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How To Publish A Poetry Book, Chapbook, Or Collection Of Poems

Publish A Poetry Book

If you’ve written so many poems that you’re interested in publishing your poetry as a book of poems, as a chapbook, or as a collection of poems, there are a number of ways you can get a book of poems published. But before we tell you how to publish your poetry book, there are a few things you should keep in mind.

First, poets approach Writer’s Relief every day asking us how we can help them make money on their poetry. The unfortunate truth is that it’s not very likely you’ll make a significant amount of money by publishing your book of poetry. Traditional, big publishing houses typically do not publish the work of unknown or moderately known poets because there simply isn’t a large audience that is willing to plunk down money for poetry. And because there’s no money in poetry, literary agents tend not to represent poets (with the exception of the very famous). So that’s the bad news.

Learn more: How much money can you make writing poems?

But the good news is that poetry readers and writers have created a strong alternative market to big New York publishing houses. And if you’ve got time, talent, and luck, you may be able to get your book of poems published and maybe even make some money on your poetry. It’s best to have a solid list of publication credits for your individual poems before you start asking people to publish your poems en masse. If your bio is strong and testifies to your skill, here are some ways to publish your poetry chapbook or collection of poems.

How To Publish A Book Of Poems

Enter chapbook contests. If you’ve amassed a collection of poems that might not be long enough for a full poetry book, you may want to consider entering a chapbook contest. Although the rules vary, chapbook contests generally want between 25 and 60 pages of poetry. Most chapbook contests are sponsored by universities or small presses, so while there may be an entry fee, there is also usually a payout for the winner in the form of publication and a monetary prize. If your poems are very strong, entering chapbook contests might be a good way to get your poetry chapbook or collection published.

Approach small presses. If your collection of poetry is too big for a chapbook, you may consider approaching small presses (independent publishers) with your poems. To do this, you’ll need to have strong publishing credentials. You can learn more about how to get publishing credentials at these links: Building Publication Credits and No Publishing Credits? Get Publishing Credentials: How To Build Up Your Writing Bio Super Fast. Universities and small presses are the heart of contemporary poetry, so do the proper research and send your queries their way.

Self-publish. If you have not had your individual poems published in reputable magazines, and you don’t have the patience that it takes to develop a good submission strategy, you might want to consider self-publishing. Just be aware that self-publishing requires you do all the legwork regarding distribution. Your book will not appear on bookshelves unless you do something to get it there. If you’d like a way to easily share your poetry with your family and friends, self-publishing may be a good option. But if you’re taking the self-publishing route because you think it’s an easier way to reach a large audience, think again. Unless you’re prepared to do lots of legwork and marketing, your book will not reach far and wide.

Many poets are competing to publish their poems as poetry collections or chapbooks. Even though there isn’t a strong mainstream market for poetry, the “underground” and independent markets are thriving. In order to keep publishing markets open to poets everywhere, consider subscribing to literary magazines and journals, or consider supporting the work of other poets who are publishing in the small-press market. To build more lucrative publishing markets for poetry, read and buy more poetry.

If you’d like help building up your poetry credentials, Writer’s Relief can help you develop a strong submission strategy to publish your individual poems. Our clients publish regularly in the literary magazine and journal markets. Visit our Overview of Services for more information.

Writer QuestionsQUESTION: Mainstream readers tend to shy away from poetry books. Have you ever purchased a collection of poems by a single author? Leave the name of the book as a comment!

43 Responses to How To Publish A Poetry Book, Chapbook, Or Collection Of Poems

  1. I am interested in self publishing a poetry book which has 50% photography.

    I was told that if I wanted to retain full control of my book, it is best to obtain my own ISBN #. Is that correct? I know that most printers prefer to use their own ISBN #’s which makes sense for them, but could I find a printer who would permit me to use my own ISBN#?

    Kindest regards,

    HORACE

  2. Horace, You will need to speak to your specific publisher about their policies on ISBN numbers. Generally speaking, self-publishing does give you more control over your work than traditional publishing.

  3. Can someone tell me briefly what a “chapbook” is? Also, what is an ISBN number in reference to self publishing? Is that similar to a copyright? I am not new to poetry writing, but tottaly new at trying to publish.
    Thank you, Carolyn Ross

  4. Carolyn,

    Great questions. A chapbook of poems is essentially just a small book of poetry (as opposed to a longer collection of poems). The ISBN number is the International Standard Book Number: it’s the identifying number for your book and is accompanied by a bar code.

    Perhaps we might offer a bit of advice? Before you try publishing a poetry book, you may want to have some of your individual poems published in literary journals. This will help build up your publishing bio and perhaps give you an edge when you’re trying to find a poetry book publisher.

    At Writer’s Relief, we help writers target the best literary journals for their poetry. We take the frustration out of making submissions. Learn more by watching the video on our homepage: http://www.writersrelief.com/

    Good luck!

