Guide to Publishing Your Poetry in Literary Magazines

Getting published as a poet is hard and I can’t say I’ve done it many times myself (with just three published poems under my belt) however, I can give advice on what I’ve learned out there in the publishing world so far in 6 simple steps.

  1. Choosing your literary magazine

    This is my favorite resources, it’s basically every recognized literary magazine in the US. You can narrow the search with filters (I usually filter mine by who accepts simultaneous submissions)
    This is another great resource for finding places to publish your poetry, but I would be careful. A lot of places ask for $5-15 under titles like “24 Hour Submissions, Immediate Response,” but plan to reject everyone who submits within this period without reading their work.

    In my experience, legitimate magazines/publications either do not ask for money or encourage a small donation, but rarely have I see a required payment above $3. 


    If you haven’t been published before, go for smaller literary magazines that tend to publish debuts or up-and-coming writers! Also, you can always send your poem to smaller and larger magazines to see what happens— just make sure both magazines accept simultaneous submissions

    If you have been published before, go for the larger ones fearlessly! Flaunt your accomplishments in your cover letter (if requested) and let your work shine. 


    Nothing annoys an editor more than reading work that clearly does not fit in with the style of the magazine. After narrowing down publications based on size, do so by style.

    Usually in the guideline section, publication list what their expectations are when reading submitted poetry.

    Read the work of multiple poets on their website before submitting your own
    Subscribe to their newsletter if the option is given!

    If you write in multiple styles, submit different work to each publication based on what fits! If the publication seems to publish multiple styles, send multiple styles if you want!

    If the magazine tends to publish work in meter and rhyme and you write in free verse or prose, try a different magazine.
  2. Quick, final workshop

    There’s a few last minute touch-ups I always make before I submit my work!
    Read out loud to check for: rhythm, word choice, and typos
    Take out unnecessary “the’s”
    Take out unnecessary “I’s”
    Remove “to be” verbs

  3. Format
    • Use Times New Roman size 12 font, single space (unless requested otherwise).
    • On page 1, put your contact information in the top left corner, skip a couple of spaces and place your cover letter.
    • Place your first poem on page 2, only put one poem per page.
      • If your poems is longer than two pages, clarify whether the page break indicates a stanza break or not.
    • Write the title of your poem in all caps, skip 2-3 spaces, then place your poem.

  4. Write cover letter

    Usually, a publication will tell you what information they want in a cover letter (or if they even want a cover letter).
    If they do not list what they’re expecting in a cover letter, keep it professional! List academic, creative, and work related achievements. Don’t list hobbies, dreams, likes/dislikes.

    For example:
    Jane Doe is 100 years old and from city, state/country. She graduated summa cum laude from the Best University with a BA in poetry. List any other academic achievements. Jane Doe has been published in Magazine 1 2017, Magazine 2 2020, and Magazine 3 2021. List any other field related achievements Currently, Jane works at a job while using her free time to work on her next chapbook/poetry collection/artistic endeavor.

  5. Read guidelines

    Okay, so everything I’ve said up until now is completely valid unless the magazine states otherwise!

    Always make sure to read the submission guidelines of each magazine. Some will ask you remain anonymous, some will ask for 3 poems, some will ask for 5, some will ask for PDF files and others for .docx only, etc.

    Even if a magazine does not accept your submission, they will appreciate that you followed the guidelines and remember that fact when you submit in the future!

