What kind of poet are you? A brooding type who writes about storms and moors and darkness? Or a romantic who writes about pining and fairytales and heartbreak? Maybe you’re a nature-lover poet with stacks and stacks of poems about a single flower you walked past a few months ago (don’t at me. It was a great flower.).
No matter the type of poetry you write, you probably fall within two camps: the poet who scribbles their stanzas in the dark under the covers and hides or burns the pages afterward, or the poet who wants EVERYONE to read their poetry.
If you write poetry in any of these groups, you’re probably super interested in getting your poetry published. But what does that mean? How do we get poetry published? How do we know when our poems are ready?
There are so many options for publishing and sharing your poetry, so let’s dig in.
This guide to how to publish poetry covers:
- Is it hard to get poetry published?
- Is my poetry worth publishing?
- Where to publish poetry
- How to self-publish a poetry collection
- Interested in publishing a book of poetry?
Is it hard to get poetry published?
To be totally honest, it can be hard to get poetry published, considering how competitive the traditional publishing industry is. Even if your writing is compelling and original and your poems are strong and well-executed, you could go months or years before landing a publication. Publishers–whether they’re publishing houses, journals, online lit mags–typically have two things:
- A very specific idea of what they’re looking to publish
- Way too many submissions.
This puts writers at a disadvantage. When publishers can be as picky as they’d like, we’re left to fight with each other to get those coveted spots. It ultimately doesn’t matter how good your poem is if it doesn’t fit into what they were looking to publish.
But don’t let that discourage you!
There are ways to up your chances, and with enough perseverance, most writers can get published. We’ll cover some tips to help your poem find a home later on, so keep reading.
Is my poetry worth publishing?
When do you know your poem is ready to be published? This is the question nearly every poet asks themselves, even when they’re far into their writing career. And it’s tough to be sure!
Some good signs your poetry is ready to be published might be:
- If it gets a positive response from readers. (Are you showing your poems to people, even beta readers? You should be!) What kind of feedback are you getting?
- Are you confident in it? I do believe there’s a gut feeling that writers eventually develop that helps them realize when a piece is finished. Learn to hear and listen to that voice.
- Is it important to you? Some people write poems just to have written a poem–when the poem has meaning for you is when it might have meaning for someone else.
Essentially, your poetry is worth publishing if you believe it to be!
Where to publish poetry: The different options for sharing your poems
So where do we publish poetry? Tons of places, actually!
If you’re going traditional, there are anthologies, literary journals, and online magazines. Some publishers also do social media publication–for example, MicroFlashFic posts micro stories on their Twitter feed.
You have even more options if self-publishing is on your radar. You can publish your own collection, post poems on a personal website, send them out in a weekly newsletter, etc.
Let’s go into detail on these options and look at tips for how to accomplish them.
1. Traditionally publishing in journals and magazines
When writers think of having a short piece published, the thing they’re typically imaging is a traditional publication in a journal, magazine, or anthology.
Here are a few tips to achieve publishing poetry this way:
- Try using a service like submittable.com to find, filter, and track your submissions. This can help you submit more pieces and stay on top of their progress.
- Submit to lots of places! Some publications specifically ask that you not do simultaneous submissions, but you’re free to do it with most. When I’m trying to publish a poem, I’ll usually have it sent out to 20 or 30 different publications at the same time, because a lot of them can take forever to respond, and most will respond with a rejection. Since it’s so competitive, it’s in your best interest to send out your pieces in mass batches.
- Have a strong writer’s bio. An interesting or impressive bio or cover letter can help you grab the notice of publishers. When they're sifting through hundreds or thousands of poems, an easy heuristic is to toss submissions that have missing bios or messy ones. On the flip side, having an impressive bio with listed publications and accomplishments or just having one that you’ve clearly put effort into can give you an edge.
- Look for niche publications. Publishers or specific submission calls sometimes ask for members of certain minorities, certain ages, or other groups that will create a smaller pool of people sending in pieces. That means you'll have a higher chance of being published! Search for niche topics and groups that you're a part of and see if you can find submissions for it.
2. Self-publishing on a website or newsletter
If you can’t be bothered with the traditional publishing route (neither can we), then you might explore some self-publishing options.
