Behind the Curtain: How Poetry Collections are Made

With beautiful binding, eye-catching covers, and often heart-stopping poems inside, it can seem a mystery how poetry collections go from an idea inside your favorite poet’s head to a polished book on a shelf near you. For a brief inside look at how poetry collections are made, we sat down with Patty Rice, Executive Editor at Andrews McMeel Publishing. As Executive Editor, Rice has had her hands on a number of bestselling poetry titles, seeing many of them through from rough draft to reality. 


In the universe of poetry collections, the acquisition process could be considered the “big bang” of every new book. Depending on the author, the publisher, the genre, and more, there are several ways new poets and poetry can be found. Some poets are represented by an agent, who sends work to relevant publishers on behalf of the author. “Our first poet, Lang Leav, was sent our way by an agent,” explained Rice. “The agent signed Lang and gave us the first opportunity to acquire Love & Misadventure.


But authors certainly don’t need an agent to get noticed. Editors keep a close eye on the bestseller poetry list looking for self-published poets. “That’s how I found r.h. Sin, Amanda Lovelace, and Rupi Kaur, among others,” explained Rice. But the bestseller list isn’t the only place editors look. “Most editors spend time searching social media looking for not only poets but also any writer with the right voice and an engaged following,” she said. 


Another avenue many aspiring poets take is to send unsolicited manuscripts to the publisher. “We do field a lot of submissions, and we do acquire from the unsolicited submissions pile,” said Rice. “That is a small amount [of published works], though. Since we’ve established a strong poetry list at AMP (Andrews McMeel Publishing), agents think of us when sending out proposals for poetry books. So we see a lot of wonderful work.”


No matter how a collection comes across the editor’s desk, the bottom line is the writing. When considering publishing a collection, Rice says she looks for strong writing, good content, material that resonates and is relatable, and large and engaged following.


Once editors have a first draft in-hand, it needs to be edited. “Most poets know exactly what they want to convey and how they want to convey it,” says Rice. “Though they are happy to have their work copy-edited. A couple of my authors have wanted help arranging the pieces by theme or arranging the order, but those are rare.”


Design plays a huge role in the process as well. “At AMP, complete creative control is given to our poets,” said Rice. “Many of them are entrepreneurial and have self-published their work, so they are accustomed to having control over every aspect.” There are several design elements to choose from, between paper weights, sizes, colors, typefaces, and more, some authors are more hands-on than others. “Some poets design their own covers and some design their own covers and interiors. If we design, we take their art direction, and our designers and art directors work to create a design that executes their vision,” said Rice.


Depending on the author, the book, and the timing of the release, some text and design elements will go back-and-forth between the author and the publisher more quickly than others. But once it’s all said and done, creating a collection is an incredibly rewarding experience for both the author and the editor. 


“I love reading poetry!” said Rice. “I’ve always loved reading poetry, and I never thought I would be acquiring the genre for AMP considering the direction of our list historically. But we’ve always been a trend publisher, and when modern poetry started trending, we were nimble enough to hop on the trend.”