  6. Organize
    1. Keep four folders:
      1. Poems submitted for publication (and where they’ve been submitted to).
      2. Poems accepted at a publication
      3. Unpublished, ready poems
      4. Unpublished poems still in workshop mode

Fun Places to Find Inspiration

For Poets

by Ellen Gwin

  1. Wordplay
    Poets play with words intuitively, but there’s nothing wrong with doing so consciously as well.
    • Go on Wikipedia’s page “List of forms of word play” and use it to your advantage. 
    • Pick 1 or more and practice writing a whole poem using them!
  2. Research Engines
    • Use research engines to find inspiration for symbols, metaphors, allusions, etc. 
    • Research about: History, religion, earthly wonders, comparative literature. 
    • For example: Because Shakespeare drew a lot of inspiration from Ovid, I sometimes research articles discussing their works.
  3. Read Books
    Stephen King always stresses you have to read to write and totally he’s right. I always write a poem (or 3) after a day of reading!
    • Philosophy, literature, poetry, sociology, etc. 
  4. People Watching
    People watch and imagine a life for them!
    • Think about their past, their present, and future, think about their thoughts, friends, job, etc.
    • Cafés, parks, restaurants, movies, or just throughout your daily life.
  5. Translation
    Studying words and playing with words through translation is a great way to stimulate your mind and find inspiration. Often when we are already working with words, poetry comes easier.
    By translating you can see how words are moved around for a “proper” sentence structure and the full function of each word. 
    • For example:
      • Tu me manques in French literally translates to I am missing from you, but in English we use it as the equivalent of I miss you.
      • However, if in English would would tell someone that I miss you, one would say you’re missing from me to indicate the emptiness felt from the lack of their presence, not I am missing from you as this would come across as entitled.
      • So, as you can see translation can be more subjective than one thinks and is a fun way to draw inspiration.
  6. Make Your Words/Thoughts Physical
    • Make thinking maps
    • Make your poems or even other people’s poems into collages
    • Visualizing your poems/thoughts in unique ways could help you reach the results you’re looking for or inspire you in a new way.
  7. Use Prompts
    • There’s tons of prompts on instagram! Maybe you don’t like prompts and that’s fine, but if do then check out the hashtag #PoetryPrompts
    • Prompts are fun because you can use them word for word or use whatever idea they inspire!
  8. Other Forms of Art
    As I said earlier with words in #5, when working with art one tends to feel more apt to produce art. 
    • Either view paintings online, go to a local museum, or pick up some acrylics yourself and engage with art! Even if you’re bad at painting (like me) it’s still fun and interesting to work with the colors yourself. 
    • Listen to music (with or without lyrics). Sing to the music with lyrics, dance (ridiculously) to the music without lyrics!
    • There’s tons of different art forms one could use to find inspiration, find yours and go for it.

3 Ways to Use Alliteration

by Ellen Gwin

What is alliteration?
Alliteration is the repetition of consonants (and sometimes vowels) at the beginning of two or more consecutive words. 

What about consonance and assonance?
Consonance is the repetition of solely consonants throughout consecutive words. These words can go at the beginning or in the middle of a word. 
Assonance is the repetition of solely vowels throughout consecutive words. These words can go at the beginning or middle of a word. 

1.To set the mood
Different sounds are linked with different connotations; one can use this concept to their advantage in poetry.
For Example:
S’s bring about a mood that feels whispered and intimate (or a snake-like)
H’s to makes the poem sound soft, hushed, or breathy 
R’s sound “French” and romantic (or like pirates)
B’s & P’s seem to boom or pop out loudly

2. Because it sounds pleasant
The repetition of consonants (or in some cases, vowels) sounds pleasing to the ear. This is because it provides a sense of rhythm to the poem and indicates how it should be read. This provided rhythm allows the reader to feel more closely connected to the work.
For Example:
The bumbling bear bellowed behind a beehive.
Slither snakes spoke of sinister stories.
Fiddling foxes found refuge in Finland.

3. To grab readers’ attention
One can use alliteration to simply draw attention to a specific set of alliterative words or
One can use alliteration to draw attention to themes throughout your poem through the use of alliteration at key moments with similar ideas in mind. 

3 Ways to Use Personification in Poetry

By Ellen Gwin

Personification is the act of giving human characteristics (such as speech, actions, emotions, thought) to something that is not human (animals, insects, objects, abstract concepts etc.).

