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New to Haiku: Preparing Your First Submission

You’ve been reading haiku widely and you’re writing and editing your own poems. You’ve found a journal that seems to be the perfect fit for your work.

Congratulations! It’s time to prepare your first haiku submission.

It can be intimidating to submit your haiku to an editor for the first time. Here are some tips to ensure that your submission gets the attention it deserves.

In general, haiku journals tend to be less formal than general poetry journals with regard to submissions. Many haiku editors don’t want separate attachments and don’t require you to use Submittable.

Read the submission guidelines carefully. There will always be exceptions to everything in this blog post! Editors sometimes slip odd requests into their set of requirements, just to make sure that you are reading their guidelines closely. (Once, I had to type the words “Sparkle Pony” into a submission. It was not a haiku publication.)

“Previously published” differs by journal. There is no uniform definition of previously published in the haiku world. Some editors consider a poem that has appeared anywhere in print or online to be previously published; others only consider a haiku published if it has been chosen by an editor and appeared in an edited journal. Haiku that you have posted to your blog or social media accounts will not be eligible for publication in some journals.

Generally, haiku are not punctuated apart from the ellipsis or dash. Haiku usually do not employ capitalization. (You can read more on editing your haiku here.)

Journals that publish only haiku almost never require titles for poems. If you are submitting to a general poetry journal, however, you usually need to add titles. (I had an editor once tell me that not naming my poems was equivalent to not naming my children. Again, this was not a haiku journal!)

Consider the time of year. Traditional haiku employ a season word, known as a kigo. Contemporary haiku may not explicitly follow this tradition, but journal issues often tend to adhere to the time of year. If a publication is based in the United States, for example, don’t submit poems about popsicles and cicadas for a winter issue. Do keep in mind that if the publication is around the world from you, they could be experiencing a different season!

Often, haiku editors request that you type your poems directly into an email. If the submission guidelines don’t specify a font, use something basic like Arial or Times New Roman.

Unless a journal specifies otherwise, you should include a cover letter with your submission. Usually, this is the first part of your email, with the poems to follow, separated by stars or dashes. Most of my cover letters look something like this:

Dear <Editor’s name>:

Here are ten of my poems for consideration in <Name of Journal>. The first seven are unpublished and the last three appeared on <my Twitter feed, Instagram, my blog, Facebook, etc.>.

(You can add an optional second or third paragraph here. Once you’ve been published, you might include a brief note about your awards or prior publications. Always follow the journal’s guidelines for what to include.)

Thanks for your consideration of my work. (Or something similar: I hope you enjoy reading my work or Thanks for your time.)

<Your Name or Pseudonym as you’d like it to appear in print>
<Optional: If you use a pseudonym, Your Name could go next. Mark this clearly if you list both a pseudonym and your name.>
<Your Email Address>
<Optional unless requested: Your Snail Mail Address>
<Optional unless requested: Your Phone Number>
<Optional: Your Social Media Handles>
<Optional: Your Poetry Website>
<Optional unless requested: Your Bio>

***

haiku 1…
goes
here

***

haiku 2 is a monoku

***

and
so—
on

***

Always look up the editor’s name before submitting to a journal and address that person directly in the salutation of your cover letter. For formal publications, you will find this on the masthead. For a poetry website, there is usually an “About Us” section.

Keep your cover letter short. If you want to include a second (or third) paragraph on how much you enjoy the journal or include a brief list of your prior publications, you can. However, a list of prior publications isn’t necessary for most haiku editors and some find this a turnoff. Sincerity and brevity usually wins over loquaciousness for haiku aficionados.

Make sure to include your name (or pseudonym) as you’d like it to appear in the publication. Some editors want your name to appear in the title of your email, while others want to see your name listed after every poem in the submission. Most of the time, you can simply include your name once, as part of the closing of your cover letter. Follow the publication’s writers’ guidelines closely on this issue!

If you use a pseudonym, you might need to list your real name in your cover letter. An example of this would be if the journal you are submitting to is a paying market; they can’t cut a check to your pseudonym. 

Include a bio if requested. This is a short, third-person description of you. You can include whatever you want here. Some poets list awards and publications; others forgo this entirely. If you read over the New to Haiku: Advice for Beginners posts, you can see how differently haiku poets choose to describe themselves! Remember, you can tailor your bio for different journals. Be sure to keep the length of your bio within whatever word count is specified in the submission guidelines. When in doubt, err on the side of brevity.

You can send a note of thanks to an editor if they accept your work, but this is not required. When I was asking for thoughts on this topic, I was surprised at both the number of poets who regularly send thank you emails to editors as well as the number of editors who appreciate them. (I had no idea this was so common. I will definitely send more thank you letters in the future.) Some poets even thank editors when their work is rejected!

