Seeing your poetry in print can be a wonderful feeling, but the poetry market is one of the hardest to break into. The rejection letters can really pile up, and that can lead to some discouragement. But rejection letters should not get the would-be poet down. There are more markets available than many poets realize. Part of the trick to seeing one’s poetry in print is knowing where to start.
I have found The Poet’s Market to be one of the best guides for locating good markets, paying or otherwise. The book gives nice listings, with a good description and thorough information, for nearly 2,000 different markets. There are also a series of indexes for making navigation through the various listings a little easier. My favorite index is probably the one that lists the markets by “openness to new poets.” Poets who are still in the early stages of getting their work published will find this especially useful. A realistic approach about the markets most suitable for one’s own work is very important for the poet who hopes to see his or her work in print for many years to come. While “starting small” might be uncomfortable for some, it is the surest path to success. Even if the earlier publications are not in paid markets, it can be very helpful in building up a track record, and in helping you learn the ropes of working with a literary magazine.
Another useful resource for poets who want to see their work in print is Poets & Writers. The magazine always has a good classifieds section. At their website, you can find a submission calendar that will help you stay more disciplined, if you follow the deadlines listed there. The online classifieds section, like the print version, includes calls for manuscripts in magazines and anthologies, as well as calls for chapbook submissions.
Similarly, you will find good listings for potential markets at the Once Written and the Poetry in the Arts websites. Christian writers might like to have a look at the Utmost Christian Poets website.
When you have begun submitting poetry, you will find that you get several different sort of rejection letters from editors (and you are bound to get some rejection letters). I have found it helpful to sort through these letters and find those that offer some feedback on the poems I sent to them. For the most part, editors who take the time to respond to your work, even if they are rejecting it, do so because there is some potential for a future relationship between you and the magazine. Take note of which poems the editor liked best, and why s/he rejected them. This will give you a clue to what sort of poems to send to that market the next time around.
Once you get a foot in the door and begin to see your work in print, it becomes a little easier to have more poetry accepted for publication. This is partly, perhaps, because your credibility within the publishing community has gone up. I think, though, that it is equally because the poet becomes a little more savvy in knowing where to submit. Having seen which types of publications like your work helps you decide where to submit in the future. If you find magazines that are similar to those you have already worked with, then you should submit to them. One way to find such publications is to note where the magazines that have accepted your work are sold, and find what other literary publications are also sold there.
The most common advice I hear when I am submitting poetry is, “Don’t give up.” I will pass echo that advice, along with these tips for where to find good markets. A rejection letter does not mean the poem is not good enough to get into print. It only means that it is not suitable for that particular publication. The best response to a rejection letter is to look at the poem again (particularly if the editor has given you some feedback), and rethink where you will submit it next.