If you’re opting to publish poems individually yourself, here are a couple of things to keep in mind:
- Keep in mind that once you self-publish (websites and social media typically count as self-publishing), most traditional publishers won’t be willing to publish that piece again. So if you’re interested in traditionally publishing, make sure you do that first. After publishing, most contracts (be sure to read the contracts) will allow you to do whatever you want with the piece.
- Make sure it’s worth it for you. Like I said, you might be wrecking your chances of publishing that piece traditionally, so make sure you’re doing it in a way that you’re satisfied with (although keep in mind that successful self-publishign and growing an author platform can make traditionally publishing your work easier since you've proven you can sell your writing).
- Consider using it as a lede. If you're self-publishing on your website or your author newsletter, utilize it for your own benefit. For example, if you're dropping a poem once a month through your newsletters, make sure you're announcing that as an incentive for readers to subscribe.
3. Self-publishing a collection
If you’re thinking a little bigger, and you have lots of poems, what about self-publishing an entire collection? That might sound like a massive undertaking, but it’s actually pretty straightforward (and lucrative).
How to self-publish a poetry collection
If self-publishing a collection sounds saucy to you, here is a brief step-by-step of how to do it. I also recommend my Skillshare class on publishing collections, because I go into the real details of each of these steps there.
When drafting your poetry collection, there are a few things you might want to keep in mind that you wouldn’t necessarily worry about when you’re publishing individual pieces.
Unintentional repetition. Watch for pieces that are too similar–I’ve cut several pieces from collections for this reason. Whether it’s similar lines and imagery, repeated topics, or any other way that they’re intentionally similar. This is something you don’t have to worry about when you’re publishing pieces individually, but when you group them all together, repetition becomes very obvious and might make your collection seem redundant.
Theme. Ideally, you want your collection to have some kind of theme. It can be a super specific theme or more on the vague side, but themes help to make your collection work as a cohesive piece. Your theme might be perspective (poems from a mother, an ill person, a member of a certain marginalized group, etc.), location (growing up in the south, travel journal vibes, etc.), or poems that deal with a certain feeling or sentiment. You might even categorize by genre (love poems, optimistic vs pessimistic nihilism, fantasy, etc.). Having a theme makes writing and marketing much easier to do. It also makes it easier for potential interested readers to find your collection and know it’s for them.
Editing your poetry collection can include self-edits, beta reader rounds, writing partner critique, professional editors, etc., but there should be an editing process that takes place before publishing.
3. Interior formatting
A poetry collection is probably one of the most important genres of book to pay attention to the interior formatting. Since poems are so short, you can get very stylistic with the way it’s presented on the page.
How do you use white space, images, and alignment? The design of a poem on a page can add to or detract from the value of the piece, so take some time on this step! You might even hire a professional formatter to design it for you.
4. Cover design
If you hire someone for any step in the self-publishing process, I recommend hiring a cover designer with current industry knowledge and experience. Your cover is the biggest marketing element of any book, so make sure you’re investing your time and money into a quality, contemporary cover for your poetry collection.
5. Publishing your poetry
Then on to the actual publishing of your collection. Where, how, and for how much you sell your book is completely up to you, but I recommend doing research into other books in your genre and around your wordcount to see how they handle titles, covers, interior design, pricing, and format availability.
For example, if you research your genre and learn that 70% of sales in that genre are through ebook, you’re obviously going to want to make sure that you publish an ebook as an option.
Every book, genre, and author is different, so see which formats and venues are best for you.
Marketing is another crucial bit of being a career author that is unique to each writer. It's best to plan as much of your pre-order period, book launch, and marketing ahead of time as you can. There are many elements you can utilize to sell more copies, and it will depend on your audience and goals.
A few things to consider:
- Launch team
- Presale giveaways
- Social media posts
- Events and readings
- Newsletter swaps and other collaborations
So what do you think? Do you want to publish poems individually in magazines and journals, or do you want full control of the process by publishing it on your own website?
If you have a stack of poems, are you considering publishing your own collection? Use these tips to choose the best option for you, and let us know in a comment when you get your first publication!
Interested in publishing a book of poems?
This training for fiction authors works for poetry, too! Check it out! You can publish your own collection of poems, short stories, and more!