This post is part three of a general discussion about staying organized and effective in submitting poems for publication (See "Beating Poetry Submissions into Shape") . If you want to buy lettuce or a new SUV you are sure to know the difference between the grocery store and the dealership. The same idea works when you consider how to choose a publication to receive your precious poems. I want to suggest a couple of ways of knowing where to submit.
1. Read as many poetry sources as you can. Look at the poems you like and turn to the contributors' notes to see where else these poets have published. If your work is in the same vein--free verse, formal, political, nature, etc.--check out those markets in addition to the one at hand. Given the ubiquitous presence of poetry online, this is no longer hard to do. Google them and read deeper into their archives. Pay attention to whose work appears in a given source. If every poet in the magazine is a Pulitzer Prize winner, you may be in deep water. If the magazine is a "fledgling" the staff may welcome a less famous writer, like us.
Find the submission guidelines for the magazine, usually a tab along the toolbar or sidebar. I open a blank page for each on my desk top and copy relevant info to that. This eliminates the frills and furbelows that take up space in my files. Then I highlight the deadlines, number of poems requested, rights claimed, etc. And a hard copy of this info goes into a calendar file until I need it.
2. Find and learn to use Duotrope, a huge interactive file of magazines and online venues that publish poetry and/or fiction. The directions are easy to follow and the site includes a spread sheet where you can record and track your submissions. Live links take you to individual poetry sites. This is a free tool, but they often need a little help, so I shoot them $5.00 every couple of months. When I spot a market that I like, I do the same copy and paste for my calendar file.
More important than any other bits of advice I can offer are these: Read widely and follow the guidelines meticulously. An editor who asks for dark and eerie won't be pleased if you send her sweet and sentimental. (Well, none whom I know want sweet and sentimental anyway, so don't bother with that.)