I “finished” a collection of my poems last summer after eight years of working on it, off and on, most recently with the help of professional editors. At that point I committed to sending it to four publication contests or open reading periods a month until I find a publisher.
The Path to Publication
For a poetry book, especially a first book, publication contests and open reading periods (which are really a kind of contest) are the main path to publication. This is a time-consuming, highly competitive and slow process.
The first step is research.
Make a list of presses with upcoming deadlines (On PW.org the Small Presses and Contests and Awards databases are great).
Research which of those presses seems like a good match for your poetry.
Send your manuscript out! Submitting a manuscript typically costs $25-30 per submission. In other words, I’m currently spending upwards of $100 plus quite a few hours each month to do meet my goal.
Why Not Self-Publish?
Poetry is not like non-fiction. With non-fiction, self-publishing can be a great route to take.
With poetry, if you are happy to sell or give your book to friends, family and people who attend your readings, self-publishing is great. However, if you want to reach a large audience and garner recognition, as I do, you need a reputable press.
Dealing With Rejection
I started sending to four presses per month back in July. Usually it takes 4-6 months to hear back.
Recently, I have started to receive “rejections.” At first this didn’t matter, because the presses I was hearing from weren’t at the top of my list. I know it’s a long process, there’s a ton of good poets out there, and it’s all a matter of time.
More recently I started hearing from contests and presses I really wanted to be chosen by. They chose someone else’s book. This is hard. I get sad and doubt creeps in.
The Antidote to Disappointment
The antidote is to “get back on the horse,” which is what you are taught to do in horse-back riding when a horse throws you.
I get back to writing new poems, revising recent poems, and sending out my beloved book to more contests. Having it out there in the world in many places gives me hope and keeps my hand in the game. Doing new writing keeps me connected to my love of the form and the spark of creativity.
And something has changed in me. I feel genuinely glad for the winners. I know they’ve been working as hard as I have and how much it means to each of us. I feel envy too, sometimes painfully, but it feels good to be happy for them.
Now It’s Your Turn
If you’ve had a set-back of any kind: from receiving criticism, not getting accepted into a show, publication or program you wanted, attending a workshop or conference that discouraged you, or comparing yourself negatively, get back on the horse.
Start making art for the love of it. Do it as often as you can. Reconnecting to the joy of art-making is the best antidote there is. And you’ll be improving as an artist at the same time.
When you’re up for it, send your work out into the world. Send it to a whole bunch of places, large and small. It’s only a matter of time until it will find its way.
One way to magnetize your creativity is to be kind and generous to other artists. You can do an act of kindness now by sharing this post, using the buttons below. Thank you!