So you want to learn how to publish poetry. You've come to the right place! Learning how to publish poetry (and where to publish poetry) can be a confusing process for the uninitiated. But it doesn't need to be difficult.
What kind of poet are you? A brooding type who writes about storms and moors and darkness? Or a romantic who writes about 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 types of poems you write you’re probably super interested in learning how to publish a poem. But what does that mean? How do we know when our poems are ready? And what are the first steps in learning how to publish poetry?
There are so many options for publishing and sharing your poetry, and we will cover them all today in this guide to how to publish poetry successfully. Before we get into the details of how to publish poetry, let's talk about if it's difficult – and if it's worth it for your poems.
This blog on how to publish poetry covers:
Is it hard to learn how to publish poetry?
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 when learning how to publish poetry. 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?
It's all well and good to learn how to publish a poem – but should you? 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?
- If you are confident in it. 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.
- If it is 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, it is worth learning how to publish a poem if you believe it to be!
Where to publish poetry: The different options for sharing your poems
The first step in learning how to publish poetry is deciding where to publish poetry. And there are tons of options.
If you’re going traditional, there are anthologies, literary journals, and online magazines. Some publishers also do social media publications – 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.
Traditionally publishing in journals and magazines
When writers think of how to publish poetry, they’re typically imagining a traditional publication in a journal, magazine, or anthology.
Here are a few tips to learn how to publish 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 poetry, I’ll usually send out poems 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.
- Have a strong author bio. An interesting bio or cover letter can help you grab the notice of publishers. When they're sifting through hundreds or thousands of poems, it's easy to toss submissions that have missing bios or messy ones.
- 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 you're a part of and see if you can find submissions for them.
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 while learning how to publish poetry.
If you’re opting to publish poetry yourself, here are a couple of things to keep in mind:
- 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 traditional 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. 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-publishing and growing an author platform can make traditionally publishing your work easier since you've proven you can sell your writing).
- 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.
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). Let's discuss how to publish poetry in a collection.
How to publish poetry collections in 6 steps
If self-publishing a collection sounds saucy to you, here is a brief step-by-step of how to do it:
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 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 learning how to publish poetry 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 readers to find your collection and know it’s for them.
Editing your poetry collection is the next step to learning how to publish poetry. Editing can include self-edits, beta reader rounds, writing partner critiques, 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.
When learning how to publish poetry, consider how 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 book 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 book 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 collection when learning how to publish poetry.
5. Publishing your poetry
Now the important part in learning how to publish poetry – actually publishing your collection! Where, how, and for how much you sell your book is completely up to you, but I recommend doing research into other works in your genre and around your word count 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 on Amazon 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. 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 poetry 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!
And, if you're still confused about how to publish poetry, reach out to the team at selfpublishing.com. We're happy to help you self-publish your collection, and have a team of talented book cover designers just waiting to be inspired by your words.