Publishing poetry is like a bill becoming a law?

Maybe. Remember that Schoolhouse Rock song about the bill who becomes a law? (If you don’t recall it, or were never exposed to it, you can watch the video at the link. It’s about a 3 minute cartoon.) It’s a torturous path, yet bills do in fact become law. Not all of them, but some. Which is pretty much how I think about poems being published. Tortuous path, yet some do get published.  Perhaps the path is somewhat clearer for the bill than for the poem. What they have in common is that most don’t achieve their desired status. Most bills don’t become laws; most poems don’t become successful in the publishing world.

With that in mind, yet without the catchy tune, I thought I’d share some of my publishing stats. It is a bit like taking the Mad Hatter’s approach to un-birthdays, celebrating my un-publishing stats.  Ironically, on the eve of National Poetry Month. *grin*

So below are a few facts and figures about my success, or lack thereof, of getting poems accepted for publication in literary journals.


Dictionary definition of "definition"

PDPics / Pixabay

What statistics would be complete without at least one definition or disclaimer?

Literary Outlet:

I include in the term ‘literary outlet’

  • online/website based publications
  • any format of e-periodical
  • physically printed periodicals whether bound, stapled, or printed as broadside or some other format
  • disseminators of poetry  in audio or audio-visual formats

Basically, if someone can read / hear my work as a result of interacting with the outlet, I think that market is fair game for inclusion. And of course it need not be exclusive to poetry.

Poem Submission:

You would think that a ‘poem submission’ is self explanatory, right? Again, maybe.  But just in case…

A submission to a literary outlet typically consists of more than one poem at a time. Yet when responses are received, some or all of those sent at one time for consideration may be accepted. Or not. Usually, or not.

So for purposes of better statistics, I consider the group of poems submitted together to be one submission packet and each poem inside that group to be one poem submission. Trust me, it makes the math cleaner. As an example, if I send a group of 5 poems off to the New Yorker, then when I get my rejection notice back for the group, that is 5 rejections.

Don’t be so negative, you say?  Ha ha ha ha ha!  Poetry publication (like most publication, I think) is an exercise in rejection management.

Here’s the Numbers:


edar / Pixabay

For a little over 600 poem submissions, my acceptance rate is 1.9%.

At any point in time, I have 80-150 poem submissions awaiting responses from literary outlets.

The typical poem submission packet is 5 poems.

Over a couple of years (since I got my tracking system lined out) I have submitted poems to 91 different outlets, of which at least 3 are no longer actively publishing.

Getting responses from outlets is either fast, slow, or somewhere in between, and you can’t assume anything, positively or negatively, based on the time it takes to get a response:

Average Days to Respond Minimum Days to Respond Maximum Days to Respond
Accepted 63 3 115
Declined 53 0 305

Why it takes 305 days to decide you don’t want to publish my poem, I will never know.  No, that outlet is no longer on my active list.

The average poem has been to 6.2 outlets. Poems accepted for publication have been accepted on anywhere from their first outlet to their eighth.

So what?

As Alice said in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass,  “Curiouser and curiouser!”

Finding a good match is not just a matter of researching outlets. Even a poem perfectly matched to a publication’s style and preferences may fall short of the mark. It can be similar to something already accepted. Or hit the readers/editors on a bad day. Or they may have too many other good choices and my poem(s) fall into the regrettably declined pile. (Well, it could be a lousy poem, too. But no one wants to dwell on that.)

So publishing is a numbers game, in part. Best poem, best outlet, best luck. For that reason, I really do appreciate those places that reject quickly if they are going to reject. There are more outlets out there.  Move on, I say.