Different uses for personification:
This poetic device can spruce up internal monologue poems, give life to a setting, make images more vivid, create a deeper emotional connection, and for many other entertaining reasons.
Personification can also help readers understand the abstract/intangible concepts a writer is trying to get across.

1.Take the Viewpoint of the Object
Make the speaker take the viewpoint of the object. Give this object thoughts, feelings, emotions, etc. 
For example:
Use a mirror or a painting to discuss beauty.
Teapot to discuss family generations.
Use a blanket to discuss comfort. 

2. Make Multiple Objects Speak
Place your speaker in a setting (a forest, a bedroom, a library) and make the objects speak to their reader.
The objects could express their thoughts/opinions, give advice, discuss memories, etc.

3. Use Personification for Abstract Concepts
One could create a character/creature to embody the idea of love, fear, time, etc. 
Examples can be found in:
Greek Mythology, Alice in Wonderland, Spirited Away, etc. 

3 Steps to Writing an Allegorical Poem

By Ellen Gwin

Allegorical Poetry:
An allegorical poem is a poem that holds two meanings: one should be able to read the poem for both a literal and a symbolic meaning. In literature, allegories typically fall with three categories: religious, political, or historical.

What’s the difference between an allegory and an extended metaphor?
In an allegory, all characters, places and objects become linked with figurative symbolism within the extended metaphor. It’s kind of like creating an alternate universe with rules linked to rules of the reality of your story (religious event, political event, historical event, etc).

Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene
George Orwell’s Animal Farm
Arthur Miller’s The Crucible
Emily Dickinson’s poem 479
Dante’s Divine Comedy

Step 1: Choose your idea
Whether it be morality, religion, politics, a historical event: choose an idea to model your symbolic story after.

Step 2: Plan out the literal story first
Who are important figures related to your chosen idea?
What are important events related to your chosen idea?
Where are important settings related to your chosen idea?

Step 3: Create your surface story
Create a surface story (the alternate universe) that you can easily find correlations with.
The story can be set in a different time period, a fantasy universe, on a smaller scale (i.e. a family to represent a country), etc.

3 Ways to Incorporate Allusions into Poems

By Ellen Gwin

1. Mimicry

Mimic rhythms or structures

Use Shakespeare’ iambic pentameter
Write a Spenserian sonnet
Mimic a poem/pieces of a larger work as a whole
For example: I modeled a poem after a famous speech in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:

My teeth are decaying, rotting from the inside out. Years of swallowing bile laced confabulations finally decomposed the nerves within and made me numb to my next glass of gin. Bitter and crude but honest I am, no one deigns to come near my foul speaking breath. In solitude but not alone, I let my words flow. 

Friends, Americans, Countrymen lend me your nose. I come to bury “fresh breath,” not to praise it. The evil that one hides will always leak out; the good is often found in brutal honesty. So let it rest with fresh breath. Let those around me be solely filled with stinky sighs. 

Oh but the judgement! Those painted with bruised lips have lost their reason; the pain is not worth the infliction. Bear with me; I do not prefer the stench of bad breath but I must give pause to “fresh breath” in the name of sincerity. 

Mimic plot, characters, background stories, or other ideas

10 Things I Hate About You is modeled after Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew.

Model a character after a historical or literary figure:
Either choose one of your own accord or look into archetypes such as Magicians (Merlin, Harry Potter), Creators (gods, scientists), Femme Fatales (Lilith, Circe), etc.
Use literary/historical references as the background for your poem/story
Allude to similar ideas regarding religion, morality, politics, etc.

2. Make References

Paraphrase a quote
Shakespeare said, “These violent delights have violent ends.”
To reference it in your own writing, one could say, “They say all chaotic good brings about chaotic events.”

Compare a character/event to a literary/historical figure/event
Model a character after the infamous Mussolini; make them speak harshly and shortly with chutzpah
Model a character after Duessa in Spenser’s Faerie Queene: give them a nature of duality and deception.

