To Publish Or Not To Publish...
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This is probably the most frequent question running through
the average poet's mind. Although indicating a desire to write
for the sake of writing, sooner or later, due to prodding by
peers, family or friends, or simply that little voice in their head,
the need to see their words in print will have its say.
There is nothing wrong with wanting a little piece of
regardless of how obscure that immortality may be. Human nature
has a need for recognition, so why not pursue a modest goal of
seeing at least "one" poem in print?
A word of caution: the world of publishing can be hard
painful at times. There are different kinds of publishers and they
each have their own interests in mind.
Unless a publisher is funded by a charity or an endowment,
they are in the business of making money. What this means to
you is that they must either make their money off you, other
poets or the public consumer.
Those who pay you for your poems are selling their
to some other group of individuals. Those who charge you a
small fee for printing your poems are still selling their product,
but may be working on a much smaller margin. Those who
charge a larger amount, such as a subsidy press, believe their
product will have a small margin of profit and therefore require
you to enter a sort of "partnership" with them on publishing your
work. Those who charge the full amount of publishing are called
Vanity Presses. As their name implies, this is one way to have a
collection of your poems published the way you'd like. The
downside is the cost.
There are also publishers who publish "Chapbooks", short
collections usually soft bound. This is probably the easiest way
to see a short collection of your works in print. The quality of
the Chapbook depends on the publisher, as does the cost to you.
There are some publishers that ask only a reading fee, while
others ask for full publishing costs.
So, how strong is your desire to see your words in print?
If that inner voice simply won't be stilled, then you probably
should give in and seek a way to get something published. If
the desire is not yet that strong, you're probably better off
reading your poems aloud to those who care to listen. The
desire will come, so enjoy your peace of mind while it lasts.
We are not trying to crush anyone's hopes, but the bottom
line is that there are a large number of very talented poets out
there who have yet to see anything larger than a chapbook of
their works in print. This is partly due to the number of
available poets and to a market that is not geared to high
volume sales in poetry. Face it, how many books on poetry
have you or your immediate family bought in the last year?
As we've indicated elsewhere on our site: if you're planning
fame and riches, you're in the wrong field. However, if you are
good enough, like cream, you'll rise to the top. Will you ever
achieve fame? Perhaps, but statistically it is improbable.
that mean you'll never make it to print? No, you have a rather
good chance at getting at least one poem published. Just make
sure you are writing because you feel driven to write, not
because you need to pay the bills.
How Do I Get Published?
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There are many ways to get published. They all have
thing in common: You must submit, submit,
First, how many poems do you wish to have published
If you only want to see a single poem make its way to
you're in luck; you'll find a vast field of publishing opportunities
there. These range from poetry contests to magazines, e-zines,
anthologies, flyers, periodicals... just about anywhere you see
something in print.
If you want a small collection of your own works published
once, say 10-25 poems, you are probably looking at a Chapbook.
If you are looking at a larger collection of your works,
either an established poet already associated with a publisher, an
undiscovered literary genius or looking at a vanity press.
If you want to get published, decide how many poems you want
to see in print, find a potential publisher (or publishers) and submit,
submit, and submit. Many famous authors of poetry and prose have
gone on record saying that they were rejected sometimes dozens of
times before finally finding a publisher who would print their work...
sometimes ending up with a publisher who originally turned them
Publishing is like gambling: if you don't bet, you can't win...
you don't submit, you can't get published. Don't wait for someone
to "discover" you; if you feel the urge to get published, then submit
your poems. Just be prepared for a string of rejections.
Where Can I Find A List Of
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There are several places that list potential publishers.
can find some links in our Poetic References
section, or you can
purchase a copy of Poet's Market at your local bookstore,
through Amazon Books or
Barnes and Noble online, using
"1999 poet's market" or "poet's market" in their search field.
Which Publisher Should I Choose?
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Choose a publisher that fits what you write and what
to publish. If you write in rhyme, make sure the publisher is looking
for rhymed verse. If you want a chapbook, make sure the
puts out chapbooks. If you write horror poems, don't try submitting
to Modern Bride. This may seem both simple and complicated, but
what you'll quickly find is that most publishers are very specific
what they want, how they want it and what you can expect in the
way of feedback and compensation.
