely in lower case but the poems are punctuated so they’re understandable. That is also a style.

Ampersands (&) instead of “and” is a style.

Oxford Commas are an unusual animal. For those of you to whom this is new, it’s a comma between the last two items on a list. I use it. Not everyone does. Whatever is submitted to us, we’ll use. Some journals change all accepted work to include Oxford Commas. We don’t.

San Pedro River Review (SPRR) is an international journal. Some of our contributors use different spellings, i.e. “favour” vs. “favor”, “colour” vs. “color”. We leave the spellings as submitted. I know some journals change all spellings and cite the Chicago Manual of Style. Again, we don’t.

Remember, as poets, we submit poems with 8 ½ x 11 formats. Most journals are 5 ½ x 8 ½, or 6 x 9. If your poems have long lines, they’re going to wrap. You might not care, but if you submit a poem that’s in couplets, you will now have a couplet with three lines. Again, you might not care, but the publisher won’t know that. You have just brought things to a grinding halt until the publisher finds out what you want to do. On the bright side, they’ve probably already accepted your poem, but now they have to wait for an answer from you. Be aware of your line lengths.

Prose poems are a bit different because it’s understood that they’re margin-to-margin, and whatever those margins are, that’s how long the line will be.

Dialog is not something you’d necessarily expect in a poem, but sometimes it’s appropriate, and still poetic. Some poets put dialog in quotes and some use italics. I like to use italics. If you use italics, be sure you use a font that works well with them, especially if you’re putting a manuscript together. For example, I love Garamond, but if I have any italics at all, I use Times New Roman 12. It’s what most publishers like anyway, it’s easy to read, and italics work well. Even when my son does essays for school, he writes the text in Garamond and the italics in Times New Roman. Remember, you want your poems to be as readable as possible so they’ll be accepted.

The Man Exercises His Bounteous Creativity

Before they met she would write him
you are the artist, pose me.
He would drape her with words
on eggplant couches against pale walls,
everything in “one’s” –
one knee up, one reddish curl
over white skin,
one extra button opened to lay bare
one collarbone that signaled
come here, touch.

Those keyboard strokes
became his photographs,
every exposure a love
letter to somewhere –
the impossibility of imagination
or ancient bricks that used
to house a hive of life, its clock
stopped a hundred years ago,
train stations longing for the lovers
who met there and bridges
where stories came alive.

He photographed the smell of figs,
shades of blue beyond
comprehension, other buildings
and broken angels.  He painted
new words in unfamiliar language,
walked miles, taking in magnolia
after blowsy, overblown magnolia
and webs of long-gone spiders
luminous in twilight sun.
He dreamt that the red front door
of an empty house opened
just for him, and that music
was playing.  The next day
he bought a clarinet.

Previously published in Illya’s Honey

I could keep going for ages; maybe part two will be next week, but I don’t want to cut into your writing time any longer. I hope you have some submissions to do (or snowmen to build). So for this week I’ll close with this:

Most journals either want submissions in the body of an email, or as an attachment. With attachments they usually ask you to start each of your poems on a new page. This makes them easier to read, and keep organized.  Some writers hit “Enter” over and over again until they get to a new page.

Please try not to do this.  Often, they hit it one time too many so the poem doesn’t start at the top. When publishers copy and paste the poem into a journal, the “Enters” can mess up the formatting. It’s frustrating. Not a mortal sin, but frustrating. We know how to fix it, but sometimes we don’t see it until we’re reviewing the proof. Everything that takes time means your Contributor Copy is that much later.

When you want to get to a new page in Word, the best way to do it is to hit “INSERT” on the ribbon at the top, then “Page Break” at the far left of the ribbon.

Pretty much everything is forgivable, but remember, the goal is to make it as easy as possible for your work to be accepted. Write well, and send in kick-ass, consistent submissions. I love being in journals with my friends. I want to be in journals with you!!

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Tobi Alfier's most recent collection of poetry is Slices Of Alice. She is also co-editor with Jeff Alfier of the San Pedro River Review. Don't miss Tobi's columns on the craft of poetry: insert your email address in the "Follow By Email" box to the right of this article and you'll be notified every time a new article appears.


  1. The best ice cream is Dreyer's Drumstick. Try it once- you'll never want anything else.

  2. I'm afraid we're going to have to agree to disagree. IN THE STATES...Haagen Dazs Bourbon Praline Pecan, anything green (mint chip, pistachio, green tea), and banana cream pie from Handels. But I was talking about PARIS!!!

  3. Very helpful ideas with a personal appeal. Thank you, Tobi, and looking forward to your next commentary or poetic work. -L. D. Giles

  4. Thank you so much!! I try to write something new every week. It's usually up by Saturday or so. Please keep reading :-) and if there's ever anything specific you'd like me to write about please let me know. I want to be a good resource for you!


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