Each semester, students in my MFA program must read a number of submissions for The Louisville Review and vote yes/no/maybe on submissions. This exercise is invaluable for preparing writers to approach the publication process by instilling immediate and intimate familiarity with the editorial side of the process, and below I’ve shared an except from my mid-semester post reading report. We were asked, “What advice would you offer a writer seeking publication?”
Your cover letter or bio is important. Whether you’ve been published five thousand times and currently teach at U.C. Berkeley or have never been published and work as a janitor at a YMCA is far less relevant than the tone you take with the poetry editors. One cover letter I read which negatively impacted my reading of the poems crossed the line into boastful territory, claiming that some muckity-muck critic found the submitter’s poems “terrific! Beyond compare!” If the work is good, it will stand on its own merits. Please don’t insult your editor by appealing to the praises others have given to the submitted pieces.
Another wrote, “If this submission is too long, just arbitrarily truncate it.” Really? That shows such a lack of respect for his own writing, so why should an editor care about the endings of his poems– or the beginnings and middles, for that matter—if the poet doesn’t? Be professional, be polite, don’t be flippant or arrogant. And please, please spellcheck your own work before submitting it.
This semester, I found that many of my notes as I was reading submissions focused on how professionally the poems were presented, including the bio and cover letter, and I learned that an editor’s decision can and will be influenced by how deftly we market our own work.