There are four general options for publishing a collection of poetry:
- Web Publishing
- Subsidized Publishing
- Self Publishing
- Traditional Publishing
Each method has its own shortcomings and benefits. For example, web publishing is the least pricey and has the lowest reputation, but surprisingly it is capable of reaching a much wider audience than most other methods. My site, such as it is, reaches over 30,000 unique visitors a month.
Option 1: Web Publishing
Web publishing is, quite simply, setting up web pages to display your work. This is an easy process, even for someone with limited knowledge of web page creation. You can make use of a service such as blogger.com (free) to create your own site and you simply need to paste in your poems. It is hardly more work than e-mailing.
Because websites are inexpensive and easy to create, there are many people out there doing it. This means that it carries less prestige than any of the other methods, yet web pages are easier to promote than books and because they are free, will often attract more readers than a book if you do a little marketing and publicity work.
Option 2: Subsidized Publishing
Subsidized publishing is when you pay someone to publish a book for you. There are many options of varying expense. Print-on-demand services are the cheapest, and lulu.com has been gaining in reputation among those services lately. xlibris.com and iuniverse.com are two other established services. Print-on-demand publishers only print books when they are ordered. This means that you do not have to pay for a set run of books and therefore have little (sometimes no) upfront fees.
The downside of these services is that there is often very little variation in the printing process. In other words, you have limited control over how the book looks. You may also have to create the formatting for the book on your own, which many people do not know how to do. If you can’t do it, you’ll have to pay someone who can. This publishing segment is still relatively new (only five years old by my count) and much like the Internet, you have to be careful to make sure what a service offers is what they provide.
A more expensive, more established option is to go with a subsidized publishing company that will work with you individually to tailor the book to your vision. The publisher will then print a run of books (100 is usually the bare minimum and 1000 will generally get you a reasonable price-per-book). You pay upfront for the books and you sell them on your own through advertising, readings, and whatever other means you can come up with. A new, inexpensive option is to go with a print-on-demand publisher such as lulu.com.
The benefit of subsidized publishing is that you get an actual book that you can hold, show and even sell. It doesn’t quite have the prestige of traditional publishing, but people do respect almost any book more than a web page.
Option 3: Self-Publishing
Self-publishing is a challenge. It means taking charge of every aspect of the publishing process from formatting the book to obtaining the ISBN number to printing the book to marketing the book. It is not a simple process, but it is a rewarding one. Every part of the process can be done by an individual working out their own home with the right equipment (computer, printer, desktop publishing program, telephone, personal resolve). On the other hand, any part of the process can be hired out, from designing the book to printing the book to hiring a publicist.
Many poets start with a chapbook. The definition of a chapbook is that it is stapled (like a magazine) rather than bound. Because of this, chapbooks are relatively easy to produce on a printer or through a copy shop. They aren’t quite as attractive as bound books and most book stores will not carry them because you can’t read the name on the binding, which is how bookstore patrons generally find books. You can, however, sell these books through Amazon or other online outlets as long as you have an ISBN number.
Option 4: Traditional Publishing
The “traditional” publishing world (in which the publisher assumes all expense and sometimes even pays the poet) is a tough nut to crack. Major publishers do not publish books of poetry, except when they see a clear profit in the activity or they are appeasing an otherwise profitable writer. This leaves most poetry publishing to university presses and other small presses. There are virtually no agents who work with poets and small presses. Most of these publishers struggle to break even, much less turn a profit. Because of this, small presses often exist to publish works or poets that the publisher loves, not just likes or appreciates, loves. Often, the publisher knows the poet on a personal basis or has discovered them through journals or recommendations from other poets. That is why it is important to become active in the poetry world. If you are sending your poetry to these publishers without getting to know who the publishers are and what they like, your chances of finding the right publisher for you are slim.
The best way to become a published poet through the traditional route is to become a part of the poetry community. How do you do that?
- Buy books of poetry, especially books by current writers working in the field.
- Subscribe to poetry journals.
- Go to poetry readings. Check your local arts publications. Almost any sizable town has readings every week or every other week. This is a great opportunity to meet poets and people who care about poetry.
When you go to readings, donate money and buy books if you can. Support the community you belong to.
Host a poetry event or organize a reading. This is a way of recognizing the poets you enjoy and a way of promoting yourself in the community.
- Publish your own poetry journal. Even a web page or a few sheets of paper stapled together gets the word out.
- Form a poetry circle or group. If you want to swap poetry and criticism with your peers, form your own group. Many local arts publications let you list your group for free.