How to Publish a Poem

Getting your poetry published is as “easy” as publishing short stories. Unlike in the past, when traditional publishers dominated the industry, you now have plenty of publishing routes to choose from. Nowadays, we have small presses, online self-publishing platforms, traditional publishers (of course), and a bunch of other means that can get your poems in front of an audience.

Navigating these routes and finding the one that works for a particular writer is usually a matter of trial and error. But, if you happen to stumble upon much-needed guidance (like the wisdom I have served in this post) before you embark on the poetry publishing journey, you have a better chance of getting your poetry published using good platforms.

You can become a famous writer with poetry only, and you can make money from it. But… you have to be highly motivated, invested resources, and persevere before anything can come out of your poetry.

how to publish a poem

Getting Poetry Published Requires Hard Work

The best piece of advice that I ever got when I wanted to know what makes a good poet was something like: “pour your heart.”

Every newbie writer who has been told the same thing thinks it’s the only piece of the puzzle and they go about writing. Disregarding the nuances, not thinking about style. Just raw, unrefined writing.

The end result? Most of them end up self-publishing because no one is willing to invest their money, time, and energy on some crude caboodle of words and emotions.

Self-publishing isn’t bad (I know some poetry writers making money on kindle), but the point I’m trying to stress is before thinking of publishing, you should make sure that your poems are rigorously refined.

if they truly love you

How Much Does It Cost to Publish a Poem?

Well… Publishing poetry rarely costs a dime, but it depends on the method or means that you’ve chosen.

With traditional publishers, you don’t pay; in fact, most of them pay you a good fee even before your book gets published. On the other hand, the vanity press will charge you before you publish your poetry.

Self-publishing offers the same variety. Publishing on sites like Amazon or publishing aggregators such as draft2digital is completely free, but if you choose to publish on your own platforms you might incur some costs (hosting, printing costs, and shipping if you sell print versions).

Ways to Publish Your Poetry

ways to publish your poetry

1. Send your work to publishers of books, collections, and anthologies

You can’t publish a poem on its own using traditional publishers but if you’ve compiled a collection of about 40 or more poems, this is the most rewarding way to go about publishing your book. You can submit your work to poetry publishers to be published as your poetry collection or part of an anthology with other writers.

It’s not easy getting your book published this way and, most of the time, you require the services of a literary agent to submit your work.

2. Publish On Blogs

You can post your poems on your writing blog or website and work on increasing the followership of that site so that more people can read your poetry. Request some form of feedback from your readers and make sure you respond to that feedback, whether solicited or not.

3. Self-Publish on Amazon and The Like

If you have a collection of poems that you feel are good enough to become a poetry book on their own or be part of an anthology, you can self-publish your poetry on sites like Amazon.

On these sites, you can choose to publish your poetry as an e-book or printed book. These platforms act like online retailers or distributors and give you a cut of sales. Most writers who find it hard to find a traditional publishing house for their poems often use this method to publish their poetry.

4. Competitions

Another way to get your poem published is by entering them into poetry contests. Organizers of these competitions ask poets to submit work, and they pick the best one from the entries.

Usually, if your poem(s) get chosen, they give you money and your poetry gets published in a magazine, journal, or on their website. This is also a good way of making a name for yourself and these competitions tend to raise your profile as a poet.

5. Literary Journals and Magazines

Submitting your poetry to literary journals and magazines is a good start if you wish to travel the traditional publisher route. A lot of traditional publishers are happy to know that you have a history of publishing your poetry in magazines.

But, you should always make sure that you’ve checked the submission guidelines. Some magazines require you to surrender exclusive rights to publish your poem and if this is the case, then it means that you won’t be able to republish anywhere else.

6. Zines or Pamphlets

Another way of publishing poetry collections is publishing a zine or pamphlet. There are a couple of publishers who regularly publish pamphlets.

Can I Publish a Single Poem?

Yes, you can publish a single poem.

Sites like Wattpad are full of writers with individual poems and some of them have been read by a good number of people.

typing a poetry

The downside is: you won’t make any money with a single poem unless it’s part of an anthology. But… it’s not always about money, so that’s not a negative, is it?

