If you are a poet, you have probably thought about getting a poetry book published. Good poetry, many would argue, is tougher to write than prose. For the creator (the poet), it requires far more creativity and a much higher emotional quotient to write poems that inspire, move, entertain or compel the reader to think deeper.
But it is still a hell of a job to convince a mainstream publisher to print and sell your poetry book. Let’s look at why that happens and what options you have to get your poems published.
Why don’t publishers take poetry book proposals seriously?
Average quality fiction (that’s marketed well) that falls in a popular genre is easier to sell compared to good poetry. Look around you. How many published novels can you get your hands on, which make you wonder how the author managed to crash through the super-selective manuscripts submission process of the publisher? There was probably something the publishing company saw in the author that went beyond the quality of writing.
Evaluating the market potential of poetry books is tough. Maybe I’m ignorant about this, but I find it easier to slot fictiona and non-fiction into well-defined commercial categories – science fiction, romance, young adult, thriller, self-help, autobiographies and many others. For each category there are tons of books available that set the benchmark. For publishers, it is easier to compare your manuscript to the others they’ve already published.
Publishers have probably burnt their fingers in the earlier days when they were a little more experimental. In the current environment, with book sales dwindling, the appetite for risk has gone down substantially. They want to be relatively sure that they’ll get back the money they invest in publishing your poetry book.
Having said that, poets haven’t disappeared from the planet. You can still see poetry books being published by traditional publishers. So there is something that other poets are doing that’s working for them. Try to find out what that is, and see if you can create a gameplan for yourself.
How can you publish a poetry book?
Step 1: Build your credentials as a poet.
If you have had no track record as a poet, then there’s no way for publishers to know if popular magazines, websites or poet communities value your talents. If you’ve won prizes in poetry contests (small or big), that’s a feather in your cap. Look for other feathers to add colour and credibility to your profile.
Step 2: Work on building your fan-base before you publish the book.
If you are active on social media (Twitter, Facebook et al) and you have a respectable number of followers / friends / fans (or whatever term the site uses to indicate your network power), that’s a good indication for publishers to get a feel for your reach.
Step 3: Give your poetry a unique brand, style.
This is a little difficult to do consciously. But if you write about something that you are passionate about, if you use words that people can comprehend easily (without needing a dictionary), if you write about topics that many can identify and connect with… and if you’ve been doing this for long enough, the branding will develop naturally.
Step 4: Evaluate traditional and alternative options to reach your goals.
Carry out your research on mainstream publishers who have published poetry books. Here’s a tip to make life easier. Rather than building a big list of publishers and then digging deeper to find out whether they publish poetry, do it the other way around.
- Go to popular online book stores and brick-and-mortar book shops. Head straight to the poetry section.
- Check out the book spine to see what logos appear more frequently than others. Jot down the publisher names [and possibly other details like the theme of the book, when this was first published, how many times it’s been reprinted (sign of popularity), and country of publishing].
- Head back home and then check out the poetry submission guidelines on their website.
- You know the rest of the drill: query letter – proposal – publishing contract – party!
The other easier option, of course, is to go to a vanity publisher or take the self-publishing route. But that’s not the focus of this article, so we’ll save it for another day.
Any poets lurking on this blog? What has been your experience with publishers when you approached them with your poetry book proposal?