How to Get Your Poetry Book Published

Louie Crew, Ph.D. D.D., D.D., D.H.L.
Emeritus Professor
Rutgers University

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To a student who asked me to advise how to get her poetry book published:

I know very little about book publishers. I list lots of resources for poets who want to find magazines or web site publishers, at

One way to look for a book publisher is to go to the poetry book section of a book store and look for publishers of the most recent offerings. Pay especially close attention to the publisher of poets whose work has appeals nearest to the appeals of your own. Then look up contact information in WRITER'S MARKET, LMP, and other standard directories. Query them with 5-10 pages of poetry chosen to be representative of the volume, and include a table of contents.

A related way is to talk with published poets whom you know and see whether they are willing to recommend publishers. I have not found many that are generous with this information.

Decide right away whether you want to be published or whether you want to make money. If the latter, you are probably in the wrong genre. About half of my publications (1,394 on 16 December 2001) are poems; I would be surprised if I have made more than $2,000 total on nearly 700 poetry publications. Almost all of them are reimbursed with a few copies of the publication.

I also caution you against vanity publication, including contests that have entry fees. A good publisher is that, one who publishes and does her/his best to get the work to readers. Publishers who meet their costs from their writers' pocketbooks have no incentive to publish to readers. The writers get their copies and pay for the operation. The publisher gets 'credit' for being a publisher, and the poetry rarely reaches anyone else.

Some poets publish their own books, often under a publisher name that hides that fact. I see nothing wrong with that if the poet also intends to be sure that the book is reviewed and, if possible, placed in bookstores. They won't 'count for much' as evidence of "serious publication" for faculty hiring, promotion, or tenure, but those are hardly the reason that one writes anyway. If you take this route, be sure that your poetry does not rest in the boxes in your dwelling. They reach no more people there than they do on a publisher's shelf.

Or you might publish your book on the web. That means giving it away. Why not? Then hope that many will find it and read it. I would not do this without first spending a fair amount of time looking at poetry already published on the web. In my view, the better work on the web takes advantage of some of the qualities of the medium rather than treating the screen as just like a piece of paper.

Spend a fair amount of time at poetry readings and at any marketing conversations that occur. Consider starting your own group for poets to read and critique each other's new work (if they read something from way back, it will be simply and ego gathering and won't last very long), or look for a group already existing.

Read lots of poetry, new and old. Buy lots of poetry. I am amazed at the number of poets who want people to publish and buy their work but have never themselves bought the work of more than 2-5 poets, and typically those have been dead poets or poets who have not written anything new in the last decade.

I hope this is helpful. I won't offer to critique your manuscript because I could hardly offer you advice as good as that which you have already received from my colleagues; also, you would be no closer to getting a publisher after I finished than you are now, for, as I said at the beginning, I know very little about book publishers.



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