Self-Publishing Your Poetry Book: Part 1
I am in the middle of judging a national contest of self-published poetry books. Of course I’m doing as objective a job as I can, but the process raises some questions. Why self-publish at all? And what are the obvious pitfalls, and how can they be avoided?
The root of the word “publish” means to speak aloud. And contemporary technology has made self-publishing a book extremely easy. From desk top publishing to publishers on demand, the resources are there for an author. However, self-publishing can lead to disappointment as well as a feeling of success, to unprofessional presentation as well as a commercial one.
Know Your Audience
Most books of poetry are not “commercial” in the general sense. Even prize-winning volumes never sell more than a few thousand–or even a few hundred–copies. The audience for poetry is small, but successful poets know that their specific audience is the one that can be counted on to buy books. So your first step is to know your audience. Many years ago, New Mexico poet Joan Logghe was just getting started. But people flocked to her poetry readings–and she found herself signing and handing out copies of her work. She realized she had an audience and self-published a small chapbook which sold well. She then went on to publish with establishes presses who were impressed with her track record. So self-publishing is appropriate for an emerging writer.
Your audience might be closer to home. I’ve seen nicely done volumes of holiday thoughts and poems that could be given as gifts. A collection aimed at friends and family is niched for that audience. If your collection is essentially personally meaningful but not aimed at at wider poetry audience, take this into account and know your own goal. For example, if you are basically collecting work for your grandchildren, don’t then be disappointed that you haven’t written a bestseller!
One of the strongest approaches to self-publishing is do so as a part of a group. A writer’s group that publishes a volume together has more built-in readers and resources than one poet alone. Sometimes three or so writers may band together and create a joint book. It is also sometimes easier to promote other peoples’ work than just your own. Acknowledgments also add to a book. One of the most professional touches a book of poetry can have is an acknowledgments page. Try publishing some of the individual poems in small and literary magazines. That kind of credit really helps increase the seriousness of a book of poetry.
Knowing your audience determines the number of copies in print run, and your marketing strategy. A holiday gift can simply be shared. Or events can be set up at local bookstores or libraries. An inspirational book might be appropriate for a church or synagogue book fair. But before you get carried away with the mechanics of publishing, sit down and determine who exactly your audience is.
Audience Check List
Strong reasons to publish:
You already have some audience
You want to create something for your family or community
To memorialize a friend or family member
To create a collaborative or group project
Poor reasons to publish:
You expect the books will just naturally sell
You expect fame and fortune
NEXT: Judging A Book By Its Cover
16 Ways to Not Win a Poetry Contest by Miriam Sagan
As a poet and teacher, I’ve been asked to judge many poetry contests. These range from large national ones to one in the local newspaper. At times, there have been so many entries that they’ve arrived in boxes from UPS. I’ve been paid in money, thanks, and even gift certificates for restaurants in town. What strikes me about these contests is both optimistic and pessimistic. The optimism comes from the fact that so many people actually care enough about poetry to write it and submit it. The pessimism derives from the fact that many of these writers obviously don’t read or even know much about contemporary poetry.
There are a few simple things any poet can do to vastly increase the chances of winning a poetry contest. These include everything from honing craft to following directions. I thought it would be fun, however, to tell you how to NOT win a poetry contest. I’ve often wished I could include such a slip with entries that didn’t win–and never would–without work from the poet.
1.Write your poem in total isolation. Don’t read contemporary poetry–after all–you don’t want to be influenced, even by the greats.
2.Don’t revise. Don’t bring the poem to a class, or critique group, or ask a friend. Who cares what anyone thinks, it is your poem.
3.Don’t read the poem aloud to see if it is finished. Why disturb your napping cat?
4.Ignore the craft of poetry–feelings don’t need images or metaphors.
5.Use a hackneyed one word title like “Death” or “Autumn.”
6.Content? What is that? Isn’t a poem supposed to be obscure?
7.Disregard the specified rules of the contest.
8.Go over the line or word limit–after all, it is your favorite poem!
9.Heck, send whatever you want–a novel chapter, a non-rhyming poem to a rhymed contest, a cycle of poems when you only paid for one. How uptight can these judges be?
10.Use teeny tiny type (maybe no one will notice it is over the line limit) or gigantic cursive or handwriting or attach a photo of your puppy.
11.Submit something pornographic
12.Or a wild-eyed religious rant or
14.Include a note telling the judge why you really should win.
15.If you don’t win, curl up in a ball and absolutely decide to stop writing.
16.Never enter another contest again.
If you follow all these steps I can guarantee you will never win a poetry contest. On the other hand, if you avoid these steps you just might win!
This is re-blogged from the Writer’s Digest blog edited by Robert Brewer which first published it.
There were seven hundred and twenty-six entries
typed in thirty-two slightly different serif fonts
and seventeen slightly different sans-serif fonts
on nine different weights of paper
with eleven different brightness factors
and forty-three submissions
were immediately discarded
for not following the guidelines
leaving six hundred and eighty-three eligible poems
but being a devout christian and poet myself
I was faced with the practical dilemma
of judge not lest yea be judged
and I could not make up my mind
as to which poem to choose as the best
or second or third, so I decided to pray
for a sign from God as to which poems
should be the chosen poems
and I first looked for the mention of Jesus
or any of the disciples
or any of the saints
or quotes from the gospels
but there were none
as this is a landscape poetry contest
none of which mentioned Golgotha
or any location in the holy lands
or sites deemed holy according to the vatican
and so I set the poems out in the yard
so each was uncovered to the sun
and to the sky and I got down on my knees
and prayed in earnest for a sign:
a flight of morning doves
marked three poems with bird droppings—
which in Italy is seen as a sign of good luck—
and I awarded the poem with the largest splat
best and so on down to third.
Kenneth P. Gurney