As you've probably already guessed, this is not from
altruistic desire to help you, but to reduce the number of poems
they have to review. The volume of submissions to any publishers
are nothing less than a bit overwhelming at times. Each poem
requires not only reading, but must be checked for originality and
A word about "originality": we don't mean
just original in
thought or form, we mean original as in "your own poem"! You'd
be surprised how many people submit someone else's poems as
their own! There are also poems that so closely resemble other
poems that any attempt at publishing them could result in copyright
concerns. The publisher also assumes you still have all the rights
your poem. Previously published poems must be accompanied
with information that indicates where and when published so credit
can be given to the original publisher and so the current publisher
can insure you still have the rights to republish or that the previous
publisher gives permission to reprint.
In any case, you will find a list of potential publishers
your desires very closely, if not perfectly. This is where you
What Is A Copyright?
There are many books available on the subject of
but it can basically be summed up like this: A copyright is the
sole right to publish a work, or the ownership of the work. The
minute you create an original work in writing you have the
copyright (with some exceptions). There are a number of fine
details you may want to learn about, such as how to document
your copyright, but your copyright exists without any other
effort on your part. If still in doubt, go to the library, there are
many books on the subject.
Don't be concerned about a publisher "stealing"
publishers don't offer enough money for it to be worth a long
legal battle over copyright infringement. Although you can put
the copyright symbol at the bottom of your work followed by
your name and date, some publishers consider it unprofessional.
One word of caution, however, make sure you have a hard
copy of anything you submit. This may be your only proof should
the question of ownership ever arise.
Something else to consider: be careful to whom you "give"
poems. We say this not in that they may "steal" your poem, but
because you may have given away your rights as well. The times
this sort of thing comes up is when you have "given" a poem to
someone as a gift or other form of compensation. They may
the actual rights to the poem because you gave it to them. The best
bet when giving a poem freely is to say you're giving them a "copy"
of a poem they inspired. If you're selling a poem, or are receiving
some sort of compensation for your poem, it's best to indicate what
rights you intend to retain as its author.
If you have any specific questions regarding copyrights,
see a copyright attorney or look up the topic in any one of several
book on the subject.
One last word on the subject of ownership and rights:
other poets read your poems online, at workshops or at poet jams
unless you have given them specific instructions or permission. It is
difficult to make a fuss over someone using your poem when you
treat your poetry like public property. If your poetry is personal,
keep it that way.
How Do I Submit My Poems?
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Once you've found a publisher, you'll probably know what
they expect in the way of format and information. However,
don't have the details, you should send off a letter of introduction,
asking for submission guidelines, along with a SASE (self
addressed stamped envelope). You'll find that Poet's Market has
a good format for a cover letter that you can follow.
You should include, along with your poems, a cover
lists your poems and any major publication achievements, and
your name and address. Don't make minor publication successes
sound bigger than they were, as you want to sound professional,
Make sure you spell check both your poems and your cover
page. You enter the world of the literate when you enter the realm
of publishing, so you need to show you respect the written word.
As a rule of thumb, cover pages should not exceed
should have ample margins and be to the point. Poems should be
in a easily read font, not in script or fancy styles. Poems should
left aligned unless the form requires it to be otherwise; don't center
all the lines just because you think poems should be centered.
Some publishers may be more concerned with content than form,
but when in doubt, either ask or play it safe.
Keep track of what poems you've submitted and to
you've submitted them. Keep records of when you submitted each
poem and when you received any response. This will give you a
way to forecast future submission turn around times and help you
avoid the very embarrassing simultaneous submission hassles.
What is a simultaneous submission? It's when you
same poem to more than one publisher at a time. Many publishers
will tell you up front that they won't take simultaneous submissions,
and others will tell you they don't mind as long as you indicate your
submissions are such. The rule on this is that once your poem has
been accepted by one publisher, you need to let the others know.
This will often cause a bit of discontent as one of the publishers you
say "sorry" to may have spent some time on your poem/s and may
even have been about to accept one or more of them.
