I appreciate getting inquiries about getting published, and recently a mother
asked for information help get her son’s poetry published. Getting published
can mean many things depending on the medium, the money spent, and the
time devoted the process. As for a profit, poets can join the thousands of
writers, even me, who wish they could go beyond the serious hobby stage of
poetry writing. I have yet to get a main-stream publisher offer me a check for
a book. But don’t let that stop new writers. Here is more relevant general information
The Poet’s Guide to Getting Published
POETRY GROUPS AND READINGS.
A FEATURED POET.
FINDING YOUR FIRST PUBLISHER.
THE INVALUABLE LITERARY MARKET REFERENCE BOOKS.
PROFESSIONALISM IN POETRY.
PREPARING THE SUBMISSION.
FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES.
WHAT EDITORS LOOK FOR.
EDITORS ARE POETS TOO.
PLANNING THE ORDER OF THE POEMS.
TYPING THE MANUSCRIPT.
CHOOSING A PUBLISHER.
WHAT ABOUT LITERARY AGENTS.
OTHER PUBLISHING OPTIONS.
One way to get your poems published is to start a poetry web site, and then get people to read it. With hundreds of web sites being created daily, search engines are one place to start (see info@ netannounce.com). Services on the web offer advertising packages for a fee, and one such place is VisibilityOnLine@quikpage.com.
Some places, like this, guarantee their work. Other web sources are poetry news groups and subject forums (see www.dejanews.com) Here are some other more traditional, less technical ways to get published.
If you wish to become a widely published and successful poet, you must expose your art. You want to see your poems published because they are good and deserve to be known. So how do you go about getting your poems known? A good place to start is poetry groups or poetry readings.
POETRY GROUPS AND READINGS
In any metropolitan area there will be poetry groups, seminars, workshops, and readings. Groups and workshops are excellent places to try out new ideas, to receive constructive criticism of your work, and to learn from others’ mistakes and successes. You can find groups and workshops in your area listed in the International Directory of Writer’s Groups & Associations.
Poetry readings provide all that and more- your first audience.
Readings are essential. They give you repeated experience in exposing your work to other writers and to the public at large. They also give you exposure to the work of others.
How do you find a place to read? Coffee houses, folk clubs, schools, universities and poetry groups are good places to start. They often sponsor “open readings,” where anyone may come and read. The time allotted to each performance varies, but ten minutes is the usual. “Open mike” nights usually feature musicians, but poets are welcome, too.
To find reading venues, check your local newspapers, particularly the “subculture” one of your area has them. Get schedules of upcoming events from your local colleges and other cultural centers. You can reconnoiter on your first visit, but performing is more rewarding than just observing.
Of course you will be nervous at first. It is difficult to get up in front of a group of people and perform. Even professional performers get stage fright. Don’t worry. Remember, the audience is on your side. They want you to do well and will applaud when you do.
Learn your poems before you go. Read the aloud to yourself, a friend, or a tape recorder. Get a feeling for the amount of time each poem takes and practice reading the sounds smoothly. You may want to change certain parts when you hear them aloud. Go well prepared.
Make sure your diction is clear. Read carefully enough so that the audience can understand every word, but not so slowly the poem drags. Use your best natural voice and aim at the back of the audience, so everyone can hear. Most of all, give your audience a full experience. Poetry can be powerful. You must release this power and touch your audience with it.
A FEATURED POET
If you are successful at open readings, you will develop a following. This, combined with regular publication, probably will bring you invitations to scheduled readings. At these you will be a featured poet- along with perhaps two or three others. Now you have from fifteen to thirty minutes on stage.
All along you should be developing a performing style. Do not imitate someone else1s. Be yourself. Try to bring your poems to life. Give them something they wouldn1t have if merely read from a book.
Selection of your material is important, especially when you receive solo readings. Then the whole show is yours. The people have come to see and hear you. Plan your program in advance, but be ready to make changes once you see what kind of audience you have. If you have an audience of young, eager people wanting to have a good time with poetry, don1t read Rimbaud-goes-to-hell poems for 45 minutes straight. Your program should be varied. Serious poems? By all means! But interspersed with light ones. The mood should change from light to heavy. In this way but the light poems and the heavier ones will have optimum effect.