Publishing and Selling Poetry Books

Do poetry books sell? Is there a market for poetry writing?

Yes, there’s a market for poetry, but it’s a lot of work, as I said.

The truth is not many publishers and bookshops will rush to get their hands on your poetry; in fact, when you visit a bookshop, the poetry shelves are mostly filled with classics, academic anthologies, and some poetry books by a lucky few famous poets of this era.

Getting on those shelves is almost Mission Impossible for a lot of poets.

Having said that, I should also point out that some poetry writers have made a good dollar writing and publishing poetry. The trick to making a profit off poetry books lies in the marketing of such books.

girl selling poetry
Girl Selling Poetry on Brick Lane Sunday Market, London. (Image credit: “Girl Selling Poetry – D7K_3438_ep” by Eric Parker on Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0)

Getting Your Poetry Noticed

So you’ve written your poems, refined them, and self-publish them, but people aren’t reading or buying your books.

It’s a depressing thing, especially for a beginner. You start questioning your writing skills or whether people still read poetry at all.

Your lack of sales has got nothing to do with both of those things―you’re not putting your book out there.

The question that should bother you is ‘how to promote your self-published poetry book?’

You see, with traditional publishers, you don’t have to worry about marketing your book; the publishing house handles that part for you. However, if you self-publish, you have to do everything yourself (except printing the books, in some cases).

a poem typewritten in a piece of paper

Nowadays, getting your poetry noticed—although still challenging—is easier than before. There’s social media, free blog hosting, et cetera. Paid ads and group interactions can get you up and running on social media. You can also use already established social media influencers to get your poems to a wider audience—you could pay influencers (in cash or kind) to read your poems on their streams, to buy your poetry book on a live stream, or mention your pages/accounts in their posts.

You can also use some of your blog content to link to your poems and poetry books. If you have a thriving blog, mailing lists are a great way to notify your readership of your poems, send free review copies to publications, and announce free poetry giveaways.

Best Places to Submit Poetry Online

1. The American Poetry Review

The American Poetry Review has been unremittingly publishing since 1972 and claims to have helped over 8,000 writers get published.

They are devoted to “reaching a worldwide audience with a diverse array of the best contemporary poetry and literary prose.” Apart from poetry, the American Poetry Review publishes original poetry, translations, literary criticism, interviews, and essays.

You’re not allowed to submit previously published material. 

2. Barren Magazine

Barren Magazine publishes flash fiction, short fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, and photography. They are looking for poetry of all themes but place a huge emphasis on originality (whether it’s poetry, nonfiction, etc.). Barren had a poetry contest a couple of years back but I think they paused or stopped.

3. Thrush Poetry Journal

Thrush Poetry Journal publishes 6 times a year. (January, March, May, July, September, and November). They accept both new and established poems but the submission should not have previously published poems.

They like the “eclectic” type of poetry—poems that “move them, full of emotion, and with words that resonate.”

To sum it up, they want you to submit power, creative, and unique poetry—no more than three per submission.

8 useful tips on finding new publications and how to decide whether you should submit.

Get Those Poems Published

Writing poems is fun and inspiring, but there’s nothing fun or inspiring about getting your poetry published. That road is paved with broken glass and failed poets—roughed up and bruised by the publishing process—who will do anything in their power to discourage you from becoming a published poet.

Then there are those agents who unemotionally turn down your submissions tell you to your face that poetry DOES NOT SELL. And… big publishing houses want a good return on their investment, and most of them think that poetry isn’t that remunerative.

You have a better chance of publishing through smaller poetry presses. If that fails, you have to go it alone: self-publishing.

You have to give it your all; else, you’re going to morph into a failed poetry writer to ward off new motivated poetry writers from publishing their work.

About Jessica Majewski

Jessica started off as an avid book reader. After reading one too many romance novels (really... is it ever really enough?), she decided to jump to the other side and started writing her own stories.

She now shares what she has learned (the good and the not so good) here at When You Write, hoping she can inspire more up and coming wordsmiths to take the leap and share their own stories with the world.