Here is our advice: select a few poems for each publisher
only submit the same poem to another publisher if: a) the poem has
been rejected/declined, or b) the time of selection has elapsed from
the publisher to whom you previously submitted. Some publishers
will tell you they don't send out rejection notices, and that if you
don't hear back from them in a certain amount of time, consider
your poem rejected.
Avoid the urge to shotgun your submissions. You're
building a more targeted approach and submitting only your best
How Much Do Publishers Pay For
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Publishers "pay" in different ways. Some publishers
"you" to pay "them", others offer discounts on their publications
or awards to the "winners" of their contests, some offer free
subscriptions or copies of their books, while others offer cold
Those that offer money often want full rights to your
This means that if you ever want to have your poem published
someplace else, you need "their" permission (which they can
deny). Some publishers will give a modest amount of money
and essentially become "co-owners", allowing them free use
of your poem for their own profit without having to offer you
additional compensation, but will allow you to do what you
will with your poem as well.
Unless you are a celebrity or established author,
are that you will not receive any great amount of money for
your poem/s. Some publishers will give you a percentage of
the profits, but that sort of arrangement is usually reserved
for more established poets on long term arrangements with
the publisher. One thing to keep in mind: profit is based on
number of sales, which requires advertising. Publishers won't
spend a lot of money marketing a poet that will go to another
publisher next year.
Chances are that you are one of the average poets out
there and seek merely to see your name and work in print.
You probably already have a day job (which we advise you
keep for at least the short term) and are interested in testing
the waters with your talent.
There are many publishers out there. We are just one
many. We do, however, understand and appreciate your
motivation, as well as some of your frustration. In fact, it's
one of the reasons we started this company in the first place.
You can start anywhere you wish, but we'd like you to try
sharpening your pencil and your wit and submit a poem on
one of our images. You have nothing to lose and at the very
least, will get some experience with submitting poems. You
will also find your name in print as we list all poets who
contributed poems, selected or not, in the back of our
We pay the "winning" poets a free copy of each book in
which their poem/s appear, a discount on additional copies,
and some store items, plus the opportunity to purchase
"special edition" copies of our store items with the author's
name, signature (if desired) and poem. We know that although
it's nice to receive money for your poetry, it is the pride in
producing a work that will last that is of greater reward.
What Rights Should I Give
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The publisher will inform you what rights they desire.
are almost always non-negotiable. However, they are up front
with their desires and it becomes a personal issue as to what
rights you are willing to give up. With the exception of those
poems you sell outright, most publishers will only request First
North American Serial Rights (for details see Poet's Market
listed in our Poetic Reference section).
What Do Publishers Want To
See? (top of
Publishers want to see poems that fit the requirements
specified, but they usually don't want to see everything you've
written. Send a few of your best poems, unless you're entering a
contest, where the number of poems will be specified by the rules
of entry. Remember, publishers review hundreds, in some cases
thousands of poems, so make sure the ones you send are the very
best you have to offer.
How Long Should I Wait After
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The wait depends on the publisher, who will usually give
indication of the wait you can expect. Contests will usually have
a deadline, but this is not the case with publishers of your poems.
Unless you are submitting for a seasonal issue of a magazine, a
publisher can choose to use your poem any time they choose. If
you are pressed for time you can risk sending a follow-up letter,
but as a rule of thumb you should give a publisher at least 2-3
months to respond.
Some publishers may indicate a desire for you to resubmit
few months or perhaps even the following year. This is not a tactic
to put you off. It is actually a sign that they liked the work, but had
already selected sufficient poems for the next several issues of their
magazine or that your poem is one they'd like to see in a particular
issue they had not started accepting poems for at the time of your
Publishers cannot hold on to every poem they like as
would create not only a tremendous backlog of poems (which
would shutdown your chances for acceptance or publication for
years at a time), but few poets would be willing to wait for that
amount of time for their work to get into print.
Remember, you are asking the publishers to publish
poem; you are not necessarily doing them a favor by submitting
your work. However good your poem may be, unless you are
a famous personality, few people will rush out to buy the
publication based on the inclusion of your poem. Keep this in
mind when corresponding with a publisher. They need your
work, but they don't need unprofessional communication or
abusive behaviour. Don't burn bridges by arguing or questioning
a publisher's decision or comments; it's "their" publication, "their"
money at "their" risk, so they can pick and choose what goes
into print based on whatever yardstick they choose to apply.
