Friday, April 06, 2007

Protocol, Baby

Just about every magazine or small press outlet in existence has something that sets it aside from other magazines, submission-wise. These requirements change depending on what you write, and who you're submitting to. For instance, a poet submitting to a small-to-mid press usually needs a simple cover letter that gives a brief hello and states what's been sent, possibly a small biographical note as well, though many publications don't require anything but the poetry and your name. Some ask that you send a truncated list of your publication credits, while some get annoyed if you send them this. A novelist, when submitting to a major publisher or agent, however, has more to think about: Query, synopsis, outline, complete bio, cover letter, strategic sample chapters... the works. I'll get into the poetry aspect of this here, and post an image of each in addition to some links, but will save information on novel protocols for a later post (later meaning: when I've written a few more novels and wouldn't be talking out of my ass).

I've done quite a bit of research over the last few years on the requirements of poetry mags (by 'quite a bit', I mean 'enough to make me sick', and by 'research', I mean 'submitted to over a thousand'.

This is the man I hired to haul my returned poetry off.

And not a one rhymed.

I have decided, for better or worse, to throw a little information down here. Rather than re-state what many other people have already stated (and better than I could), I've decided to resort to links. These all link to articles and outlines on basic protocols for submitting poetry to journals and the like, and I've described a bit of my thoughts, as well.

Cover Letters: Now, the two links at the end of this paragraph are fine. There are better ones, surely, but the best way to learn about getting down a cover letter is to find someone who publishes, and who is willing to let you see their current cover letter. Some poets write one for each magazine they send to, some use a kind of personal template, and some use a preformatted cover letter that they rewrite every few months, with a new bio, etc... In doubt as to what you want to put in your cover letter? Try emailing someone who has a few of them (an editor you've got a friendship with, another poet, an instructor who has published before...). And if you absolutely don't know any of these, email me and I'll send you an example or two.

Bio: A lot of information exists about writing a bio, unfortunately most of the sources you run into tend to give you several paragraphs to really flesh yourself out, when most poetry magazines give you less than a hundred words. Some even say a good bio should be 2 or 3 sentences, tops. Why so short? Because poets are like _______; everybody's got one. Figured out what goes in the blank? That's right: biographies. And you thought it was gonna be 'assholes', admit it. For a bio, just write something to-the-point and don't make things up, unless you think the magazine wants you to. There are a handful of magazines out there that like comedic, bullshit bios, and if you're submitting to one of these, ham it up. If you still need links for some formats and the like: There are others if you google the subject. The best way to write a poet bio is to look at the contributor's pages of various magazines at bios in action. Here's a ton of them:

I've also found that, especially with online publications, it's good to change your bio every now and then. If someone takes interest and looks you up in a search engine, they aren't going to be very interested if every link that pops up has the same bio text under it. While it can be difficult trying to trash-compact your literary life into a couple of sentences, it is a bit humbling to see what you, yourself think is most important, versus what you're trying to convey to an editor.

Submission Formats: These change nearly by magazine. In order to submit something to a magazine, you need to know the way they want to receive it, and your best chance of getting this right is to get your guideline from them, directly. Most magazines have websites, and most of these have guidelines. If in doubt, send something basic and simple. A good rule of thumb, when given no information or when you can't locate guidelines, is a brief cover letter with a short, short bio, and the poems. Put your name and contact info on every page unless you learn they don't want this.

How to Send: Again, this is heavily swayed by the magazine in question. Some will only accept a postal submission with SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope), while some want postal WITHOUT a SASE and will only reply via email. Overseas publications for which you submit by post will likely require IRCs (international reply coupons), though some will simply put your acceptance in you CC (contributor's copy) and send it to you as one package. Some magazines only want online submissions, and of these many will want your poetry in the body of an email in plain text, while some will prefer rich text. Also with online submission, some will want your work in an attached file (and even in specific file formats: .rtf, .doc, .txt, .etc...). There are magazines that have online submission and tracking forms/pages (I find these to be a little grotesque), and there are even SOME magazines that prefer you post your poetry at your own site, and just send them the link (though truthfully, most magazines hate that idea). The protocols for sending your work change, also, with what you're sending. A poem that incorporates visuals or a very specific layout may need some special formatting. If a magazine wants one poem per page, but you've written a load of haiku, they may be fine with several on a page, owing to the small size of that kind of poetry. Read the guidelines. Read the guidelines. Read the guidelines.

Once you've got your submission ironed out and sent, your next task, concerning that submission, is to wait until you get your wondrous response.

A response from a magazine can take anywhere from ten minutes (with an online submission and email response), to 2 full years (I've had it happen several times). This also brings in the idea of rescinsion, which is when you contact a magazine and take back your poems due to extended irresponse or other bizarre problems that can arise. I'll post something on rescinsion next time around. It's a very touchy subject and difficult to manage for a variety of reasons.

A note on guidelines: Most publications, agencies, and publishers have guidelines posted somewhere you can find them, and more often than not, you can find them online quickly. These guidelines can be extremely specific (Send 5-line standard bio, 80-100 words, at bottom of one paragraph cover letter, address in upper right corner, atop a submission of no more than 3 poems, each labeled with line and word counts, as well as your name and contact info on each sheet, in an email attachment, either .rtf format, or .doc, to the following four email addresses...), or they can be enviolably vague (send us good work, just not porn or hate, and be yourself), but these guidelines, no matter how complex or simple, exist for a reason. The most important facet of extending your work onto an editor's desk is following the rules they ask you to. An amazing and well-written synopsis is only an impediment to the editor who requests no synopsis. The idea is to be professional and human, like the editor. Follow the rules, show your stuff, then wait and wait for whatever response you get:

If you get the notion that a certain press has a good sense of humor or a laid-back demeanor, then by all means, have a bit of fun with your submission, but I've found that, in general most magazines, even the humor mags, and publishers prefer a professional approach that adheres to their format and reception system. Don't begin your cover letter with 'hey, what's up?', unless you know the editor, and even then it's still goofy. The basic tenet I use with just about everything is as follows: Submit and interact in the manner you want to be received. Want to be taken seriously? Be serious. It's the submitters version of 'do unto others as you would have them...', that whole thing.

That's about it for now. Submitting is something you should be able to pull off when half-asleep, once you've done it a few times, though I wouldn't advise doing it in this state:

"Dear Ray,

We appreciate your thinking of Skulk Magazine and sending us your interesting poems. Unfortunately, this is Boston Terrier Monthly, not Skulk. Mixed up your email list? Better luck next time, and get some sleep. Sorry to pass on these fine poems you didn't technically send us.


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