Use literary/historical symbols
An apply to symbolize sin
A lotus to symbolize Buddhism
A guillotine to symbolize revolution

3. Read through your poem for associations

For example:
If you’re writing about a garden maybe make a reference to the Garden of Eden or Ophelia.
If you’re writing about the ocean maybe reference Poseidon, Varuna, rebirth, or Ulysses.
If you’re writing about heaven maybe reference Mount Olympus, archangels, or John Milton.

Mood Board Poems

A tactic for overcoming writer’s block by Ellen Gwin

Mood board poems are a tool I invented (I think) to help poets stimulate their senses, get in touch with their subconscious, and seek inspiration.

Mood board poems typically do not hold a lot of depth or emotional weight– they’re typically more akin to aesthetic writing.

Symbols that occur in mood board poems are meant to be accidental or natural, not placed or overthought.

One can use this tool to create poems or seek inspiration for other poems.

  1. Stimulate the five senses
    Sight, smell, sound, and touch
    For a breakdown on stimulating the senses please click here
  2. Search for inspiration
    Go back through and connect ideas that did not seem purposeful before.
    Then go back and delete ideas/words/phrases that ended up not fitting in
    Once finished, read the poem to find out what theme/topic/idea has been nagging at you to write

Here’s an example of a mood poem by me

My Daydreams by Ellen Gwin
Raspberries in rich cream sitting on silver plates while angels promenade around a whimsical garden. 
Human-like creatures with golden eyes and fiery dispositions drinking Cabernet Sauvignons that resembles blood a little too much. 
Crystal from Czech full of peony petals spilling and over the lavender carpets and floating with the movement of those in skirts.
Delicate hands dancing while feet clumsily find their way to maneuver with a partner. 
Candles on antique sticks dripping onto maple tables velvet chairs tickling my bare thighs.
Pearls and opalites kept in ornate boxes while rosaries and aquamarine dangle from a beaded bonsai tree.
Bumblebees making geometric honeycombs in willow trees living in sweet harmony with kissing butterflies.

In this poem, I used foods to stimulate taste and smell while using whimsical imagery inspired by a garden party in the 19th century to stimulate sight and sound.
From this poem, I realized I had the nature of “good VS evil” on my mind through references I made to angels and blood.
From here, I decide to write poems that use fruit as a vehicle for discussing heaven and hell.

5 Tips to Write More Throughout the Week

By Ellen Gwin

  1. Carry a Pocket Sized Notebook
    Write while you’re in transportation or other small breaks
    When you randomly get inspiration
    To quickly jot down a phrase or observation to return to later
  2. Seek inspiration in supposedly mundane places
    Routine: hair, driving, work
    Art you see daily
    Photos/videos on social media
  3. Let writing be relaxing
    Heat up a some tea and take the time to write
    Make a snack plate and eat while writing
    Paint your toenails while you write
    Go for a stroll and bring a small notepad
  4. Read in the morning and plan what you’ll write in your head throughout the day
    Read prompts, definitions, about certain symbols, etc.
  5. Set aside 30 minutes just for writing right before an activity
    Before a shower, bed, work, breakfast, etc.
  6. Mostly importantly, allow yourself to breathe
    For some, writing daily is a great habit to get into but if it’s causing stress then it’s not the writing tactic for you! Always make sure your hobbies and passions are enjoyable.

Overcoming Writer’s Block

by Ellen Gwin

Writer’s block is nothing to be embarrassed about. Whether it’s been a day or a year, it happens to everyone! Fear not, cures exist.

  1. Make Pinterest mood boards of photos that inspire you

2. Read philosophy, allegorical literature, or really anything

I like to read some classic Aristotle/Plato/Socrates but also Nietzsche, Descartes, and Kant.

Some allegorical literature includes Faerie Queene, Animal Farm, Dante’s Divine Comedy, and The Little Prince.

3. Listen to music with no lyrics

This can be classical music, jazz, techno, acoustic, etc.

Either try to come up with lyrics to the song or just forget about words completely and vibe out.

4. Engage with the world around you

Go on a walk, hang out with friends, call your mom, get out of your head.

