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Getting your poetry published

Help for writers

Getting your poetry into print

Poets are naturally keen to see their work in print but it’s actually quite hard to get a first collection taken on by a publisher. This is because most poetry lists are pretty small. They tend to be either poetry imprints in large publishing houses, such as (in the UK) the Cape Poetry list at Random House, long-established independents such as Faber and a number of Arts Council funded publishers including larger houses such as Bloodaxe and Carcanet and small ones such as the Poetry Business and Penned in the Margins.

All of these publishers are cautious about what they take on and there are good reasons for this. Poetry is not in general given much space in bookshops and it is difficult to find poetry sections that go much beyond some bestselling backlist and a few new volumes from well-known names. It’s hard therefore to achieve any sales for first collections and the publishers have to be realistic about this.

Working on your poetry

It goes without saying that it is important to work at your poetry and get it into the best state you can before you submit it to anyone. Writing poetry is just as solitary an activity as other kinds of writing, although often less productive, in the sense that it often takes longer to get a book-length collection together.  It may be a real help to join a poetry writing group to get the benefit of other writers’ critical input. There are many creative writing courses available, both full and part-time, and also evening classes which concentrate on poetry.

There are also books which help with getting your poetry into good shape and published - a good one is by Chris Hamilton-Emery, the Publishing Director of Salt Publishing, and it's called 101 Ways to Make Poems Sell.  We have reviewed it on the site. It's well worth buying this, as it's full of practical suggestions.


Poetry exists in a particular world of its own. Reading as much of it as you can will not only improve your own work but will also help you to understand what is going on in the poetry world you are trying to enter.

If you find it hard to work out which new poetry is most worth reading, the Poetry Book SocietySpecialist book club founded by T S Eliot in 1953, which aims to offer the best new poetry published in the UK and Ireland. Members buy at 25% discount. The PBS has a handsome new website at is the world’s only poetry book club and recommends and supplies the best new collections to members all over the world.


Take any opportunity you get to publicise your work. Even if it’s a small and poorly-attended reading, it is still a way of beginning to build your audience and to get experience of reading in public. Later, readings may be a key source of sales.


Similarly, enter as many competitions as you can, as they all give kudos and cash to the winners, and the big ones, such as the National Poetry Competition in the UK (which is open to everyone internationally) and the Foyle Young Poets (open only to 12-18 year-olds in the UK) are very prestigious too.

Try magazines first

The best way to start getting your name around is by submitting individual poems, perhaps three or four at a time, to poetry magazines. There are a great many poetry magazines published in both the US and the UK and each one has a slightly different editorial brief. A good place to research them is the UK Poetry Library’s poetry magazines site. In the UK the most important magazines are The Poetry Review, PN Review, Poetry London and Ambit, whereas in the States the most prominent are the distinguished Poetry and American Poetry Review. Bear in mind though that the smaller and less well-known magazines may be a better place to start, as they are less full of the work of already well-known or up-and-coming poets. There are also many online poetry magazines.


Some of these are more akin to vanity publishing, so do be clear about what you might be paying and what you'll get for your money, but series such as those from the excellent Cinnamon Press provide a very good starting-point.

Book publication

Don’t even try to approach publishers until you have a collection-length amount of material to offer. Your chances will be much better even then if you can point to publication of your poems in magazines. Don’t waste any time trying to get a literary agent to represent you. Only the best-known poets have literary representation, because there is just so little money in it that agents don’t bother. If you can muster any kind of contact or referral, it is a way of getting your work noticed, but it is still a long, hard road to publication.


You may feel that it is better to go the self-publishing route. You will be in good company with the huge rise in self-published writers. Once you have your collection in your hand you will have to figure out how to sell it, but fortunately print on demand economies mean that the financial hit is not too great. The great advantage is that you can sell it directly, after readings or from your website. So now you can publish it properly and have it listed on Amazon as well, and promoted through other online sellers, but do investigate self-publishing properly to make sure you know what's involved. WritersServices Self-publishing Guide is a good place to start.

If you want some editorial help, WritersServices has a Poetry Critique service and also a unique Poetry Collection Editing service, which provides helpful editing and advice to prepare your collection for self-publishing or submission to a publisher.


Finding an agent

Making submissions

Avoiding rejection

Dealing with Rejection