Dear Poets: Submission advice from our poetry editor Bianca Spriggs

by on Nov 19, 2014 in Blog | 6 comments

Thank you in advance for your submission to Apex Magazine! Because the nature of submitting work can sometimes be elusive, in order to stand out from the slush, I just wanted to take a minute and give you a few ideas as to what I’m looking for, what I don’t necessarily care to read, and also a few general tips that can only benefit all of us!

What I Love to Read:

  • Regarding content: Thrill me. Surprise me. Make me laugh. Make me shiver. I want to feel something when I read your work. I want work that is innovative, that doesn’t flinch, that challenges my boundaries but is unapologetic in doing so. I am into poems that declare, “You wanted to read me—now you gotta deal with me.”
  • The underdogs of the speculative world. The voiceless. Who are we not hearing from? What rare creature, what poor under-represented soul is lurking in someone’s bestiary just waiting to be resurrected?
  • Successful hybridity. A pixie, a robot, and a mummy walk into a bar…
  • Fresh, memorable, specific. Vibrant colors. Intense aromas. Sensitivity to sensory description in general. I want to be haunted by the images in your poem while washing my hair, in the middle of my day job, and when friends come over this weekend. I want to stop everything and pull strangers to the side and crow over an image in your poem, “Can’t you just see this?!”
  • Airtight lines. I love a lean line without the fuss of editorializing. I look for momentum on the page. The right balance of white space. Form that matches content. Rhythm—I want to feel a pulse so strong in your poem, my own heartbeat alters to match it.
  • Exemplary diction and syntax and active voice. Poems that make the most of language through vocabulary and word arrangement.
  • An excellent dismount. That last line doesn’t need to wrap everything up with a bow, but it has definitely got to billow. I should want to put the poem down, close my eyes, and think about what just happened to my brain before picking it up and reading it all over again.

What I Will Pass On:

  • Regarding content: Work that makes me scratch my head because either the underlying narrative is so muddled I have no idea what’s going on, who the speaker is, what’s at stake, the references are too obscure, or I just end up thinking, “That was a nice poem. So, what?”
  • Rhyming free verse.
  • Poems that are centered on the page.
  • Poems that are unnecessarily long. Unless it’s just a singularly fascinating piece (which do exist), I admit, I start to glaze over by the end of page four.
  • Poems that are really flash fiction in disguise. A stanza break does not necessarily a poem make.
  • Poems featuring speculative fixtures (robots, aliens, vampires, ghosts, werewolves, zombies, fairies, mermaids, etc.) that don’t teach me something new and are beholden to well-trod clichés and genre conventions.
  • Poems that are too heavy on prose or narrative, cluttered language, too many articles, passive voice. Even if the poem is a prose poem, there should be attention to diction and syntax.
  • Unnecessary spectacle: violence and/or expletives and/or depictions of sex or any sense that someone is trying to shock me for shock’s sake.
  • Work that hasn’t been spell/grammar-checked.


  • I strongly suggest you read through the current issue and some back issues to get a feel for what we publish.
  • It’s always nice to see someone’s well-rounded bio with degrees and accolades and previous publications, but I am mainly interested in the work.
  • Having been previously published in Apex Magazine does not guarantee you future publication.
  • If I like your style but don’t think this particular submission is a fit, I will most likely say something in my response to the effect of, “I hope to see more of your work down the road.” And guess what? I really mean it!
  • If I think your poem has potential but isn’t quite there yet, I may pop open the hood and suggest a few edits or tweaks to tighten the poem up a bit. If I do this, you are under no obligation to take my suggestions, but what I hope happens is that we start a dialogue about how to make the poem more effective. Ultimately, it’s your poem and you have to feel true to your voice, but I will ultimately have your work’s best interest at heart as much as I do the caliber of our magazine!


  1. I wish everyone gave such a great description of what they’re looking for. This is brilliant.

  2. Wait a minute. Under rhyming free verse, does that mean the poem cannot rhyme at all, or that it can rhyme but just not in free verse?

  3. Not really looking for rhyming at all, although I did pick something recently that rhymed because it was just too good to pass up, so every preference can be amended, I suppose. Long story short, if you can sell it, I’ll buy it. 🙂

  4. Wonderful advice, thank you!

  5. I have written what I call a “rhyming story,” in that, it rhymes like a poem, but came out better in a story format instead of stanzas. I’m not sure what that would be classified as. Any suggestions?

    • Hi John,

      You’ll have better luck emailing Bianca directly. She probably won’t see your comment.


Leave a Reply to John T. M. Herres Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Our relaunch Kickstarter goes live on July 20th!