Poetry magazines and the creative writing boom: are editors being swamped with poems?

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The other day I got a nicely worded rejection of some poems I'd submitted to a magazine. Nothing unusual in that.

The refusal said that “we have had hundreds of submissions and have had to leave out lots of exciting work”." I liked the thought that my work might be exciting. What got me thinking was the “hundreds of submissions”.

It's been very noticeable of late how long editors are taking to respond. Naming no names, some editors are noted for taking their time. But even those magazines that normally respond fairly quickly are taking longer. Several have replied to queries about whether work has been received by saying they are overwhelmed.

So I'm wondering why. Some editors take a long time to reply because they like to do justice to the work sent in, but there's no reason to think editors are getting more scrupulous.

It cannot be that there's a shortage of magazines to send work to. (To put in a plug, the Write Out Loud Directory presently lists 62 print magazines, all of which are taking work: we've checked; and we're still adding to the online mags listed there.)

So what is the reason? Here are some possibilities. There's the thought that in harder times people write more poetry: but are times really that hard?

if you read the biogs of those that get published in magazines, or are winners of prizes, many have studied “creative writing”. For example, the recently announced winner of this year's Bridport prize, Daisy Behagg, “completed a BA and MA in creative writing at Bath Spa University”. When I last looked, a few years ago, 69 English and Welsh universities offered postgraduate courses in creative writing. Quite an industry; and with a growing output?

We'd be interested to hear what others’ experience has been of trying to get published recently. Are there any other reasons why editors might be swamped?


David Andrew is the editor of Write Out Loud's Gig Guide and Poetry Directory. In the last year he has had poems published in Brittle Star, Abridged, Poetry Salzburg Review, The SHOp, Under the Radar, Turbulence, South, Long Poem Magazine and South Bank Poetry



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Dominic James

Thu 21st Nov 2013 16:35

David cites hundreds, Ambit and Magma: thousands. It occurs to me that I might sensibly halve the submissions I make, not that I make many, and I'll guess I'm not the only one. A little filtering might be called for: but in those giddy moments...!

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Laura Taylor

Wed 20th Nov 2013 11:57

Sometimes I wait months to hear about an acceptance or rejection.

I see that the Faber and Faber New Poets award has just been extended for the second time - now it's January 2014. It states specifically the reason is due to the large number of submissions.

As for creative writing courses, I have a bit of an inverse snobbery about them. Mainly because competition winners all seem to write in that same vein - inaccessible and totally obscure. Must be clever though, eh? If they win? ;)

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David Andrew

Mon 18th Nov 2013 23:01

I normally sign in as 'Gig Administrator', that's my main work at WOL, but sign in now as myself.

Very pleased to hear from those involved in 2 of the principal poetry magazines.

Could I encourage others to share their recent experiences, both as poets submitting work and as those making the selections.

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Cynthia Buell Thomas

Mon 18th Nov 2013 13:23

I appreciate the two comments given. They are honest and applicable.

It's a given - more people - more freedom of style - more poets (even without speciallized courses.) IMO, worthy attention, and then deserved reputation, must be increasingly local. How 'local' is 'local' is an amusing question. But selection for prize or print no longer expresses superior quality, or negates the worth of rejected work. Personal preference is the major key, and you can never buck that. All is just a gambol/gamble.

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Ian McEwen

Mon 18th Nov 2013 12:26

For Magma 57 we had over 4,000 poems submitted by over 1000 poets. We had space for about 60 poems. There's your problem right there. I'd also add that there is remarkably little that is obviously badly written, probably a result of the explosion in creative writing education you have mentioned.

That said there is no excuse for sitting on poems longer than is needed - with three issues a year that means for us a maximum of maybe six months for a really close call (and they would have been told they were short listed at some point much sooner) while I was able to turn around rejections in a month or less.

Briony Bax

Mon 18th Nov 2013 10:12

At Ambit Magazine we've recently gone to on-line submissions and we get at least 10 submissions of poetry, prose and flash fiction every day. We pride ourselves on reading everything but it is a constant struggle to keep up with the work. I'm adamant that we won't charge people to submit as some other magazines do so it does mean that some people have to wait a while to hear from us.

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