At The Book Shelf, we help nonfiction authors publish their work. But we have a confession to make: we’ve got a soft spot for poetry! It’s a dynamic medium, and like poetry itself, the process of publishing it isn’t restricted in the same ways that publishing fiction or nonfiction can be. If you’ve written some poems or even a full collection that you’d like to publish, there are several ways to do so.
Submitting to poetry magazines and journals, online or in print, is still the best way to build up your reputation as a poet. Not only do they provide great exposure, but also prove to publishers that your work is being read by a wide community of people, which will help if you eventually want to publish a pamphlet or collection.
Most poetry mags publish multiple writers in each issue, so they usually accept around one to five poems in a single submission. Make sure to check each journal’s specific guidelines, though, as they will also provide information on the style of poetry they’re interested in and the rights they ask of you, for example. For numerous reasons, some magazines pay for accepted submissions and some don’t, the ethics of which we will cover in the future; bear in mind that those that pay often have a lower acceptance rate due to a higher number of submissions.
Having poems sprinkled across a variety of publications is a fantastic way to build your brand and audience as a writer, but if you’re ready for your work to be the sole star of a publication and your name on its front cover, here are some helpful distinctions…
Zines are usually short, self-published magazines about anything from short fiction and poetry to art and political polemics. Since they’re typically self-published, there’s a lot of freedom for experimentation as well as collaboration with other writers and artists. There are also zine publishers online that help creatives get their zines off the ground.
Pamphlets are short collections of poetry, and the physical ones are usually bound without a spine. With approximately 20 poems in a pamphlet, they’re a great way to introduce yourself to the poetry world and gain traction for a collection further down the line. Pamphlets can be self-published, but people generally opt to send their manuscripts to publishers that also publish pamphlets.
Collections are perhaps the most formal way to publish poetry. They work similarly to other traditional models of publishing, except you don’t necessarily need an agent before you can send your work to publishers. There are large publishing houses that also publish poetry, such as Faber, and smaller independent publishers with their own different niches. Take a look around online to find publishers that best align with your creative vision.
Social media: Posting your poetry online, on a personal blog or social media accounts such as Instagram, is a viable way to gain exposure as a poet. In light of Instagram rebranding as a video-sharing site, let’s not forget that it began as a way for photographers and artists to share their work! This is still possible if you’re willing to promote yourself well.
Likewise, putting your writing on video platforms, such as TikTok and YouTube, allows you to get creative with your delivery and visuals. Even if you simply recite your poetry, a well-performed poem can go a long way. If you’re a spoken word poet, we recommend this as the primary means of sharing your work (aside from attending open mic events).
Poetry as product: Selling your poetry as art—framed and/or personalised—is a fun alternative to publishing poetry traditionally. You can open a shop online and use your poems as artwork. This is an opportunity to make money and share your writing in a self-sufficient way.
Don’t be disheartened if you send out your work and it doesn’t get picked up by an editor or publisher. It’s harder to publish poetry than fiction, as it has a smaller readership which makes it difficult to market to wider, more general audiences. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen! But it does mean that you’ll have to work harder on your craft, be patient, and deal with some rejections along the way. It’s not a reflection of your work, but a reflection of how the industry works.
As mentioned, there are alternatives to traditional publishing that can still get your work out there and create opportunities for you. Whilst you won’t earn any money from posting online, social media can help you find jobs and events to grow your reach, and allows you to network with people in the writing community, whether they’re writers, publishers, or event organisers.
If you have work you believe in, it’ll find the right place. Whether that’s in your own hands, in a self-published pamphlet, or with a publishing house agreeing to a full collection, if getting your poetry out into the world is important to you, you can make it happen.
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