So you finished your poetry collection. Congratulations! It’s now time to send this piece of your soul out into the world! As scary as this may feel, I encourage you to push through it and let your words be heard. The world needs your unique and vibrant voice now more than ever.
While the publishing process might feel daunting, here are a few steps to help you set your focus on how to find a home for your poetry collection as well as some resources to make this process go as smooth as possible for you.
“Read a lot, write a lot” is the great commandment,” says Stephen King in his craft memoir On Writing. This is the first step in your publishing journey. You already know that reading work by other writers is essential to developing your craft, but it can also help you learn where to submit your work. Gauging the kinds of books that different publishing companies focus on can give you a sense of which publishers might be interested in your writing. This type of research also helps you discover current literary trends or find agents interested in work similar to yours. Basically, don’t ever stop reading.
Presses vs Publishing House
While you are searching for publishers, there are a few things to keep in mind. In general, major publishing houses do not accept unsolicited poetry manuscripts and rarely look at un-agented or unsolicited fiction or creative nonfiction. According to Poets & Writers, “Editors at major publishing companies are more interested in writers who have already published a book or those whose work has already appeared in large-circulation trade magazines such as the New Yorker or Harper’s Magazine.”
Therefore, it’s best to search for a book publisher at small presses or even university presses. They are more often open to new authors and don’t require contact through an agent. Poets & Writers, a great resource for all things writing-related, have a Small Presses database that can help you narrow your search.
Bonus Tip: Small presses often publish chapbooks, which is a great way to get your work and name out there as these small booklets can act as your calling card or networking tool. Usually twenty-five pages or less, chapbooks are your own portfolio to share with a future publisher as they are something you can even create on your own.
Once you have found a few book publishers that you feel align with your goals, it’s time to submit your poetry collection. Each publisher will have their submission guidelines published on their site, so be sure to read carefully. Some publishers might prefer manuscripts to be submitted via an agent, or their editors might just want samples of the work instead of the full manuscript. Some may want a book proposal, a synopsis, or a query letter. Educate yourself on what all these aspects of the submissions process mean so that you are confident when you hit that send button.
Be sure to track where you are sending your manuscript. Most writers create an excel spreadsheet with the publisher’s information and the date they sent their collections.
Remember, rejection is inevitable. It has happened to all the poets and writers you admire—multiple times. Although it might feel personal, since they are reading the work you put your heart and soul into, the publishing world is a business. They have to make the right decisions that they feel will further their business. Each rejection is an opportunity for you to fight harder and not give up on your art. Keep submitting. Your opportunity will arrive!
- How to Write a Book Proposal (Writer’s Digest, 2017) by Jody Rein with Michael Larsen
- The Art of the Book Proposal (Tarcher, 2004) by Eric Maisel
- Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write (Perigee, 2002) by Elizabeth Lyon
- How to Get Happily Published (Quill, 1998) by Judith Appelbaum.