Submission Tips


I am often contacted by writers who want a book published. I have one "must" rule for writers submitting book manuscripts here - you must first appear in Cholla Needles magazine. If your work isn't good enough to appear in the magazines, we're not going to publish your book.

That saves me a lot of reading of poor material, because folks instinctively know when their work isn't good enough for a magazine. A magazine reaches a wide audience, and many writers these days are only writing for themselves and could really care less about an audience.

If you're still with me, you're now interested in submitting to a literary magazine. In the golden oldies days, we were taught to read an issue or two before submitting. With 27,000+ literary magazines in the United States alone, it’s impossible to learn them all these days, but you can still pick a few to start with.

So, where do you start? My suggestion is to find a writer you admire, and see where the poems in their book were published. Most will have between 5 & 12 different magazine credits in their acknowledgements. Google the magazines and find out how to get a copy of the magazine. Read a copy and see if you admire at least a few of the writers in there. If you don't, then why would you want your work to appear there? Chances are great if you dislike everything in the issue, the editor(s) will dislike your work. Sending your work there is wasting your time and their time.

If you love two or three of the writers in the issue (or more) then you'd be pleased to have your work appear in that magazine. So, now it's time to check their submission requirements. Here's the kicker - many magazines it's best to follow their directions and double check before shipping off the manuscript, whether electronically, or by mail. Some weirdos, like myself, have very loose requirements. I'll explain why we are loose here.

I find I like/love poetry that moves readers. I really could care less about the writer - who they are, or all their credits. My heart is focused on giving the readers a great experience. So, writers who are great at what they do but lousy at following step by step instructions on which font to use, or which program to use, or using some on-line submittal process that they're forced to subscribe to is already being set up by the system to fail. Alternatively, I'm looking for folks who communicate well, not folks who are rich enough to afford at do all the technical stuff, and have the spare time to cross their I’s and dot their t’s. If you love to write for others to read, and you're homeless but can make your way to a library or a friend’s house to send an e-mail, you're welcome here in the same manner as people who have won 200 different awards and are poet laureates of wherever they hang out. Just remember, that’s odd, and that's me. And you'll see on our submission page - send 6-12 poems to introduce yourself and get the conversation started. We'll know pretty quick if we can get along.

But, that's just here. If you're sending to Super Poets Anonymous Circle Magazine and they want a word document with 4 1/2 poems, using Tambler Font, and no names on the poem pages, with a separate page with Poem Titles and your name, then - do as you're asked. You've already seen copies and you know you love the magazine, so follow directions. And don't worry so much that every magazine has different rules. That's part of the process, no different than going to high school and having to make 30+ teachers pass you through their classes for four years. They all had different rules, and you made it through. If you're writing great material but couldn't get through High School, well you've got a magazine like ours to submit to because you're most likely lousy at following rules.

Another often asked question is "who owns the poems?" 99.9% of the time you'll find in literary magazines a disclaimer that says - all rights revert to the author upon publication. So, the poems always belong to you, and you will be able to include the poem(s) that appears in the literary mag in your eventual book.  Most magazines will also have the right to include your work in any future anthology they put out, and that's a good thing for you. 

So, your next question is "what about the .1%?" I've ran across that only once in my time (I first started submitting work in 1965). It's kinda rotten - they will ask you for a fee to republish your own work in a book. It's not common, so don't worry too much.

A similar question is: "will an editor steal my work?" That seems a bit absurd. I can't say it's impossible because I simply do not know everything. But think about it - everyone has a personal style. If someone made a living stealing poetry written by others, they'd have no distinct style, and thus never gain the audience necessary to become known as a poet.  Every editor I know becomes an editor because they love sharing the genius work of other writers. And every editor I know is constantly on the lookout for new voices who have something to say.

Yes, you'll run across the story of "Footprints", which has made $$$ for many different people besides the author. That’s because the author had the work published in a pamphlet which was not copyrighted. That story is well-known, but I've never heard of others like it. Lesson there is an easy one. Check that the magazines you bought sample copies of and love are copyrighted. You'll find 99% of the print magazines are - to protect you as a writer and the magazine. Do be aware that of the 27,000+ magazines, many are on-line and run by well-meaning people, but they are totally unaware of things like Copyrights and ISSN numbers. So do be aware that work published in those places are in the "public domain", and could theoretically be used by anyone. Thing is - most writers are serious and want to express themselves, not express what others expressed. So even if you find your work published on one of those 20,000 websites, chances are great you'll never have your work "stolen". Unless it is something like "Footprints", which has universal appeal. Check the copyright notices - make sure your editor knows about it.

Next question - "Rejections". Inevitable. If you find yourself being accepted by every magazine you submit to, you're choosing the wrong magazines to submit to. Seriously. There are on-line magazines that publish everything they receive. That's fine and good, but will not allow you to grow as a writer. Find editors who will work with you to make your work represent you in the very best light. Some of what I've said thus far may make you think I'm against on-line magazines. That's not true at all. There are 100-200 powerfully great on-line magazines. But they, like print magazines, will reject work that does not work in their magazine, and will encourage writers to re-submit if something is 90% "there". You'll also see those sites have an ISSN number and a Copyright notice. In other words, the editor(s) have been educated and are interested in protecting you and your work, as well as their reputation as a serious literary magazine.      

Anything else you should know? Sure.

1) Be nice to editors. You're talking about the people who you may be hitting up in the future as a reference if you apply for a full-time job as a writer. Cussing out editors who reject you is a weird way to try to succeed. This is a good place to say - rejection does not mean your work is poor or absolutely needs to be revised. It simply means you haven't found the right audience yet.

2) Having your work appear regularly in 4 or 5 different magazines will help you when you're ready to get an agent - you're letting the agent know that there are a handful of editors out there who are able to work with you. When you approach an agent, they will be sending your work to editors, and they need to know you're able to work with different editors. Winning the "Glass Houses Poetry Prize" will mean nothing, unless you have other publications on your resume. Winning The “Pulitzer Prize” is another matter altogether.

3) Having your work appear in 300 literary magazines means next to nothing to serious folks like agents or book publishers. Using that as a calling card simply means you are not part of a specific literary community, nor do you wish to be. You've probably not even read this far because I obviously believe in building a literary community, so I'll shut up about that theme.

4) Be careful about telling editors about being a "loser". A common calling card I get from writers is "I've been nominated for 37 prizes". Since it appears on the websites of so many poor writers, and even on book covers by poor writers, it's become something that new writers cherish. Again, think it through. If you win a prize, that's excellent – be proud of that. If you've been nominated along with 180,000 other people, well you look ridiculous even talking about it. I am an editor and I nominate people for prizes all the time. I never tell them, unless they win. I know the temptation is there for people to use losing as a "badge" because many other writers do it. Don't fall into the trap of bragging about losing.

So. . . time to stop reading the tips and get back to writing. Do submit to literary magazines. Make good connections with good people, be professional, expect and accept rejection, and continue to grow confident that you are a writer. Let everyone you talk to know you are a writer, even if you've yet to be published. You will be published when you've found the right audience. From there you'll gain confidence to submit to other magazines, which means more connections with editors and readers. One of my many joys as an editor is letting writers know when readers send me specific notes about work that makes a strong impact on them. You will get into conversations with actual readers beyond the editor. Good times!!!

r soos was the editor of Seven Stars from 1973-1998, and is currently the editor of Cholla Needles from 2017 to the present day. Both are monthly literary magazines. Click here for how to submit to Cholla Needles.