poetry book

How to publish a poetry book

By BBC Maestro

So, you’ve written some poems and you’re ready to get them out in the world. But where do you start? 

Whether you’ve crafted a handful of poems or enough for an entire poetry collection, you’re in the right place. Read on to find out how to publish a poetry book. 

The different types of poetry books

Before you begin exploring various publishing routes, it’s worth making sure that you’re choosing the right book format to publish your poems in. There are a few different ones you can choose from – a pamphlet of poems, a poetry collection, and an anthology, for example. But what are they and what sets them apart?

Pamphlet of poems 

A pamphlet is a short compilation of poems. It’s smaller than a collection or an anthology and will contain anywhere from 3-25 works, depending on the poet’s choice.

In the US, you’ll find pamphlets can be anywhere between 5-48 pages long, whereas in the UK, generally anything up to 40 pages is accepted as a pamphlet.

“A pamphlet tends to announce the arrival of a poet to the scene,” says Carol Ann Duffy in her BBC Maestro poetry course. It gives new poets a chance to get a sample of their work out there before producing an entire collection.

Publishing pamphlets is a great way to develop your name in the poetry world. It means that when you’re ready to launch your collection, you’ve already built your relationships with critics, publishers, and audiences to give it the best chance at success.

A collection of poems

A poetry collection is a much larger compilation of poems by a single author. Unlike a pamphlet, a collection more resembles a book – with the title and author’s name proudly positioned on the front cover and along the spine.

For Carol Ann Duffy, it took the launch of three pamphlets before she wrote poems that she deemed worthy to compile into her first collection. “It’s very rare that a poet will burst on the scene with a magnificently achieved, full collection,” she says. For context, she’s now published nine full collections and is working on her tenth.

A collection of poetry can contain any number of poems – from four or five really long works to a few hundred (as seen in short-form poetry forms like haiku collections). The average poetry collection is made up of around 30-100 poems.

Poetry anthologies

An anthology of poems will include a wide-ranging number of works from various poets, often unified by one theme. It may be an anthology based on desire, borrowing works from the greatest love poets. Or perhaps it focuses on more sinister themes of death and loss, in which case calls upon dark poetry, for example.

The editor of an anthology will identify a variety of works, or may brief poets to write something new, and will judge and order them into a compilation.

Anthologies provide a way to keep poetry of the past alive for longer, as often they can be repurposed and grouped into many different themes. They can be a wonderful source of inspiration for practising poets. As Carol Ann Duffy says, “that for me, is the joy of an anthology – to gather together poets of different times and read them for pleasure, for delight.”

poetry books

How to publish a poetry book

Whether you’re looking to publish your first pamphlet, collection or anthology – what’s the best route? Let’s take a look below, leaning on the advice of former poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, in conversation with British poet and writer, Maura Dooley.

Enter competitions

Entering competitions is a great way for emerging poets to get their work out into the real world and maybe even get it published. Not only do you face the chance of winning, but it’s also a great way to get familiar and confident with the process of putting your work out there.

“I began by entering poetry competitions while I was still at school. My first poem was published in the Bristol Evening Post and I was thrilled. It gave me permission to think it might be something I could do,” Maura Dooley tells Carol Ann Duffy.

There are plenty of competitions all around the world appropriate for all levels. You don’t need to only chase those hosted by large publishers, take a look at competitions set by independent publishers too.

In the UK, organisations like the National Poetry Library and The Poetry Society list an array of competitions for different themes and forms for poets at all stages of their journey. In the US, there are plenty of poetry contests hosted by different boards and organisations searching for the next big poet. Look closely at winning prizes and runner-up prizes. Some will feature chances to strike a publishing deal and others may simply award cash prizes.  Whichever way it goes, if your name reaches either list, it’s sure to help you build some clout.

Submit your work to publishers and magazines

There are plenty of poetry magazinesliterary journals and traditional publishers always on the hunt for new voices.

If you come across open calls, explore the submission processes on offer. Who and what are they looking for? Is it a single poem or an entire collection? Do you and your work fit the bill? If so, get submitting. Each type of organisation will likely have different entry guidelines, so be sure to look closely at them.

You can also reach out to poetry editors and agents for a chance too – either via the traditional hand-written letter or through social media. If this is a route you want to explore, be sure to attach a cover letter with your work and if you’ve got previously published work, it’s worth attaching a sample of that too.

As you embark on your search, collate a list of all the big and small presses, as well as any other opportunities you spot so you can keep track of your entries. This can help you manage all the acceptances, rejections and those yet to respond once you have simultaneous submissions on the go.

“It was harder than it is now – now there is so much online that is easily accessible,” Maura Dooley says. “I started sending my work to small magazines. I got lots of rejections, which is an important thing to remember. You just have to go on trying. Eventually, you’ll find somewhere you fit in.”

Approach poetry and literary festivals

We’ve established that getting your name out there is important to get yourself published. Approaching literary and poetry festivals (big and small) can present you with great opportunities too.

It’s likely bigger events will attract plenty of poets, agents, and publishers. Here’s your chance to network. If you’re able to get in the door, be sure to be prepared to meet and mingle and pitch your work where you can.

It may be that you find yourself chatting with a publisher who wants to see samples of your poems. If you’ve already produced a pamphlet, be sure to hand them out to those who express interest. Otherwise gathering contact details and following up via email with samples of your work is just fine.

For those poets slightly further along in their journey, you may find yourself playing a more active role in these festivals. Maybe you’ve applied to perform your poetry or even be a part of talks or workshops.

If you know you’ll be given part of the spotlight, it’s well worth ensuring you’ve brought samples of your work for audiences to read afterwards. “Someone might come up to you and say, ‘oh I love that particular poem!’, and if you have a pamphlet, you’ll be able to sell it at the bookshop at the event,” says Carol Ann Duffy.

social media apps on phone

Utilise social media

For any aspiring poet in today’s world, social media could be one of your greatest tools to help you get your work published.

Plenty of creatives – from artists to musicians – use platforms like Instagram and Twitter to share their work. And are poets are no different.

Take a look at Insta poets Charly Cox in the UK, and Rupi Kaur and Cleo Wade in the US, for example. Each took to the platform to post their poetry and have since racked up quite a following, alongside publishing poetry books of their own too. Poet Brian Bilston has carved such a space for his work on newsfeeds that UK scrollers have hailed him as the ‘Poet Laureate of Twitter’. If they can do it – what’s stopping, you?

Building an online presence for you and your work will help if you choose the self-publishing route too.

Self-publish

If you recognise the marketing-savvy attributes possessed by the poets mentioned above in yourself, self-publishing may well be a path you wish to choose.

Although this method can’t promise the same PR buzz around a book launch that a traditional publisher aims to achieve, it does grant you complete creative freedom as the author. That means you can produce your poetry book to align with the exact vision you want for it.

It may be worth joining online poetry communities if self-publishing interests you. This gives you access to like-minded creatives who can help you along the way – whether it’s to bounce an idea off somebody else or to gather some extra support at launch time with a trusted wider network.

Whichever route to publishing your poetry book you decide to choose, the key to making it happen is pushing your work out into the world wherever a new opportunity presents itself. Luckily for you, that’s where the fun begins!

If you’re searching for more guidance on writing poetry – from finding your form to nailing the editing process – take a look at Carol Ann Duffy’s BBC Maestro course, Writing Poetry.

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