  5. Can you say more about approaching small presses and universitites with a book of poems? How do I find who is interested in looking at poetry manuscripts?

  6. I have written approximately 100 poems that are primarily a narrative of personal experiences and cynical insights/humor.

    I think they would be of interest to the right publisher but I have no idea of how to go about locating that person.

    I’d greatly appreciate any information you may have that might steer me in the right direction.

  7. Dear Martin, The first step–if you’re looking for a traditional publisher (that you don’t have to pay)–is to get many of your individual poems published in literary journals. Once you have some publication credits you can start thinking about a collection.

    There are two ways to proceed.

    First, you can try finding literary journals on your own. You can start here: http://www.writersrelief.com/blog/2008/03/researching-literary-journals-for-your-writing/

    Or, you can investigate Writer’s Relief services to see if they are right for you. We research and target the literary journals that are best-suited for a particular writer’s work. Full Service clients (writers who take advantage of our best service) are accepted by invitation only, but A La Carte clients don’t need to be approved by the Review Board.

    We help writers submit their work for publication.

    Learn more here: http://www.writersrelief.com/help-for-writers-submitting-for-publication/

  8. hello, what would be the best way to go about getting some of my work published in literary journals?

  9. Allen,

    We’re going to assume you’re writing poetry since your comment is on a post about poetry books. :-)

    Here’s a great article about how to get your poems published in literary journals:

    How To Submit Poems To Literary Journals And Magazines: http://www.writersrelief.com/blog/2010/01/how-to-submit-poems-to-literary-journals-and-magazines/.

    Also, look into Writer’s Relief. We’ve been helping poets and writers get published in literary magazines since 1994! We have a service for every budget and can take the submission process off your hands with careful, personalized targeting.

    Cheers!

  10. My most recent book of poems by a single author was Swan by Mary Oliver. A very good book. I also enjoy Ted Kooser’s poetry along with the classics such as Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost and John Donne. I also have a few chapbooks by poets I know personally, but they are not of high quality. :(

  11. Is it better to wait and publish all of your poetry at the same time, or slowly select a few choices to have individually published to get your work out there?

  12. LeeAnn, thanks for the question! Generally, it’s best to submit your poems individually first to gain some publication credits. The more individual publication credits you have under your belt, the more likely a poetry book editor will publish the collection as a whole.

  13. You ask: QUESTION: Mainstream readers tend to shy away from poetry books. Have you ever purchased a collection of poems by a single author? Leave the name of the book as a comment!

    I often do. The last one was

    New and Collected Poems, Clive Wilmer.

  14. How realistic is it for a young poet outside US, in Africa precisely, to have his poems published in one of the journals you talked about. If yes, what are the procedures.

  15. Omar, it’s very realistic! Most journals and editors work online now, and you can easily contact or submit your work to them through e-mail. Journals rarely limit submissions based on location (some college presses, for example, may only take work from their respective states), but it is always good to check out your desired journal’s website first and thoroughly read the guidelines available.

  16. I have some poetry I’d like to submit to a journal.

    One of the poems is an ekphrasis. Another is inspired by an image. I understand that when I submit I don’t ‘explain’ the poem but do I mention the images that they relate to? If they publish the poems will they be able to use the images or will that infringe copyright?

    Also, the ekphrasis uses a chant (not written by me) within it. Do I tell the publisher that? Will they be able to use it or does it infringe copyright?

    Thank you.

  17. Hi Jo, thanks for the question. When submitting to such journals, you generally need to let them know what “image” or object you are referring to, but “explaining” the poem can come off as pompous and is probably not a good idea. However, you should always check out the guidelines of each individual journal to which you are submitting, since many have unique requirements. Whether or not they will use said image is up to the journal in question, and, again, it’s best to contact them and read their guidelines in advance.

    The same goes with the “chant” you mentioned; contact the journal in some way first and ask in advance (even a simple e-mail will do). Some journals will have no problem with references to other works, while others may have strict guidelines when it comes to including outside sections.

    Hope this helped, and keep writing!

  18. I have purchased numerous poetry collections by Charles Bukowski. Also one of my favorite books, period is Americans’ Favorite Poems edited by Robert Pinsky, former poet laureate. I had the opportunity to hear him speak, and my copy is autographed

  19. Hello,

    thank you for that info.

    Does that mean that you would contact them and ask *before* submitting or would you mention it when you submit?

    I have looked at the guidelines for the particular journal that I’d like to submit these particular poems to and it doesn’t mention anything.

    Anyway, thanks for replying earlier.

  20. Hi again, Jo. You would normally let the journal know what image your poem is referring to when you’re submitting it, but general inquiries, such as whether or not images are included in the journal itself, should be asked before you submit. If possible, it’s also a good idea to acquire a sample version of the journal. That way, you can see exactly how the poems are displayed and whether or not images are included. Some journals offer these for free, while others offer them at a discount.

