An email I sent yesterday, or, how to submit well 9 Comments

One of our submissions this cycle was from a writer, over 25, from the US. He/she pasted six poems into his/her email, but failed to paste into it a number of the details we ask for, altogether ignoring at least four discrete elements of our submission guidelines. We have gotten a few of these kind of submissions in the past, but never one this bad. In case it wasn’t obvious, I don’t intend to name the author here, but I would like to post my response below, because I hope it might be useful and/or interesting.

Hi X,

thanks for getting in touch with us. Unfortunately, we only publish authors under 25, a restriction that is not only required by our funders but also the key objective of our entire publication. (We also ask that people submit no more than three poems, and do not copy and paste their work into the email.)

I note that you ask for any typos to be pointed out and any helpful suggestions to be made, so allow me to do both.

Firstly, the second sentence of your bio uses ‘heavy’ instead of ‘heavily’.

Secondly, I would recommend being more discerning with regard to what and where you submit. Obviously you have not looked at our submission guidelines, let alone what our magazine is about. I imagine you’re working off a list of publications like duotrope, and maybe that’s been working for you, but I would urge you to be more strategic nonetheless. While I acknowledge your publishing credentials, this shotgun, see-what-sticks approach suggests to me above all that you don’t care about the poems themselves, or at least that they are not your primary goal. Publication alone should not be your objective here, getting a lot of mediocre work out there in publications that you don’t even know does not demonstrate a love of literature, nevermind literary success. You are attempting to win the game of publication, when it’s not about that at all. It will not prove satisfying in the long run; I doubt it is truly satisfying now. I can assure you that none of your influences did or would attempt to achieve success this way. Getting published and ‘making it’ is difficult, we all know that, but this is not the way to achieve it. What will make you stand out is quality writing and sincere, considered submissions. And if that doesn’t bring you the success you desire, well, at least it will give you genuine satisfaction.

Sorry to ramble like that, but I genuinely hope that this is helpful to you. I believe all of it.


  • Sam van Zweden

    Oh, wow… It’s just beyond me exactly what some people think they’re doing.
    Fantastic response to a fantastically puzzling approach to getting respected and published!

  • phill

    The first rule of submit club is always read the submission guidelines.
    The second rule of submit club is always read the submission guidelines.
    The third rule of submit club is to use a sniper rifle rather than a shotgun.

    I liked the bit about the ‘publication game’. Duotrope et al. are useful tools, but for some reason they tend to inspire a certain kind of person to think in terms of statistics rather than storytelling.

  • Johannes Jakob

    I don’t want to harsh too much on the author themselves, since that’s even more unprofessional than this approach to submissions, but rather to discuss the motivations behind doing things this way. He/she has told me that they have over 2000 editors that they submit to. As phill alludes to, what the hell has happened that writing has become for some people this elaborate game you play, where there are statistics involved and it’s all about getting published, no matter what it is or where it appears? What kind of mythology has the (emerging) writer’s industry built around itself, where it can be misinterpreted so severely?

    • phill

      I think that the increased availability of online submission processes has contributed greatly to the number of ‘scattershot’ submissions. If all it takes to submit is the attachment of a piece of writing and a quick cover letter, versus actually buying a magazine and getting submission details from there…well, you lose that barrier that used to chop out some of the less dedicated writers. The slush pile, as they keep telling us, is getting ever slushier.

      Also–and perhaps this is branching off a little–but some of the behaviour may be down to writer bios. You know, those bios where the author reels off twenty or thirty places they have been published or have pieces forthcoming, most of which are obscure but sound impressive. Publication envy might lead to an ambitious writer engaging in this kind of practise.

  • Alex

    I’m guilty of sending probably hundreds of emails in my attempts to kick down doors in TV-Land. I know this is a little bit different to the publication game but a lot of the same stuff applies. If you actually like/know/respect the publication/program you’re applying to, everyone will get more out the exchange. The really stupid thing is that in our Google dominated world there really is no excuse. It takes five minutes to look someone up and get a little bit in the know.

    Also what is this “Duotrope” of which you all speak? I could take my own advice and Google it but this is far too much fun.

    • Johannes Jakob

      Duotrope ( is an online database of journals that accept unsolicited submissions. It’s really quite good for finding places to send your work, but only to a point – I hate to think how many people find something there and, rather than reading the magazine, go ahead and send them something. It also breeds these statistics of average response time, percentage of accepted submissions, etc., as part of the publication meta-game we’ve been talking about.

      • phill

        About the only statistic I pay attention to is the ‘average days until response received’, and that’s only because it prevents me refreshing my inbox all day, every day for months on end. All the rest are heavily skewed towards those who have their pieces accepted. A majority are not going to report their failures.

  • Sam van Zweden

    I think perhaps the emerging writers’ industry looks deceptively simple to the many people who aren’t willing to put in the time. And I don’t think it’s anything that’s coming from within, but maybe just a trapping of any art – that every second person can decide they can partake. “Oh, yes, I have a digital camera and a flickr account, I’m a photographer!”
    And this isn’t a personal attack on the person in the above post, more of a general observation. I think it happens in all art forms, which is a pity, because unless you’re involved it’s a bit easy to miss how much work goes into getting published, or exhibited, or aired, etc etc.
    Hopefully though it’s all becoming less of a mystery, at least in Melbourne I know there’s plenty of opportunities to understand what it’s all about, for both readers and writers. So the gap may be closing.

  • Megan

    Wow, really interesting.

    Even an amature writer such as myself knows to follow submission guidelines to the letter. As agents say, they will say an automatic ‘no’ to anyone who doesn’t follow their guidelines.

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