Submitting Etiquette: How Many Poems Should You Really Send?
Recently, someone wrote to The Review Review with a question. We thought it an interesting one, and opened it up to the fine folks of Facebook. Here is the question and some answers:
Dear Review Review,
Is it possible that if I were to, say, send two poems to a journal, there is a good chance they will both be rejected because one poem was not as good as the other? To put it another way, do I have a better chance if I submit the "better" poem by itself?
Susan Tepper, author of The Merrill Diaries:
Why do writers have to 'over think' every rejection (and submission)? Just send what you feel is great and hope it fits their ideal of their mag. If it doesn't, then move on to the next mag...In a batch of 5 poems, four can be bad and one can be fantastic. I'll print the fantastic poem any day...I believe that the writers who haggle over what to do, what to do, just waste their brain energy. Write something new and you'll be better off for it.
Devin McGuire, editor of Unorean Poetry Broadsheet:
One poor poem in a batch of five won't lead an editor to reject them all just because that one was poor. Even four poor poems in a batch of five does nothing to take the gleam away from a decent poem of publishable quality. I'd suggest always sending as many poems as allowable per the publications guidelines. To me that increases ones chance at publication. An editor's job is to find the diamond in the rough. Poet's who go with this train of thought might think they're doing the editor a favor by presenting what they think is the diamond. Don't play these mind games with yourself or Editors. Send the best you've got, and if the best you've got is only one poem then you're not very prolific and should perhaps spend some more time with the craft until you've got a greater body of work you can be proud of.
Ellie O'Leary, host of Writers Forum on WERU-FM:
It's a good question. Writers don't want to just move on to the next mag using a hit or miss method. The writer asking the question is trying to make the best use of their time and submission technique.
Ralph Pennel, editor of Midway Journal:
It's entirely possible some editors operate that way, [i.e.] "Throw the baby out with the bath water" under the auspices that they've no time to read the rest if they don't like what they see right away. But, obviously, not all do. Editors ask for more than one piece because they want a sense of the poet's range and aesthetic. This is difficult to determine from one piece. Plus, sending multiple pieces actually increases the likelihood the editor/publisher will find something he or she likes. And, most journals will take two from a set of five or so if they like what they see. This gives their readers a chance to get to know the poet's range and aesthetic, too. Poetry is subjective. An author can't know with complete certainty which of his or her pieces an editor will like. Moral of the story: send it out. send it out often. If you don't trust a piece, trust that instinct. If you get editorial feedback on a piece, take it. Revise. Send it out into the world again. Someone out there will love your work.
Lynne Barrett, author of Magpies:
There seem to be two sides here: From the Editor's: I agree with Susan that the editor is going to pick a good poem, even if it is in the ed's view the only good one in a batch of five. Happens all the time. From the writer's side: You shouldn't send a poem you wouldn't like to see published, so if you KNOW it's not that, don't send it out. But if you'd like to see work published, send it, and leave the choosing to the editors.
Michael Nye, editor of Missouri Review:
Hmmm ... if you know that one poem isn't "as good" then aren't we saying it isn't really ready for publication? Aren't there enough mediocre poems in the world? I think a poet should send X amount of poems (whatever the journal guidelines suggest) that the poet feels are wonderful, ready, and demanding to be read.
It is an interesting question, but I personally think submitting more than one is better. You never know an editor's tastes and submitting only one or two pieces decreases the likelihood of an acceptance. As an editor, I don't mind rejecting (even personally disliking) several of a submission's poems, but accepting the one I really do like. On another note, though, if you think/feel as if one of your own poems is not good, then you should probably be working on revising it, rather than submitting it anywhere.
Allie Marini Batts, author of You Might Curse Before You Bless:
No way of knowing which one the editors will think is "better"-- but submissions of one piece do indicate a confidence in that piece-- "courting" the editor, if you will.
Erica Borgerson, writer and reviewer:
What an interesting question. Can't wait for the feedback. I've also wondered if they would take one (or two) but not a third, for example of a submitted set. I would assume, yes, and that it is part of the reason so many request submissions of up to 3 or 4 poems, but I've never known. One of the mysteries of submitting!
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