  21. I think I shall look into singles and possibly a chapbook. Honestly, I don’t want to make a cent off of my work. I want the satisfaction of knowing that people around the World are reading something I wrote. Breaking even would be nice, however it is not a must.

  22. Is it absolutely unreasonable to expect your collection of poetry to be published by a publishing house if you have not submitted individual poems anywhere before that?

  23. Hi Rita, great question! While it is not impossible for your work to be picked up without previous publication credits, they help tremendously when your work is submitted to agents. When an agent sees that your work is not only strong, but that it has also been accepted, in part, for publication elsewhere, he or she is assured that the quality of your work is not just his or her blind opinion. This is especially true when it comes to “collections”; if a few of the poems have already been published, the agent can assume two things:

    1. Your work is strong, and other people want to read it! It has been previously published, after all.

    2. Fans of your older, published work will want to purchase this collection to see what new pieces you’ve written.

    In short, it’s really best to at least send some of your individual poems out, even if they are not accepted. It gets your name out into the writing world, and some editors may be kind enough to offer suggestions if they do not feel your work is “right” for publication. Hope this helped!

  24. Hi I love to right books I have tried to find somebody who will publish my books i have 2 maybe 3 going right know but I when I work on them I work with friends because in some of my stories the people that are my friends or siblings are based on them there my BFFs I’m only 12 started working on my books when I was 10 I love to write its 1 of the best things that happened to me.

  25. A group of five (members of a Writers Club) would like to self-publish the poems of a deceased member of the club. Can we list her as the author of the book? And the members of the club for collecting and creating the book?
    Erica

  26. Erica, great question! It’s wonderful that you’re honoring your friend’s work with posthumous publication. As the author of the poems, your friend would indeed be listed as the “author” of the book. You and the remaining members of the group would be able to list yourselves as editors (“Edited by…”) of the book.

    Of course, if you are also including some of your group’s own poems, then whoever included poems would also be listed as an author. Otherwise, “Editor” would be the proper title. Good luck!

  27. Hi there,
    Just a quick question: I’ve been sending work out to be published, and have successfully been published a couple of times, though nothing major. My goal is to publish a collection within the next couple of years and so, I was wondering, are poems previously published suitable for inclusion in a larger collection? Or will large publishers, like the small contests and publications I’ve been submitting to, require previously unpublished material?

  28. Congrats on those publishing credits, Mike. It’s actually a really good idea to have previously published pieces in the larger collection; we encourage our clients to make sure at least 50% of the poems that they plan on putting in their collection are published before they send it out.

  29. Hi I am new to the publishing side of things, been writing poetry since I was a young lad as this was my only means of expressing myself. A very good constructive way indeed, moved onto rapping and creating lyrical poems to sing but only for fun. I love writing poetry but I am just unsure who, what and how to move on to the next step. I have posted a lot of my work on a website called ” the writers-network ” just to have feed back and others views on my work. I have surprisingly received a lot of positive feed back and good ratings for my work, would this be creditable in the publishing world as self published ? and what advice would you give me to take the next step ? I am currently putting together my first chapbook from reading in comments that this be a good idea. Thanks for your time.

  30. Tom, if you’re looking to publish individual poems, the best plan to do that is to submit them to literary and online journals, or contests sponsored by them. We recommend that you check out our classified pages here (http://client.writersrelief.com/writers-classifieds/). However, they have to be unpublished poems—that means, they can’t be published online.

    If you want to self-publish them in a collection, then that’s fine. We recommend you check out our author platform tool kit here (http://www.webdesignrelief.com/author-platform-tool-kit/).

  31. Let me share you that i have composed many poems in classical style as i prefer it to modern.

    I can also write in modern style as i embarked writing a novel too.
    My translation of an Arabic classic work is already over.

    Let me guide me to get a good publisher to do all these as good as possible.

    Hopefully,
    Unais Hudawi

  32. I enjoyed reading Shel Silverstein books growing up, and fell in love with the whimsical yet occasionally morbid stories he could create with mere sentences.

    Poems I enjoyed in college were “Not Waving, But Drowning” by Stevie Smith and “To an Athlete Dying Young” by A.E. Housman. These are pretty popular it seems, and for good reason.

  33. I am amazed that answers to poetry questions are actually answered here. I find that compelling; as well as, the many questions that were answered. My question is: Do poets ever make their own chapbooks and/or poetry books from start to finish, then stand on a street corner (say in Seattle) and beg for donations? Is this proper?

    I am working on a million reads. Even if, I got a quarter a poem, I could say, I am a professional—now. lol My bio on Twitter used to be: Nurse for money. Poet for free. I am Candace Heartunes there.

    I guess the worst that could happen on a street corner is getting mugged for my poetry…like yeah, man! I love poetry. Thank you for this informative place I just found.

  34. LOL! We’re sure there have been poets who have sold their work on the street corner before, but generally speaking, we encourage writers to go the tried and true route of building an online author platform to promote and sell their work (e.g. creating an author website, being active on social media, etc.).

    Stay safe!

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