How do you become a poet?
How do you get your poems published?
Where should you submit your poems?
How do you format your submission?
Is rejection a bad sign?
Do you need an agent?
Can you make a living from poetry?
How much does it cost to publish?
What are subsidy and vanity presses?
Should you copyright my poems? If so, how?
How can you tell if a poetry contest or publishing offer is a scam?
Where can you find a list of poetry scams?
Does the Academy of American Poets evaluate or give feedback on poems?
How can you get feedback on your work?
What resources and publications are available for kids?
If you are a poet facing a crisis where can you go to find help?
How do you become a poet? The best advice for how to begin writing poetry is to first read a lot of poetry: contemporary and classic, translations, formal, and experimental. A good place to start is our poems page where you can browse a curated collection of over 7,000 poems. You can also sign up to receive Poem-a-Day, which will deliver to your in-box a free, previously unpublished poem by a contemporary poet on weekdays and a classic poem on weekends.
How do you get your poems published? Send your poems to online and print literary magazines and journals that accept unsolicited poems. After your work has been published in a variety of periodicals and you have amassed a solid manuscript, try approaching small presses and university publishers. There are also several well-respected first-book contests, including the Walt Whitman Award, which you could enter.
Where should you submit your poems? Research is key. Spend some time finding literary journals and magazines that publish work you enjoy or that is similar to your style. To find publications seeking work, visit Poets & Writers or New Pages, or check out a copy of the annual Poet's Market (Writer's Digest Books).
How do you format your submission? Here are some suggestions:
- Read the publication before you send your work. Make sure they publish the kind of poetry you're sending.
- Review submission guidelines from the publisher and carefully adhere to them.
- If you are sending poems by mail, always enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply. If you request your work returned, make sure to include a large enough envelope with adequate postage.
- Unless guidelines specify otherwise, send only three to five poems.
- Choose a standard typeface that is clean and easy to read. Twelve-point Times New Roman is a reliable choice. Do not use a script-style font.
- Make sure whatever you send is perfect. Have someone proofread your work.
- Keep your cover letter or email short: your bio should take up only a few lines, don't explain your poetry (it should speak for itself), don't ask for or expect to receive feedback on your work.
- Be aware that it often will take a long time for publishers to respond. Be patient. Don't call or email unless it is to inform them your work has been accepted by another publisher.
Is rejection a bad sign? It is important to be patient, yet tenacious, when trying to publish your work. Don't be discouraged by rejection. You might view a hand-written, personal rejection from a reputable publisher as an encouraging first step. Many writers who are now well-known received nothing but rejections for years. When a poem or manuscript comes back from one publisher, submit it to the next one on your list.
Do you need an agent? No. You can submit your work to journals and small publishing houses on your own. In fact, very few poets ever work with agents. However, large publishing houses, which publish very little poetry, would accept work almost exclusively through the mediation of agents. To note, many agents won't respond to you unless you've already published a book.
Can you make a living from poetry? Very few poets rely entirely on the proceeds from their poetry. Journal publication is frequently unpaid or compensated by additional contributor's copies, and poetry book advances are modest sums. Most poets, even the most widely published, hold other jobs, such as teaching, freelance writing, journalism, publishing, or nonprofit administration. To learn more about grants for poets, visit the Foundation Center. To find listings of employment opportunities, visit Jobs for Poets, which is compiled by the Academy of American Poets.
How much does it cost to publish? Submitting your poems for possible publication should not cost you anything beyond your time. However, some contests and awards require a small entry or reading fee. Once a poem or manuscript is accepted, the publisher covers the cost of publication. Some writers choose to self-publish their work with print-on-demand publishers, which does have a cost that varies depending on the company you work with.
What are subsidy and vanity presses? The standard publishing procedure is to pay an author for his or her work, usually in the form of copies of the publication, cash, and possibly royalties. Publishers are also responsible for marketing and distributing the work. However, a subsidy press, often called a "vanity press," is one that produces a book upon payment from the author. Books from these printers are often cheaply produced and do not command respect from readers, libraries, or the media. Since the publishing company is paid up front, it has no incentive to promote or distribute the book, or even to screen the manuscripts that it accepts for publication. Many such presses exist solely for the purpose of making money from writers whose work may otherwise be unpublishable. For this reason, books published by subsidy and vanity presses are ineligible for most reputable book awards--including the Academy's. The Academy would strongly advise any poet not to agree to a subsidy plan to publish your book.
Should you copyright my poems? You own the copyright of anything you write, regardless of whether you register it with the U.S. Copyright Office in Washington, D.C. However, you cannot win a copyright infringement case unless your work is registered. Many publishers will copyright in your name when they accept your book for publication, but you may prefer to fill out the form and send it in before submitting your work. You can download forms from the Library of Congress at www.copyright.gov. For more information, see Brad Templeton's A Brief Intro to Copyright.
How can you tell if a poetry contest or publishing offer is a scam? Consider these four warning signs:
- The sponsor or publisher asks for money. If a contest requires a reading fee, consider (a) whether the sponsor is a for-profit or non-profit organization, and (b) whether you feel its other activities besides the contest are worth supporting.
- There is no payment in either cash or publication copies. Many legitimate publications can't afford to pay their contributors, but at the very least they should give you a free copy of the finished product.
- The publisher lists only a P. O. box address and does not list a phone number, email, or street address.
- The offer is a form letter that looks hand-generated. Using handwriting-style typefaces and fake Post-it notes is a popular tactic with direct-mail solicitation, but you shouldn't find it on an acceptance letter from a publisher.
Where can you find a list of poetry scams? In the past few years, there have been many excellent exposés about literary scams in national magazines and on television news programs. A list of helpful links and testimonials can be found on www.winningwriters.com/contests.
Does the Academy of American Poets give feedback on or evaluate poems? Unfortunately, our small staff is not able to provide this service. To learn more about the programs and publications the Academy of American Poets offers, please visit here.
How can you get feedback on your work? You can take a class, start or join a workshop, post on a poetry discussion forum. If you can't find the resources you want online or locally, try starting a writing group by posting a sign in your local library, bookstore, or coffee shop. Take a look at Poetry Near You and choose your state to find helpful resources and listings in your area.
What resources and publications are available for kids? Check out our Poems Kids Like feature and Dear Poet project, and other organizations, including the Youth Poets Laureate, National Student Poets, 826 National and Power Poetry.
If you are a poet facing a crisis where can you go to find help? Visit this free directory for writers in need: www.pen.org/emergencyresources. The directory lists everything from emergency grants, legal advice, housing, health care advocacy, and crisis counseling.