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Getting published: poetry

Getting a poetry collection or pamphlet out there takes a lot of skill, luck and perseverance. Here are a few questions to help you along the way.

Am I ready to submit my poetry?

For a collection, publishers will want to see something in the region of 50 poems. Around half of this may be suitable for a pamphlet, although this will vary from publisher to publisher. Only ever send your best work.

What’s the difference between a collection and a pamphlet or chapbook?

Pamphlets and chapbooks are typically much shorter than poetry collections and will often be bound differently (staples versus a glued spine, for example). Lots of poets publish a pamphlet as their first work, but there’s no hard and fast rule. Pamphlets are often either a self-contained sequence that can stand alone or individual poems representing a particular stage of a poet’s development

Do I need an agent?

If you’re looking primarily to publish poetry, you probably don’t need an agent. That said, you might want to consider submitting to an agent if you’re planning to publish memoir and fiction as well as poetry.

Can I submit direct to a publisher?

Poets, unlike novelists or narrative non-fiction writers, are generally expected to submit to publishers directly. Many poetry presses accept unsolicited submissions, although competition is fierce. Be sure to consider small presses as well as larger publishers.

What should I submit to a poetry publisher?

Requirements will vary depending on the publisher, but a cover letter, writers CV and bio and a short selection of your poetry is a good place to start. If you’ve been mentored by an established poet, a few words from them endorsing your work can make a difference but do be sure to follow the publishers submission guidelines (normally found on their website).

What happens to my submission?

It may take several months or even up to half a year before you hear anything about your submission. Only send a reminder note or email if you’ve been waiting for longer than their submission guidelines suggest. If a publisher asks to see your entire collection, check whether they’re hoping for some time to consider it exclusively before sending to other publishers.

If your collection is accepted for publication, it’s a good idea to keep writing and submitting as it can take several years from acceptance to publication. Most poetry publishers are subsidised in some way and often reliant on funding. Poetry is rarely a financially profitable art form, for either poet or publisher. Don’t expect your poetry to make you rich – or even moderately well off – though it will enrich your life in other ways.

How can I improve my chances of getting a poetry collection published?

Who else can help?