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Keeping track of poetry magazines: getting down and dirty

I’ve just finished trawling through hundreds of poetry magazine websites. It’s my quarterly mission: to update the spreadsheet that I send out to a few thousand poets. Every time it seems to become more challenging: the process of pulling up-to-date information from a magazine’s web presence requires a kind of forensic mindset: never believe the first thing you read, never assume, always try to cross-check. And the first rule of all: ALWAYS SCROLL DOWN.

How it works (in theory)

First of all, as I have often said, I have every respect for poetry magazine editors. Theirs is a thankless task and many have been keeping their magazines going, year-in year-out, on a budget of zero. I have bookmarked the submissions pages of most of the magazines on my list, and about half of them are kept up-to-date with relevant information: we are open for submissions, or we are closed and our next submissions window will be x, that sort of thing. Or, our submissions process has changed, we’re now only open once a year in December, or whatever. Some lovely editors even email me with this information! I’ll stop there before I start welling up!

I try not to be complacent, as even those pages that appear unchanged for years might suddenly throw in some relevant new info down the bottom of the page, such as NOW ON HIATUS and it’s easy to miss it if you don’t, um, scroll down.

On Hiatus

During the pandemic years innumerable zines sprung up. Students on creative writing programmes started shiny new publications called something like “Burnt Toast” or “Crapshoot”. The majority have disappeared: if the domain name is now for sale, that’s a big clue. But often the website is still there, proclaiming ‘Issue 2 coming soon! Send us your poems!’ First of all I ask myself ‘are they open? But then I start to realise the zine is dead, and I feel kind of sorry for what happened to all that enthusiasm and ambition. ON HIATUS has come to be the standard phrase. I used to think it meant ‘we are taking a break but hoping/intending to return’, which it sometimes does. But more often than not it’s a way of saying GONE FOR GOOD. There shouldn’t be any shame in admitting a project has run its course, or real life got in the way. I’ve done that myself quite a few times. But here’s the dilemma: should I drop a publication from my list, and risk not hearing if it returns (because it wasn’t bad and actually it may have been around a while), or keep it on and expect people to trawl through the dead wood to find the magazines that actually exist?

Conflicting info

Consider this. Website says SUBS CLOSED, followed by a long description of what to send and ‘OPEN until [date]’.  Or, SUBS OPEN, followed by a long description of what to send and then SUBS CLOSED. Sometimes it looks open, but when you click onto their Submittable page, or webform, it says they are closed. The social account says CLOSED in the profile, OPEN in the feed.

So I don my detective hat. Are they open for flash but not poetry? Are they open for their annual competition, but not for general subs? Are they open for subs in the Scottish language only? Were they open for 24 hours only, and they haven’t had time to update their Submittable? Have they reached their Submittable limit for that month? Has someone tasked with updating the socials not been able to update the website, or didn’t realise the Profile needed updating or couldn’t figure out how to UNPIN a post? Did someone not SCROLL DOWN? (These are all real examples.)

What year is this again?

Now let’s say the website submissions page says SUBS OPEN UNTIL AUGUST 31st, and I think ‘great…. but I’ll just check they mean 2024.’ So I click around the website to see if there are any dates attached to news or blog posts (often there are not). I peer at various grainy images of ‘our latest launch’ to identify anyone I know – do they look considerably younger? Hmmm.  Or I investigate the ‘LATEST ISSUE: No.4’ for signs of recent life. This might mean checking their social feeds (often there are no link to these, so I have to type into Google [magazine name] +Twitter or whatever.) I get there, and pinned to their feed or in their profile it says SUBS CLOSED. Oh, but doesn’t the website say they’re open? I scroll through the feed and see ‘Issue no. 6 is here! WOOT!’ But that was in February 2023. (Of the mags I trawled though today, I would estimate that 9 out of 10 Twitter feeds have been dead since 2021.) But wait a minute – didn’t [poet name] tell me the other day that she had sometime coming out in this mag? Maybe they moved to Instagram or Medium or maybe they’ve got a LinkTree …? By which time I’m ready for another cup of tea. I might make a note to check the magazine next month, or to email or tweet the editor. I don’t do that very often though, because I tend to not get a reply.

So then I move onto the next mag. And the next. Why do it? I do enjoy the research element, and see it as a bit of a game, that way it doesn’t get too frustrating. The spreadsheet started off as a list for my own reference, although now I suppose it’s become a bit of a ‘thing’. I try subscribing to other magazine alert services but I can’t find anything more granular or up to date or relevant to my needs than this. Plenty of recipients tell me they find it useful, and/or make a donation on my BuyMeaCoffee page. So I’m not writing this as a plea for gratitude or sympathy. I actually enjoy getting my hands dirty in the world of poetry magazines submissions, and I love finding some real gems, even places where I might send my own work. I’ve made friends with editors along the way, but it’s definitely a service for poets rather than editors. I get a kick out of giving away something I’ve created for free. And as I say, I do the legwork, so others don’t have to.

Published inAngstBlogMags & BlogsSubmissions

6 Comments

  1. I’ve just been updating my doc of litmags that pay for poetry and don’t have submission fees, so I’m going through the same thing (I’m up to letter M, but I know that by the time I’ve finished, more litmags will have bitten the dust).
    I do pay for a duotrope membership every year. I find it pays for itself, as the weekly email list of open subs always calls my attention to things I wouldn’t have foubnd otherwise. And it’s so useful when you check a litmag listing and it says, “Do not submit here! They haven’t published since 2019!” or something similar!

  2. Thanks very much, Robin. You are a cheery and empathetic presence in this demanding process.

  3. Antony Mair Antony Mair

    And you are brilliant at it!

  4. Rosie Barrett Rosie Barrett

    Thank you Robin. As Anthony said – You are brilliant at it!

  5. Hilaire Hilaire

    Thanks for this insight into your process!! And thanks for all your detective work – you’ve certainly learnt those cups of tea!

    • Hilaire Hilaire

      Earnt not learnt!

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Robin Houghton 2024