5. Bounce ideas off a friend

Sometimes it helps to get the juices flowing but sometimes it just helps to think out loud.

6. Writing anything and everything that comes to your mind for 10 minutes

Even if it’s “bad.”

3 Tactics for Using Verbs in Poetry

by Ellen Gwin

The three concepts I will introduce go in with the “show, not tell” theory. While a lot of people believe poetry (and other descriptive writing) mainly consists of adjectives, verbs act just as descriptive as adjectives while also bringing the reader into the moment when used properly.

By learning these three concepts one can learn to write in a descriptive and captivating manner.

Keep in mind that one does not need to follow these rules in their writing 100% of the time, I know I do not! However, they do work to make writing more interesting and should be kept in mind when writing.

  1. Strong Verbs VS Weak Verbs

Strong Verbs VS Weak Verbs

Weak verbs loosely state the action while strong verbs act as more of a descriptive action.

For Example:
I told her to slow down
I advised her to slow down

For Example:
He ran around the building
He scampered around the building

For Example:
He held the newspaper in his hand
He clutched the newspaper in his hand

State-of-being Verbs

A type of weak verb which includes “to be” verbs on top of have/had/has, do/does/did, shall/will/should, would/may/might/must, can/could.

In the words of Richard Nordquist, “A state-of-being verb identifies who or what a noun is, was, or will be”

For Example:
I wanted to be on time
I wanted to arrive on time

For Example:
He had to leave early
He needed to depart early

For Example:
She was eating a cake when she began to choke
She took a bite of cake when she began to coke

Verbs accompanied by adverbs

Another area where weak verbs occur is when an adverb accompanies a verb. If you’re having trouble replacing adverbs try replacing the verb instead or vice versa.

For Example:
He ran quickly to the store
He dashed to the store

For Example:
She walked sadly around the house
She moped around the house

2. Active Voice VS Passive Voice

Active Voice

Active voice makes sentences less wordy and the meaning more direct. Active voice also helps remove state-of-being verbs and other weak verbs. Active voice is useful when setting a strong and clear tone for readers.

Passive Voice

Passive voice becomes useful when the writer wants to emphasize the object(s) impacted by the verb. This is helpful when writing about victims of violence, famous works of art, geographical locations, etc.

What does this mean for my writing?

One should steer towards active voice but use passive voice to put relevant information at the forefront.

An example when active voice is better:


Merlot was spilled on my white, lace Easter dress.

My lips stained my grandmother’s antique set.

Green tomatoes ripened too quickly to fry.

My copy of The Picture of Dorian Gray has blood on it.

The bushes lost their rose petals too early this spring.


Spilled Merlot on my white, lace Easter dress.

Red lips stained on grandmothers antique tea set.

Green tomatoes ripened too quickly to fry.

Drops of blood landed on my copy of The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Rose petals fell off their bushes too early in the spring.

An example when passive voice is better:

Active: The policemen killed George Floyd.

Passive: George Floyd was killed by policemen.

Active: I took an airplane to the ocean.

Passive: The ocean can be reached by airplane.

3. Propel Sentences with Verbs Instead of Adjectives

Often when people think of poetry, they think of flowery adjectives (and the wooing of women). However, while adjectives are useful and impactful when used correctly, the poem cannot move forward unless verbs become involved. Verbs also stimulates the readers senses, allowing them to feel more engaged in the work.

In a sense one could say verbs propel writing more than nouns or adjectives. When writing with verbs, the adjectives will come naturally and therefore not come across as overdone.

For Example:

I opened my eyes and saw an array of pastel flowers sitting in golden enameled vases.


When I opened my eyes, I felt the room flower into an array of pastel hues with touches of gold gracing my giddy glances.

The first sentence falls flat while the edited version, with verbs propelling the sentence, the sentence pulls in the reader and allows room for the story to grow. Verbs could be used to discuss what else is in the room, to move to a different room, to bring in a new character etc.