Comedy is another variation. Make people laugh. Set them at ease and allow them to have a good time. You will have them in the palm of your hand. Poetry reading is a performing art, and you will learn to become an entertainer as well as a poet.
There a few things not to do. Never try to explain a poem to an audience. Introducing a prom is fine. Recounting an anecdote or the circumstances surrounding its creation can be interesting and amusing. But let the audience interpret the poem.
Never read for too long. Poetry is weighty stuff. A little can go a long way. In a solo reading, an hour or so is fine. If you want it to be longer, then have a break during the reading. The audience must be fresh to appreciate your work. Do not exhaust the listeners. Leave them wanting more.
Do not hoard your poems. Keeping them in your desk drawer will not enrich the world and will not make you known. Nor is it wise to save up poems for eventual publication in a book. You begin by publishing poems one at a time in magazines and poetry collections. In fact, your beginning efforts at reading and getting published should coincide.
FINDING YOUR FIRST PUBLISHER
The first step is to read poetry journals and magazines. Once such journal is The American Poetry Review, published bimonthly by World Poetry, Inc., with editorial offices at 1721 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA., 19103 or call for subscriptions at (215) 496-0439. The easiest way to look through all the magazines on your local library shelves.
THE INVALUABLE LITERARY MARKET REFERENCE BOOKS
You can find hundred more poetry magazines in the literary market reference books such as Literary Marketplace , Poet1s Market, and The International directory of Little Magazines and Small Presses. They should be available at your local library, and the last one book, all 1000 pages, can be purchased at Anamnesis Press, 50 Austin Ave., Suite 121, Hayward, CA 94544 for 31.95 plus $6 for postage and handling and applicable sales tax. Check for current prices.
These books list over a thousand poetry publication, give editor’s names, addresses and information about what kind of poetry they seek.
Get copies of the magazines most likely to publish your poems. Study these publications, and see what kinds of poems each one takes. Once you have read several issues of each magazine you will have a good idea of what each one wants,and which of these magazines you should submit to. Make sure your submissions suit the magazine1s needs. This will increase your chances of acceptance.
What about payment?
Obviously you would like to be paid as much as possible. But the truth is that poetry pays almost nothing until you become very well known. Most magazines pay either in nominal sums or in copies of the issue in which your poem appears. Some journals cannot afford to pay anything. This does not mean you should ignore them. In some cases, getting published is honor enough, as in college anthologies. Getting published is more important than quibbling over a few dollars. You need the experience of publishing in some small magazines to start with. Each poem that gets published helps you reach a wider audience and may bring you into contact with other writers, editors, and publishers.
Along the way, If you notice other poets1 work that you genuinely admire, write them, care of their publisher, telling them so. Such letters can lead to the formation of friendships and of effective poetic groups.
PROFESSIONALISM IN POETRY
When you get to the stage of actually mailing off your poem to potential publishers, your professionalism is of the utmost importance. Show the editors that you are a professional, not an amateur. Being a poet does not preclude being competent at business. Publishing is a business, and to be successful in it you must learn how it works. You will find that being good at the business side of writing does not demean you. Rather, it improves your reception.
PREPARING THE SUBMISSION
The work you send to an editor is going to create the initial impression of you. So be very neat, precise and clear. Use standard size (8 1/2 x 11) bond paper. Never send carbon copies! Each poem should be typed without mistakes with a typewriter ribbon dark enough to read easily. Proofread your submission several times before mailing it off. If a mistake crops up, it is easy enough to type a new, clean copy. The amount of typing is very small and a little extra typing now may mean the difference between rejection and publication.
Each poem should be centered on the page. Single spacing is acceptable. Your name and address should appear in the upper left hand corner of the page. In the right hand corner, indicate the number of lines in your poem, unless it is very short. If your poem runs longer then one page, the second page should have your last name, title of your poem, and page number at the top. If the page break coincides with a stanza break, indicate this clearly. Do not staple the pages together. A paper clip is better.
