How To Make Friends and Influence Poetry Editors

By Charles P. Ries

Writing careers are two simultaneous journeys—one is to become good at the craft, and the other is to find an audience, which often means cultivating the good graces of editors and publishers. Like it or not, this requires conscious effort or what many call self-promotion because if you don’t do it, who will (other then your mother).

We poets often run from or don’t have a clue about the give-and-take, ebb-and-flow of self-marketing and the good old-fashioned American hard-sell. Successful writing careers can happen without self-promotion—after all writing is its own reward. But most of us will have to make our own good luck. So how do we go about making some? Here are a few suggestions you might consider to reach a wider, adoring audience:

1: Your mother always told you to say please and thank you.  I am telling you to always say please and thank you.

One has to think years down the road.  Not tomorrow or next month, but years down the road.  You are slowly building your network. Relationships are constructed one thoughtful touch at a time. Every productive opportunity to communicate with an editor or publisher is a good one. These meaningful touches do not have to be big, but they do need to be purposeful. So when you get a rejection or an acceptance from an editor, it’s a good time to say thank you or something nice about their magazine because you have actually read it. Rest assured, each and every kindness counts—good manners matter—your mother was right.

2:  The creation of an editor/publisher is their magazine.  So get to know it and get to know them.

One of my favorite poetry editors lives on money from disability.  Each Christmas I send him a box of cheese and something stupid and funny. Sometimes he takes my work, and sometimes he doesn’t. I don’t care. I just like what he does with so little and I let him know it. I go to great lengths to personalize my greetings with editors and publishers. I try to address them by their first names or make sure I spell their last names correctly. A few times a year I connect with everyone in my electronic address book. I might send them a holiday greeting, an interesting book review, articles I have enjoyed, or links to news stories about poetry. Only a few have asked me to remove them from my e-mail list. I assume every time you submit work to publication, you add the name of the editor and publication to your contact list?  If you don’t, I encourage you to. It’s a long journey. Every step along the way gives you a chance to both collect and create something of relevance and value.

3:  Love the editors and publishers who love you. If you do, the sex will get better over time, and who doesn’t like really good sex? 

Researchers say that the best sex is between couples who have been together for a long time.  Yes, even really old couples have better and more meaningful sex then young, hot and restless hormones. So if you find an editor who wants to date you, stick with them. Over the years I have extended my network of writing outlets, because I have made loyalty the lubricant of my relationships with editors.

4:  Live in a poetry world that is bigger than just you.  Feed yourself while you feed others.

One of the things editors really like (oh, and I have been poetry editor to three online magazines) are writers who write for others. Writers who not only want their work published, but are just as passionate about supporting the work of others. When you provide editors with reviews, essays, articles and other non-fiction content it says, I love the work.  All three on-line publications that I became the poetry editor for were places I was loyal to and created lots of non-poetry content for.

5:  Subscribe and be nice to all small press magazines, and their long-suffering, dedicated editors and publishers.

This seems too blatant to even talk about, but knowing how cheap some of you are, I just feel I have to say it. If, over time, you want publishers to really consider your work, I can assure you that subscribing to their publication will not be viewed as a form of insult. I promise you, nothing bad will happen to your writing career or reputation if you subscribe to their publication.  At one time I subscribed to over 40 poetry publications. I was getting so many I couldn’t get around to reading most of them, but I figured if I was going to play the game, I needed to support the game. Some of these magazines have never published my work, but I will bet you they know I am a subscriber—eventually (I figure) my day will come. And that’s the point: we plant seeds for the future.

If you want editors and publishers to love you, publish your work, recommend you to other editors and generally think, gee-wiz this is a really nice poet-guy, then why don't you treat them like you would someone you are trying to romance?  If you think they are cute, sensitive, and well laid out, then why in the world would you ever stop trying to get a date?  More than 50% of success in the literary world is patient, persistence, and good manners.  Oh, and a little thoughtful self-promotion.