Monday, 31 May 2010

Submitting poetry: what (not) to do

Rhymed verse is a wide net

Through which many subtleties escape

Nor would I take it to capture a strong thing

Such as a whale.

from ‘Note on Rhyme’, Anna Wickham, The Contemplative Quarry, (London: The Poetry Bookshop, 1915)

Submitting a poetry manuscript to a publishing house should be the culmination, not the beginning point, of your writing activities.

Unless you have woken from slumber to find that you have inadvertently tapped Kubla Khan II into your iPad, your manuscript should be the end product of a long process of refinement and consultation, revision and thought.

We sometimes receive manuscripts that are ‘half-baked’. More often than not, the person who has submitted it already knows this. ‘I know I could have done more,’ they tell us, but submit it hoping we will recognise the diamonds glittering in the dust. We may ask them to revise and resubmit, but just as likely, we will pass it over for something that glitters more fervently.

Of course every manuscript undergoes a process of editing and revision once it is contracted. Even so, the ability to revise and refine rigorously is a quality we look for and value in our authors.

When submitting a manuscript, it is important to remember that your chances of acceptance are against the odds. Publishing a list is a balancing act. We will always endeavour to look after the poets whose careers we have helped to develop, and we will also seek to introduce new voices to our list.

For instance, this year, during Fremantle Poetry Month, we are launching the work of two established poets (John Mateer’s The West, and Caroline Caddy’s Burning Bright) together with New Poets, a volume of poetry by Scott-Patrick Mitchell, J.P. Quinton and Emma Rooksby.

Our three new poets were selected from thirty-six submissions. Suffice to say, many promising and talented poets did not make the final cut. This is a shame, and this is also the reality of poetry publication.

In order to be one of the few who makes it to publication, you need to attend to the craft of poetry writing, and to the many other possibilities of advancing your work by other avenues.

When submitting a manuscript to Fremantle Press, you might bear some of the following in mind.


  • Be part of a community of like-minded poets.
  • Use constructive and honest appraisals to improve your work.
  • Revise every poem until it is as perfect as you can make it.
  • Immerse yourself in WA’s impressive live poetry scene.
  • Become a member of writingWA.
  • Test your work before an audience at readings.
  • Participate in writing groups in order to learn the art of editing poetry – yours and others’.
  • Submit individual poems for publication to magazines and electronic and print journals.
  • Keep your eye on expanding electronic opportunities.
  • Read other poets to expose yourself to a range of techniques.
  • Buy the work of other poets and journals that publish poetry: support your peers!
  • Look at what your prospective publisher has already published: is your work a logical fit with their list?
  • Visit the website of your prospective publisher to read their submission requirements.
  • Present your submission with care: use clean white paper, generous margins and spacing, one poem per page.
  • Include a table of contents and numbered pages.
  • Put the title of the work and your name in the header or footer of every page.
  • Have the courage to let your material speak for itself.
  • Provide only a brief covering letter to the publisher containing

§ Your contact details

§ The title of your work

§ The context of its production (e.g. you wrote it while travelling on the back of a capybara through the Bahamas; or, the work was completed as part of a post-grad degree)

§ List of other publications / poetry-related achievements.

  • Expect the process to take a while: we endeavour to get back to our authors within 16 weeks of their submission date, but sometimes it can take a little longer.
  • Write for its own sake, and not for publication.


  • Be afraid to experiment, or to try something different if you feel stuck.
  • Think you cannot learn anything from the feedback of others.
  • Expect to have all your work accepted for publication first time, or every time.
  • Submit work that you know in your heart is unfinished.
  • Tell the publisher that members of your family think you are a genius.
  • Submit work that looks as if you don’t care for it.
  • Stop reading the work of other poets.
  • Lose heart! The life and career of a poet is long.

REMEMBER: Writing and publication are two very separate activities. Do not confuse one with the other. And never forget that a whale is a strong thing.

Georgia Richter, Fremantle Press Poetry Publisher


  1. I would add, as a DO:

    * Avail yourselves of the online opportunities to build up a readership and support network.

  2. Thank you for such generous and honest advice. I am really enjoying this blog: from our own town, from the publishers!

  3. It's our pleasure and ditto to Phillip A. Ellis' comment too! Claire Miller, Fremantle Press