Editors generally do not need footnotes. If your poem contains esoteric literary references, don1t annoy the editors by explaining them. If they don’t know what they are, they’ll find out.
Keep copies of everything you send out. Sometimes submissions get lost or misplaced, though editors usually take great care that this doesn’t happen.
FOLLOW SUBMISSION GUIDELINES
When submitting to a magazine, always follow its guidelines. Failure to due so may result in rejection. I f there is a line limit, adhere to it. If a magazine allows up to five poems at a time, then send five and no more. By the way, sending only one poem (unless only one is requested) can sometimes mark you as an amateur. Professionals usually send as many as the magazine will allow.
The guidelines are available on request from the magazines. They are also set out in the literary market reference books. Simultaneous submissions used to be un acceptable, but nowadays writers are doing more and more. It is best to have several different groups of poems in the mail to various publications, but if you do send the same poems to different magazines, you should tell the editors that you are doing this. If a magazine’s guidelines say no simultaneous submission, then of course don’t do it.
Some magazines will not accept photocopied material, other will not. If you don1t know, send original copies. When in doubt, check the guidelines.
Do not send extraneous cover letters. They only waste an editor’s time and brand you as an amateur. And never include a letter which attempts to explain your poems to the editor. Your poems must stand on their own feet.
However, if you have something significant to say, then a cover letter is in order.
If you have just published a volume of poems, an editor will be interested. Or if this editor has been recommended to you by someone the editor knows, then a letter mentioning that person1s name should included. But don’t write a letter just to write a letter.
Occasionally an editor will reply to your poetry submission with a letter. Of course you should respond. But be brief and cogent.
Whenever you submit anything to a magazine or editor, also enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE). Use a business size #10 envelope for both your submission and your return envelopes. Never use anything smaller. Submissions unaccompanied by a proper SASE will rarely be returned.
Each poem should occupy its own page. Each poem should be folded and placed in the envelope separately, rather than folded together. This makes it easier for the editor to sort them out.
Address your submission to the poetry editor by name as well as using the name of the publication, so that your poem goes straight to the person you want to read it. Editors1 names are listed in the magazines themselves and in market references.
Keep a record of your submissions. Don’t rely on memory alone. Keep track of which poems went where and when. Also keep track of the results. The records will help you make accurate submissions in the future.
Do not sit around waiting for results after sending off only one batch of poems. Keep creating and submitting. As soon as one group of poems is in the mail, begin preparing for another, and another after that. The more poems you have out, the more you will have published. Editors will begin recognizing you as a professional, not just a one-timer.
Do not let rejection bother you. Every poet, indeed, every writer, get rejection slips. Many poems are rejected because of editorial needs, not because they are bad. If your poem is good, it will find a market. You simply may have to keep on trying until you find the right place to publish it. If one editor turns down your poem, send it to another.
Editorial reply time typically takes six weeks. Sometimes it may be less. Often it is more. The editor will reply as soon as possible, so don’t send premature query letters.
Many magazines state what their normal reply time is. So, check the market references. If a magazine says it will reply in 8-12 weeks, then don’t send a query letter after the 10th week. Give them time to take a good long look at your work.
If, however, it has been twelve weeks and you still haven1t heard, then a status query is reasonable. The letter should be polite and brief. Mention the titles of the poems sent, along with your name and the date you sent them. Never sound angry or blame the editor for the delay. Always enclose the SASE. Editors will appreciate it.
WHAT EDITORS LOOK FOR
Editors may not be able to tell you ahead of time what they want, but they know it when they see it. They want good poems. So write the best poems you can, and send them to as many editors as it takes to get them published.
Many magazines will list their editorial needs in their guidelines, or in the literary market reference books. Some might say ” Prefer avant-garde forms, but will consider traditional ones, no religious poems.” Now the editors are telling you what they want. So give it to them. If you1re not sure what kind of poems a magazine publishes, them find copies of that magazine and read them.
