If you are thinking about how to publish a poetry book, I recommend that you read this guide.
It will walk you through the important steps of publishing a poetry book and will give you the tools you need, over the long term, to learn how to get poetry published.
How To Publish A Poetry Book – The 5 Step Guide
- Intro/ Overview when are you ready to start thinking about publishing your poetry book
- 5 different kinds of publishers of poetry books and how to choose between them
- Ways to find publishers and submission processes
- How to write your cover letter, if you need one…
- Staying connected to writing poetry as you send your work out for publication
I also recommend that you use my three part guide how to get published that will walk you through other steps of the publication process and how to get poetry published. You can find that here: https://nadiacolburn.com/how-to-get-published/
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Step 1: Intro/ Overview: How To Publish Your Poetry Book & The Types of Poetry Publishers
I recommend that you have a good body of work before you start thinking about getting a poetry book published.
That said, it’s also good to know from the start how the process works.
It’s usually a good idea to publish individual poems before you publish a book of poems. Book publishers usually want the book to include at least some individual poems that have been published already.
If you need help with your poetry writing, I offer poetry writing workshops in Boston MA and online writing classes.
Step 2: Learn The 5 Main Kinds of Publishing Houses That Publish Poetry Books
1. Trade publishing companies/ Big NY publishers
These publishers almost exclusively publish poets who are already well known within the poetry community. (Even these well-known poets still get very little if any money for the publication of their poetry book.)
Pros: Great exposure.
Cons: It’s almost impossible for most authors who are not already very active in the poetry world to break into this world, especially with their first book. It doesn’t mean that the poets who are published by these big presses are “better.” It just means they have already gotten a certain amount of attention.
2. Small presses/ Poetry Presses/ University Presses
There are hundreds of small presses that publish books of poetry, from presses that exclusively publish poetry to university presses to regional presses, these small presses usually pay only a very small amount or nothing to authors for publication rights.
Pros: It’s a great way to get a poetry book published and there are many small presses to look at and to reach out to.
Cons: Many small presses only read though contests. The submission process can be more complicated, involve more steps and be more daunting.
3. Small press Poetry Contests Many small presses and magazines run poetry book prizes.
For a small fee, you enter your manuscript to a contest and the winner’s book is published.
Pros: Often (but not always) prize winners get a bit more publicity than non-prize winning books. The submission process is very easy and depends less on writing a good cover letter, etc. Often it’s the only way the author of a first poetry book can submit to many small presses.
Cons: First readers are often less skilled screeners; there is more competition; you need to pay money to enter these contests.
4. Hybrid Publishers
When it comes to learning how to publish a poetry book, there are increasing numbers of publishers who follow a “hybrid” publishing platform. Unlike self-publishing, hybrid publishers often play an editorial role, and only publish manuscripts that they want to work with. The author and the press split the cost of the book. Often hybrid publishers take charge of distribution of the book and the book can get placed in bookstores/ can get reviews/ can be eligible for prizes in ways that is much less often the case with self published books. The author has more agency over the publishing process.
Pros: Author had more control over the publication process. It can be much faster to get published.
Cons: These publishing houses sometimes have less good distribution than other houses. Author needs to pay her own money to get published.
5. Self Publishing.
There are increasing numbers of self publishing companies where you can design beautiful books and sell them through amazon and other avenues.
Pros: You’re in control of the process. There are no gatekeepers. You get to create the book you want on the terms you want.
Cons: Less professional recognition of self pubished books, opportunities for distribution and reviews. You need to pay your own money-though you also make more money from sales.
How to decide what is right for you: There isn’t a clear right answer. Explore a variety of options and, don’t stress too much about which option you end up taking.
Considerations – How To Get A Poetry Book Published
1. Can you earn money as a poet?
If you’re wondering about money, let’s be upfront: NO American poets with perhaps the exception of Billly Collins, Coleman Barks translations of Rumi actually make money from traditional sales of poetry books. Poets like Rupi Kaur built her own following on Instagram and earned money through her following—not through her publishing house, which came only after she had a large following.