Do Publishers Provide Comments On
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Some publishers will offer general comments or form letters
with either the standard "we regret that we are unable to use your
submission at this time", or "after careful review we regret to
inform you that your poem is not suited for our publication. Some
publishers may send a form letter with one of several boxes
checked to indicate which category of rejection your poem fell
into. There are even a few publishers who will take the time to
provide detailed comments on what they liked or disliked about
Remember: poems submitted to publishers should be "finished";
publishers expect poems that have workshopped, they don't want
to be your personal tutor on how to write poetry. When you submit
your work to a publisher you are entering a professional world, so
make sure you're ready to submit and accept the results, good or
There are some publishers that will submit nearly
that comes their way as long as it meets a minimum criteria.
These are the publishers that put out large anthologies. Being
accepted by them is a rewarding experience, but don't let it give
you a false sense of security. Smaller publishers are very selective
on what they publish and the only way to find out if they like your
work is to submit and wait.
Should I Resubmit To A Publisher
Rejected Me? (top of page)
There is no problem resubmitting to a publisher
rejected your work, as long as the re-submittal is a new poem or
has been rewritten or resubmitted in accordance with directions or
comments provided on the previous rejection. Do not resubmit
unchanged material, or material changed without a request to do so,
as it will only annoy the publisher and may ruin your chances of any
future success with the same publisher. Don't assume that a
re-submittal will be reviewed by someone more enthusiastic with
your work; assume a rejection is final unless specifically told
otherwise. Remember, they are rejecting your poem, the one you
submitted, not you as a poet, or future poems.
Also, do not resubmit poems just because you haven't
back from the publisher. If you really do need to close the loop
on a poem that was submitted so you can submit it elsewhere,
send a letter notifying the publisher in question that you have not
received any word on your previous submission and that you
would like to know if it is still under consideration as you would
like to submit it elsewhere. Provide the publisher with the title
and date you sent in your poem. If the publisher has no record
of ever receiving your poem (which can happen), they will
probably tell you to resubmit. If they have decided not to publish
your poem, they'll probably tell you that as well.
When Should I Use A Vanity Press?
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When all else fails and you still desire to have a
of your works in a handsome hardback edition, you can
always go to a Vanity Press. There are several to choose from.
Most offer full editorial assistance in getting you a quality product.
The catch is that you will pay for the editing, typesetting, printing,
binding, etc. These costs can easily go into the thousands of
dollars, so it is not for the faint of heart nor the weak of wallet.
There are some authors, however, that have so much confidence
in their work being market material that they will self-publish and
thereby reap all the profits associated with their work, rather than
just a percentage.
A word to the wise: if you have a hot item and submit
a publisher that knows the trade, they will be quite happy to put
it into print. If every publisher you approach says it won't sell,
they could be right. It is true that even experienced publishers
could be wrong, but we want to mention that the odds are in
their favor, so if you think this is the case, be prepared for the
best and the worst. You could be ahead of your time and your
book may one day be considered the very best our age had to
offer...but this will be of little consequence if your goal was to
turn a profit while you still drew a breath.
Most people who use self-publishing just want to possess
enough copies of their "book" to pass along to their friends and
family, with no real thought of it ever becoming a best seller.
This is probably the healthiest approach to self-publishing.
There are also publishers who will "subsidise" your work.
This is less costly, but you'll share in the profits (if there are
Are There Any Other Ways To Get
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"Getting published" means to see your words in print, so
there is another way to get your work published: Make your
In this age of computer publishing, just about anyone
printer can publish their work. You can always check with a
bookbinder to see how much they want to bind the pages and
what format they require. This will require you to be your editor,
but if you are less interested in the frills and are looking for a
"hardbound" book of your own work, it is an easier way to go.
Whether you publish through a publisher or by yourself,
thing to keep in mind is that you want to produce something of
quality, something to be proud of for years to come; fast and
dirty is usually a waste of time, energy and money.
Good luck to you in whichever direction you choose to
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