EDITORS ARE POETS TOO
Editors of the major poetry publications are invariably poets themselves, and experienced ones at that. Thus they are the most qualified to be looking at your work. Poetry editors love poetry. They want you to write poetry and they want you to publish as many poems as you can. Their adherence to high artistic standards in their choice of what is published and what is not comes from their desire to see the art of poetry flourish, not from a desire to keep anyone from being recognized. So treat the editor as a friend and colleague: one of your best friends in the world can be a good editor.
In fact, editors enjoy “discovering” new poets of talent, and being the first to publish them. So if an editor rejects your poems but comments on them and offers advice, don1t be offended or angry. Follow the advice.
Many poetry contests are sponsored each year. Entering them is good experience. Winning them can further your career.
Contests are listed in the reference books such as Poet’s Market, and in some magazines, such as Coda. Write to the sponsors of the contests you want to enter, asking for their guidelines. Include a SASE.
Follow each contest’s guidelines exactly. Some judges will disqualify any entry that does not follow the rules.
Many contests request any entry fee to cover the costs of the contest. Include a check or money order for the correct amount with your entry.
Present your poem professionally. Type it cleanly on a standard 81/2 inch by 11 inch paper, and proofread it to perfection. To win, a poem must be good. But it must also be presented well, and obey all the rules.
Also poetry submissions are invited for the forthcoming edition of The American Poetry Anthology. The editors are interested in poems from poets of all levels of experience, especially new, not-yet-published or little-known poets. All poems submitted for the anthology are also entered in their Poetry Contest, whose Grand Prize is $1,000. There are 150 other prizes. These prizes are awarded twice a year.
Guidelines for the Contest Entry and Anthology Submission:
– send up to six (6) poems.
– All subjects, forms, and styles are acceptable.
– 20 lines maximum for each poem.
– Top of the page must have the poet’s name and address.
– Please type, or print poems by hand neatly.
– Keep copies of your poems. Photocopies are okay.
– Send poems to:
American Poetry Anthology
P.O. Box 1803
Santa Cruz, CA 95061-1803
YOUR FIRST BOOK OF POEMS
When the time comes that you are giving readings on a regular basis, your poems have been published in leading magazines, and perhaps you have been included in a few major anthologies, it is time to issue your first volume of poems.
Your first book should be cohesive, and a poem in itself.
Now it is your turn to be the editor and choose which of your poems to include, and in what order. Do not aim for a “collected works”; they comes only after you have published many volumes. What you want to design is a selection of poems that will have an overall unity and as stunning an effect as you can achieve.
Begin by going through all the poems your have written, the unpublished as well as the published. Forty or fifty poems is best for a first book.
Recall your readings. Which of your poems consistently drew the best response? Which ones did you feel the most confident with? Which one did you like?
Remember your experience with publication. Did some of the poems draw more interest and comment than others?
As you read through your poems you will begin to form an overall concept of a book, one which is a unified whole and not a colorful pastiche. If your poems dwell on a few recurring themes, then you might want to take one of these themes and choose only those poems which deal with it. Or, you might divide the book into sections, dealing with various themes or subjects in each. Whichever you choose, make sure the book is cohesive and not just a random selection of your poems.
When you reject poems, keep in mind future volumes. A poem that might not fit this current books may be good for a later one, or may contain an excellent line or fine idea that you may want to rework later. Keep all your creative options open for the future.
When you have chosen the poems you want to include, arrange them in the best order. Consider the reader’s experience as he or she moves through the book. Just as you pace your readings, so must you pace your book. You don’t it to be monotonous or too heavy. Give it some variation. Let it breathe. Stagger long and short poems. Alternate lighter ones with heavier ones. Vary the reader’s experiences while maintaining the overall unity.
Once you’ve completed the final arrangement, read the whole book through to yourself several times. See if the arrangement you have chosen holds up. If not, change the order and reread. Keep reworking until you have the finest unified effect and the richest experience possible from your poems. Ten you are ready to look for a publisher.