Professional poets make money teaching poetry at universities or through other means. No one becomes a poet to earn money. We earn our money around our poetry not through book sales directly.
2. How do poetry books get distributed/ into the public hands?
Most poetry publishers do little PR. Poets need to become their own PR person, setting up readings themselves and getting books to reviewers and into hands of readers online and in person. What path you take probably will not have much impact on book sales—it’s up to you anyway. It only has impact on whether you want to be eligible for poetry prizes and reviews in magazines and want to be part of the “poetry establishment”
3. Publishing a Chapbook before you publish a full length collection:
Chapbooks are shorter than full length collections. Usually they are between 20-30 pages. Small presses and small poetry presses publish chapbooks.
You can find publishers of chapbooks through the list of small presses and the contest lists on Poets & Writers (see below). Poems/ sequences that are published in a chapbook CAN be published in a full length book. Publishing a chapbook won’t hurt, and might help, your chances of publishing a full length collection with the same poems.
4. How much does it cost to get a poetry book published?
The cost to publish a poetry book or individual poem can vary widely. A standard literary journal submission fee hovers around $3 to submit (usually) 3-6 poems, and a book-length submission can cost a writer roughly around $25.
Step 3: How To Find Publishers of Poetry Books In These Different Categories
These resources can help you find poetry presses, small presses, poetry contests and more:
Poet’s Market: http://www.poetrymarkets.com/
Poets & Writers:
List of small presses: https://www.pw.org/small_presses
List of contests: https://www.pw.org/grants
Go to your local bookstore/library/ amazon to look at books of poetry that you like by new and upcoming poets and see where they were published. See what that publishing company’s submission process is.
Look for university presses that publish poetry and reach out to them.
Be sure to look at the books that publishers publish before you submit. There are many different styles/ aesthetics within American poetry today, some more experimental, some more traditional, some more political some more spiritual. While many presses publish a wide variety of voices it’s still important to submit to presses that may resonate with the kind of poems you write.
Partial List of hybrid publishers:
Partial list of self publishing options:
There are also many much smaller self publishing houses, some of which specialize in poetry,
Once you have a list of publishers, make sure you go to their submissions guidelines and follow them carefully. Each publisher has slightly different guidelines that they spell out on their website.
Almost all publishers want you to submit your work electronically and many have submissions forms.
Smaller presses often want you to write a cover letter and submit a few sample poems. They will get back to you if they are interested and want to see more.
Getting your Poetry Book ready for Publication
Don’t send your poetry book out for publication until you feel it is really ready.
That doesn’t mean it needs to be perfect—there is no perfect—but do try to bring it to as professional a level as you can and feel really strong about it before you send it out.
Try to publish individual poems in magazines/ journals before you try to publish your whole book. Again, see my guide to getting shorter work published here:
When you put together a poetry manuscript, you want each individual poem to be be as strong as possible and to be able to stand on its own as a strong poem; you also want to have the book work together as well as possible as a whole. Some poetry books have narrative arcs, some don’t. There is much to be said about how to assemble a poetry collection, and that is outside the scope of this particular piece. If you want help with editorial direction, I do offer one on one poetry manuscript consultations and editorial support. I also offer in-person poetry workshops in Cambridge MA (link) if you want to work on poetry as a craft—and practice.
Once you have your poetry collection ready, it’s time to submit to publishers.
Step 4: How To Write a Cover Letter To Get Your Poetry Collection Published
Here is an outline for a sample cover letter to send with your poetry collection/ sample when trying to get your poetry book published.
If you send your manuscript directly to the press, the cover letter matters. If you send to contests, the cover letter isn’t supposed to be part of the decision process.
“Dear Editor’s Name,
I recently finished a poetry manuscript , TITLE, and hope that you’ll consider it for publication. I enjoy the books published by X PRESS; some of my favorites are xyz (say a few things abour them) and I think MY TITLE would be fit well with X PRESS’s list, and hope you agree.
My manuscript…give a description of what the manuscript does/ explores in one or two short paragraphs.