Don’t argue with the editor if they reject your haiku. (Also, I’d advise against sending poems that don’t follow the journal’s guidelines just because you think they *should* want poems like yours. I’ve tried this and it’s never gone well.) Consider what the editor has said (most won’t say anything) and submit elsewhere. If an editor takes the time to tell you what they like about your poetry when they are rejecting your work, this is a good sign. Editors only do this for poets who show promise. (Ben Gaa has an excellent story about that here.) Make a note to submit to this journal during their next open submission period.

Good luck and have fun!

Julie Bloss Kelsey

Julie Bloss Kelsey is the current Secretary of The Haiku Foundation. She started writing haiku in 2009, after discovering science fiction haiku (scifaiku). She lives in Maryland with her husband and kids. Julie's first book of poetry, The Call of Wildflowers, is available for free online through Title IX Press. Connect with her on Twitter @MamaJoules.

This Post Has 19 Comments

  1. Dear Ms. Julie,

    thank you for the article that opens up calm insights on how to write. It’s a little tough and tough, but I really like following your articles. very useful science.
    Thank you
    ❤️❤️

    1. Hi Germina. Thank you. I made mistakes when I was first starting out with submissions, so I hoped this might be helpful. 🙂

  2. This is so helpful Julie! I always wonder whether to introduce my submission with a short paragraph. I usually do, but sometimes don’t. From now on I shall definitely do that! Also, what a good idea to separate published and unpublished in the submission. Thanks so much to you and your cohorts for putting this together for us.
    Peggy B

  3. Dear Julie, Thank you. I like your idea of a submission possibly including both unpublished and previously published poems, if the guidelines offer this option.

    On perhaps a related note, I often include images from the WordPress.com free photo library with my posts. One artist may be beginning to publish, and another artist has thousands of followers. I select the images that I think are best for a post. My blogs are informal, and I decided not to worry about whether I posted one of my poems before, or a photo before. There are many readers, and new people all the time. No one can read everything. I appreciate some repetition. Perhaps this also happens with journals, with review articles and book reviews, and also when someone’s memory is honored. So many good ways.

    A poem previously published on a blog could have been read by a few people or many, and perhaps not by the group of poets that publish often in a given journal. And poets with blogs often reprint and thank the journals. Good for everyone’s work.

    I have also realized the many goals with publishing poetry. I am retired, but remember younger years when publication was required to earn tenure in education. Some authors of blogs also have newsletters, as they are building reader lists to help with publication. Others know far more about how to do this than me.

    So I think if I was teaching about this, I would begin with asking students to discuss their goals. When I was a professor in education, the first day of a course, I asked students to write down their “needs and goals” for the course. That was helpful for all.

    Thanks again for all your posts. Ellen

    1. Hi Ellen, you make an excellent point about how important it is to know your own goals when working on publishing your poetry. That might be a good topic all on its own. When I was still in high school, I was writing emotional free verse because that’s what I thought poetry was supposed to look like. I found a copy of The Writer’s Market and started submitting my work alphabetically — my earliest publications were in AIM Magazine and Alura Quarterly! Once I had two publications, I decided that I should try for the very hardest poetry markets. I got rejected soundly and then I had no idea what I wanted to do. Fast forward over 20 plus years of near writer’s block when it came to poetry, and I was writing a family-friendly science blog. I stumbled into science fiction haiku, and writing it somehow seeped past my “I have writer’s block, I can’t write any poetry” filter. Scifaiku is the only reason that I am here today, writing this column! Once I was writing poetry again, my publication goal was to have enough credits to have a poet listing at Poets & Writers. Now that I’ve achieved that, I’m not sure what my next goal will be. Maybe a print book.

      We all have different poetic journeys. Thanks again for all of your comments, Ellen.

  4. Dear Julie,

    Thanks for this very useful article. You have covered everything that needs to be covered before submitting work to a journal. I learnt a lot from my mentors in haiku, THF and also from editors to whom I submitted my work. Regarding rejections, I must acknowledge that most editors of haiku journals are kind and give feedback on the submission, as also how to refine and polish through reading, study & practice. If one follows their advice, the quality improves and the haiku are accepted either by the same editor or some other journal. Their generosity of spirit is much appreciated on this journey of haikai.

    Warm regards,
    Neena

    1. Hi Neena. That has been my experience as well. When I came back to poetry, my very first submission was to Scifaikuest, a science fiction short-form poetry market. The editor, teri santitoro, was versed in contemporary haiku and suggested that we shorten the syllable count of one of my poems and move some of the words around. At that point, I didn’t know you could write haiku that wasn’t in a 5-7-5 syllable count! She was super helpful.

      Thanks for your comment!

  5. My thanks to everyone who helped me draft this post, especially Tia Haynes, Terri L. French, Susan Burch, and Stella Pierides. As always, any remaining errors are mine…but if you spot an error, please let me know so I can fix it. Thanks! 😃

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