Just as an actor needs a stage, a poet needs to publish. Yet how can poets keep track of their submissions in an inexpensive and orderly way? Computer databases offer help with this task, and Submittable and other online tools offer efficient ways to submit and track your submissions, but I use a system that I started before I had a computer—and still prefer it. I write the poem’s title or the entire poem (if short enough) on a 4-by-6-inch index card, and add the places and dates of submission and response. It’s easy to keep track of submissions using these cards, and I can easily shuffle the cards as I decide what to send where, or to sequence them. Because the system is straightforward and uninhibiting, it encourages me to send out my work for publication. Perhaps this system might work for you.
Why keep good records of your poetry submissions?
You avoid repeating a submission—or control or prevent simultaneous submissions.
You keep from submitting previously published work (the more you publish, the more often this is likely to happen).
You can collect publication data for résumé or bibliographical purposes. The data will be helpful if an anthologist requests it, or you may want to list publication credits in books of your own poems.
What to track on index cards when submitting your poetry:
Poem (write the poem on the card if short enough, or keep an alphabetical or numerical master file in a binder or in a computer file that corresponds to your submission cards by title or first line).
Date(s) and place(s) when you wrote/revised the poem, plus notes on composition.
Place submitted (also note how much you spend on entry fees or reading fees, if any):
Journal (note whether it’s print or online)
“ACCEPTED” (I like to put this is capital letters as a small personal celebration);
if submitted for a contest, I write “WON” and state the placement
“Returned” (one need not use the term “Rejected”)
The publication’s full title
Expected volume/issue/date (usually specified by the editor)
Editor’s name (handy to have for future correspondence)
Page number (when a copy is received)
Payment ($ or copies, if any)
Rights you offered or the editor acquired (if different from one-time serial rights)
Name(s) of contest judge(s)
Name of prize won (and $ amount, if any)
Expected name/date/publisher of publication (if any)
Include other miscellaneous notes, such as whether an editor offered comments, or if he or she was helpful, professional, abrasive, or whatever, if you’re asked to resubmit or make a particular revision, or whether the poem appeared with typos. You may also want to keep track of any contracts or proofs (dates received and sent).
Arrangement of index card boxes (separate boxes for each category):
Poems ready for submission (in no particular order).
Poems assigned to journals, awaiting submission (awaiting deadlines or my having time to submit).
Poems currently out for consideration (grouped by publication or contest).
Poems accepted but not yet published (grouped by publication or contest).
Poems that have been published (arranged alphabetically by title or first line); some of these cards go back into box 2 and then box 3 if requested for publication elsewhere, such as in anthologies, or if submitted elsewhere if the publication allows prior publication.
You could also keep another card file for publication addresses, noting when you subscribed or when you need to renew. Other systems are possible to track your poetry submissions, especially online and using database systems on your computer, but this system works for me. Perhaps it will work for you! Whatever system you use, the principles and data referred to here should apply to others systems as well.
Resources to use for making submissions:
Poet’s Market, published annually by Writer’s Digest Books.
Little Magazines & Small Presses and Directory of Poetry Publishers, each published annually by Dustbooks.
Start with local magazines, such as ones available in local bookstores (read your local journals!).
Sample index card for a poem listed by title:
“Ode on a Grecian Urn”
Written: July 1819, Hampstead Heath (at cricket match between Hampstead Harriors and Devon Allstars)
Romantic Poets Monthly — 9 Aug 1819 (£2 reading fee!) — Returned 10 Dec 1819 (slow!)
C. and J. Ollier — 12 Dec 1819 — Returned 24 Dec 1819
Taylor and Hessey — 5 Jan 1820 — ACCEPTED 7 Feb 1820 (Editor John Taylor suggested changing “Beauty is love, love beauty” to “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” which isn’t half bad.)
Published in Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems (London: Taylor and Hessey), 1 July 1820.