Before you begin typing your book, write to the publishers of your previously published poems, asking permission to republished them in a book of your own. You should have no problems obtaining permission. Be sure to send a SASE with your letter. Then start typing your manuscript.
TYPING THE MANUSCRIPT
Your first page should be your title page. The title of your collection and your name should appear centered of this page.
Numbering starts with the first page. Every page after the first should bear the title, your name, and the page number at the top.
Page Two should list the poems in your book that have been previously published and where.
Page three is your contents page. List the poems in the order in which they will appear in the book. If the book is in sections, list these in proper sequence, too. Do not put in page numbers because the relationship will probably change when the book goes to print.
Page four will contain your first poem. You should have only one poem per page unless your poems are very, very short. If a poem occupies more than one page, then the next poem should begin on its own page after that. You don’t want your layout crowded.
When you have finished typing your manuscript, proofread it several times. If any page has too many typographical errors, retype it. Computer and word processor users should abide by the same rules, except that the corrections don’t warrant retyping the entire manuscript. It is mandatory that you present yourself as a professional.
CHOOSING A PUBLISHER
Choosing a book publisher is like looking for a poetry editor. Find a publisher for whom your book is suited. Check the market references, and study what each publisher carries. A good bookstore or a large library with a contemporary poetry collection will allow you to see what is being published currently.
When you mail your manuscript to the publisher, do not fasten the pages together. A large manila envelope is sufficient. Be sure to enclose a SASE for the whole manuscript. You may also enclose a letter-size SASE.
THIS TIME A COVER LETTER IS NECESSARY!
Introduce yourself by listing the magazine and anthology credits you have accumulated. You may also say something about the collection itself, but stay brief. Your cover letter should not exceed one page.
Publishers usually state what their reply time is, but as you were with magazines, be patient.
WHAT ABOUT LITERARY AGENTS?
At this stage you do not need an agent. Besides, most agents won’t accept first books of poetry because the expected financial return is too small. If you do have a personal contact, either an agent or someone involved with publishing, by all means use it. Otherwise, it is best to deal directly with the publisher yourself. Later, when you have established a reputation, an agent can be useful.
OTHER PUBLISHING OPTIONS
There are a number of other options besides the major publishers. SMALL PRESSES are where may poets get started. A small press is much more likely to take a first book of poetry than a major house is. Small poetry presses, too, are listed in the standard literary reference books.
COLLABORATIVE PUBLISHING means that you and the publisher work together, sharing the expenses and work, as well as the income. Find a collaborator you feel comfortable with and work something out. Two such places are Carlton Press, Dept. TMP, 11 West 32nd St., New York, NY 10001 or Vantage Press, 516 West 34th St., New York, NY, 10001. Check around before you make the final choice.
SELF PUBLISHING means that you are the publisher. You pay all the costs, and are in full charge of the typesetting, printing, marketing, distributing and advertising of your book. Many poets have started this way. There is no stigma whatsoever, but it entails a fair amount of work and expense.
If your book is published by a major house, you will receive a royalty contract, and most likely an advance as well. If your book is published by a small press, you will receive a royalty contract, but probably no advance. However, this will vary with each publisher and book.
If you choose collaborative publishing, you share the income with your collaborator. And if you self-publish your book, the income is yours.
Most importantly, do not expect a large financial gain on your first book, even if a major house takes it. Your reward is having a book in hand and getting yourself noticed. Having a published book of your poetry to show people, send to people, and to read from (and sell!) at your readings is a big advancement. At this point your career has taken a large step, and you should be happy.
Finally, there is the continuing process of creation itself. Regardless of how your first efforts turned out, you should always keep on writing. Even if you are the only one to ever see your poem, read it, to hear how it sounds, to know what it means, the efforts of creating it has been worthwhile. If others are also able to read it, hear how it sounds, and know what it means, that is an extra gift.
Copies of The Poet’s Guide to Getting Published are available FREE. Please enclose a SASE and write to
American Poetry Association
P.O. Box 1803
Santa Cruz, CA 95061-1803