being a good literary citizen

Alrighty, folks. The time has come. I am going to talk about appropriate conduct and comportment if you want to find success (or at least be liked!) in the writing world.

I talk about some of this stuff in more detail in my e-book, Publishing Poems: An Easy Guide. You can buy it for $10 on my website.

In any case, here is my advice for being a good literary citizen:

For presses:

If you’re running a contest, send out the rejections *before* announcing the winner across social media.

If you only choose *one* book to publish from open-reading period submissions, say that up front. (And, if you intend to only publish only one: maybe don’t charge $30/submission.)

If you accept a chap/book for publication, remain in contact with the writer and send the contract promptly.

  • Recently, a colleague of mine was ghosted by their press after their book was accepted (and cover drawn up!)—receiving no response after reaching out to them via email (multiple addresses), Twitter messages, and through Twitter posts. Nada. Needless to say, it’s not a press I’ll be supporting in the future.


For journals:

Have a well-organized website that allows submitters to easily access the information they need.

  • If you pay writers, say that.

  • If you don’t pay writers, say that, too. No reason to play coy. Be up-front about what writers should expect.

Don’t charge for submissions unless you pay contributors.

  • Even further: I’m of the belief that you shouldn’t charge unless you pay professional rates. Paying $3 to submit when the possible payoff is only $10 for an accepted poem feels ridiculous. Paying $3 when the journal offers $50/poem feels more reasonable.

  • If you do charge for submissions but want to feel a little less like a gatekeeper, limiting submissions to the writers who have the economic means: offer a no-fee option on Submittable. (And make it visible on Submittable! Something like this is not nearly as inclusive as you think: “If, for reasons of financial hardship, you cannot afford to pay the submission fee, please send us an email at [REDACTED].” Please, god, don’t make writers email you to say, “I’m impoverished, please give me access to this special-secret-link.”—not only is it a total invasion of privacy, but it also might influence the editor’s view of the work, which is supposed to be anonymous upon first read.)

  • Anywho, if possble: Don’t charge submitters at all.

Promote your contributors. Not just their work published in your journal—but their future publications, too.

If you publish your journal online, let the work be readable and easy to access across devices.

Send contracts electronically. So often, it takes me weeks to get paper contracts back to editors, simply because I have limited access to printers and scanners!

If you reject a submitter, do so kindly. Here are some examples of what *not* to do, when you send a submitter a rejection note:

Dear Despy,

Thank you for your submission to [REDACTED]. Unfortunately, these are a no for us. We see a lot of poetry submissions, particularly this year, and these failed to move us in the way we accept from top-tier poems.

We do wish you luck in your future writing.

[REDACTED], Managing Editor



Thank you for your submission. Alas, none of these tempt me enough to buy.



Dear Despy Boutris,

I appreciate your offer. 

                    “Sunlight / sequins the city”

struck me.  It will be a good, long while before such an original phrase is buried here under others’.

Still, there is in your work language for which we bear no affinity—diction that feels “off track,” inconsistent, or over-wrought.

I’ve taken liberty of highlighting in your submission all that does not seem right and attached it.

Be assured, however, that assistants and I will gladly read more from your hand as it is available.


Welp. I didn’t ask for feedback, sir. No thank you.

Again, if you’re an editor: a simple rejection letter will suffice.


For writers:

Talk about other writers’ work at least as much as you talk about your own.

Send fan mail!

  • Tell writers you like their work. (And: Don’t feel slighted if a writer doesn’t email back. Contacting a writer directly is a great way to show your appreciation for their work, but it can also feel stressful for some—who feel like they owe you a response but don’t have the bandwidth to.)

  • Write a review of their book. (This is great in that it doesn’t pressure writers to respond to it, the way an email does.)

  • Share their work with your followers and friends. (Also great!)

And, on that subject, here are some books I read lately & loved:

Don’t plagiarize. And show your work.

If you address an editor by their name, make sure you’ve spelled it correctly.

Contribute to the community.

  • Start a journal that publishes emerging writers (and pays contributors for their work!)

  • Share a syllabus or reading list.

  • Talk about craft with newer writers. (I do that! Examples below!)

beauty and terror (on poetry & being human)
the art of the simile
sim·i·le /ˈsiməlē/ (noun): a figure of speech involving the comparison of one thing with another thing of a different kind, used to make a description more emphatic or vivid (e.g., as brave as a lion, crazy like a fox). Similes are powerful and poetic, and I am terrible at them. And—though perhaps I am alone in that—in case I’m not, here are some similes…
Read more
beauty and terror (on poetry & being human)
the art of the metaphor
met·a·phor /ˈmedəˌfôr,ˈmedəˌfər/ (noun): a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable. Whether or not it’s true, I always think of metaphors as caffeinated similes: braver, bolder, rougher. [thing] is not *like* [other thing]. [thing] *is* [other thing]. And, because it’s not reall…
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beauty and terror (on poetry & being human)
the art of personification
per·son·i·fi·ca·tion /pərˌsänəfəˈkāSH(ə)n/ (noun): the attribution of a personal nature or human characteristics to something nonhuman, or the representation of an abstract quality in human form. Anyway, no long post today. Here are some examples of personification or near-personification that I love. I hope that they inspire you, too…
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beauty and terror (on poetry & being human)
the art of titles (or, title discourse ft. seething jealousy)
Titles are tricky things—and, for whatever reason, titling your own work, specifically, is the trickiest. That’s how I feel, anyway. I can help my friends and students and classmates come up with titles but, when it comes to my own poems, titling often is an impossible task…
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beauty and terror (on poetry & being human)
journals with fast-response times
This post is straight-forward. Here are some journals that, if you submit, will get back to you fairly quickly…
Read more

And there’s more! You could:

  • Start a reading series!

  • Request that your library stock a certain book!

  • Go to readings!

  • Start a newsletter or blog!

  • Volunteer as a reader for a journal!

  • Give advice!

  • Participate in a mentorship program!

Really, for me, being a good literary citizen means

  1. being generous with your praise

  2. interrogating gatekeeping, inequity, and unethical behavior from The Powers That Be, and

  3. seeking to help build a more inclusive and just future within the literary world at large.

These are things I try to do in my small ways. I hope you will, too.

That’s all for today, folks. Thanks for being here.