A paragraph about you with your bio. List poetry publications, what you do in your professional life, anything interesting or unusual about you, even just hobbies you enjoy so that the editor gets a sense of you as a three dimensional person who has a full, rounded life. You don’t need to come off as a super start poet, but you should sound like someone who has led an interesting life—of the mind or of actions.
I’ve enclosed/ attached either the full manuscript or ten sample poems (depending on what the publisher asks for).
I’ll hope to hear from you.
If you don’t hear back within roughly five months, reach out again with a follow-up email.
Step 5: How To Keep Writing and Loving The Process Even As You Send Your Work Out For Publication
Most of us don’t write because we want to send out our work.
And we don’t write because we want to get rich and famous—at least I hope not, because there aren’t many rich and famous poets.
We write because we love to write.
We write because we have something important to say, because we are like birds who are made to sing, because we fall in love and because we experience terrible, excruciating things; we write because the sun rises in the morning against an extraordinary splash of colors and sets again with another splash of amazement. We write because we are a species that is an inherently creative, meaning making, language making animal. We write because we are in dialogue with the books we have read and with the rhythms of our bodies and of the land and people and air around us—
We write because we are drawn to write. And because we write, we want to share what we write. And we should.
Elizabeth Gilbert talks about the “shit sandwich” that comes with every job. If you’re a parent, you need to change your kids’ diapers and get up with them in the middle of the night when they’re sick. That’s not the most fun part of parenting, but what we need to do in order to have the wonderful experience of being a parent and supporting and loving and having a relationship with our children.
For most writers, the publication process is the shit sandwich of writing. Getting published isn’t particularly fun for most writers. It’s somewhat boring sending out our work; it’s not particularly creative, and comes, for all writers, with a good dose of rejection.
But it enables us to share our work with others and to create finished pieces.
This is what the writer Ann Lamott says about publication: “I still encourage anyone who feels at all compelled to write to do so. I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all it is cracked up to be. But writing is.”
But writing without publication without creating a finished product often feels incomplete. After all, we write to communicate, and many of us want to be able to be able to have a complete work to share with others, something we can hold in our hand.
Your work has value. Your voice is unique. I encourage you to get it out there and to share it! That is why I made this guide.
I also encourage you to find poetry communities that resonate with you. Connect with presses and people that you love and that you think might resonate with your work.
And then treat your publication process like a job.
Summary: How To Publish A Poetry Book
This guide helps you de-mystify the process. Break it down into parts.
- Finish your manuscript (that’s the fun part)
- decide the kind of publishing route you want to go
- make a list of potential publishers
- write your cover letter and personalize it for each publisher
- Go through your list one by one and send your work to the publishing houses.
Look at your calendar and decide how much time you have to devote to this process each week/ month. Then SCHEDULE it on your calendar. Maybe you take lunch time from 12-1 on Thursdays to devote to the publication process. Put the time in. Go down the list and get your work out there. Then you don’t need to think about it for the rest of the week.
And please don’t forget your initial connection to writing and to your own voice.
The publication process is full of ups and downs. Acceptances and rejections both come with their own emotional weight. As you send your work out for publication, it’s important to de-couple the publication process from your love of writing and from your own internal self worth and appreciation.
Don’t forget that we don’t write for acceptance (if we do write for acceptance, we should rethink that and try to find acceptance in better places, within us and in community). And rejections should not get in the way of your deep connection with your voice and your writing process.
I’ve seen friends whose work I love struggle for years to get published and then get published with great success and aplomb. And other friends get published easily at first, and then with more difficulty later. I don’t see a clear one to one relationship between publication success and skill or value of work.
And almost all writers receive many more rejections than acceptances. So think of the long game and keep going! Put that time to do the “business” side of writing on your calendar. And don’t give up. If one path doesn’t work, look for another path or community where you resonate more with them and they resonate more with you. There is space for everyone–and it’s not a hierarchy but a matter of taste and finding your own unique groove.
Keep on writing and shining your light on and with the world!