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Are anonymous submissions a good thing?


I came across this article recently, in Anon magazine, setting out the opinions of three writers as to whether anonymous submissions to magazines were a good idea.

I rather like Kathleen Jamie‘s conclusion, that actually by creating a so-called ‘level playing field’ for all poets, regardless of reputation, a magazine like Anon (championing the cause of anonymous submissions) is perpetuating the mistaken idea that there is some sort of conspiracy among well-known poets to keep everyone else out. She suggests the problem is not that the pages of poetry magazines are dominated by the same few names, far from it. But rather this:

No editor fears receiving a sub-standard poem by Seamus Heaney, if such a thing exists. What he fears, understandably, is receiving shed-loads of dreadful half-baked so-called ‘poetry’ accompanied by pages of testimonials, CVs and special pleading.

In other words, an anonymous submissions process doesn’t make it any easier to get poems accepted. If they’re mediocre, that’s the end of it. And big-name poets don’t submit to small magazines anyway. They don’t need to.

Plus, as Gerry Cambridge points out in the same article,

Unpublished poets are deluded if they believe they can’t get published because they’re not known names. After all, those known names were once unknowns, too.


… any editor of an individual cast of mind would like nothing more than to print the work of an unknown or little-known poet whose writing, in the editor’s opinion, is excellent – or even promising and individual in a way that marks it out from the majority

Anon isn’t the only magazine with an anonymous submissions process – South also insists on anonymity, as does Iota. Having had work in both, I’ve always wondered if I’ve been a beneficiary of the process. Then again I’ve also wondered if having an androgynous name also works in my favour. We can speculate on all these things and more, I suppose. (And to be honest I quite enjoy it – I find the intrigue, arguments and gossip an essential and entertaining part of the poetry scene – but then again I’m only really an amateur onlooker, so I can see how easy it is for me to say that, and how frustrating it is for others who hate the shenanigans and just want to get on with their writing.)

What do you think? Do aspiring/nascent writers benefit from anonymous submissions? Or is it insulting to editors to assume they are swayed by who the poet is rather than the quality of the individual poems?


Image credit: South Peace News

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  1. If i were a small struggling poetry magazine publisher and I had a submission from a well known poet which was no better but no worse than other submissions, couldn’t i be forgiven for choosing it. it might improve sales. I could use it to promote my magazine. It’s forgivable.

  2. Hi Doris, that’s true, although I don’t suppose well known poets submit to small mags, unless they want to do them a favour. So are you saying it’s better for editors if they can see who the poets are before making their selection?

  3. Anonymous subs must make more administration work, which a small press might not be able to cover easily. Of course, ideally no editor would look at anything other than the text of the poem, but all sorts of unconscious assumptions are made all the time. It is the nature of the world. A magazine like Mslexia would not have to exist if that were not true. I think if you submit to a magazine, you have to trust that particular editor to make the call, otherwise you wouldn’t want to be in their publication, surely?

  4. Hi Isabel, thanks for commenting, yes I agree – why submit to a magazine if you don’t already respect the material selected for it, and by implication, the judgement of the editor. For titles where there is a different editor each time I guess you could say that each edition is a fresh opportunity. Good point about the extra admin needed for anoymous submissions, similar to that needed for a competition I suppose.

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Robin Houghton 2021
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