poem index

Writing and Publishing FAQ


April 15, 2011
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  1. How can I become a poet?
  2. How can I get my poems published?
  3. Where should I submit my poems?
  4. How do I format my submission?
  5. Is rejection a bad sign?
  6. Do I need an agent?
  7. Can I make a living from poetry?
  8. How much does it cost to publish?
  9. What are subsidy and vanity presses?
  10. Should I copyright my poems? If so, how?
  11. How can I tell if a contest or publishing offer is a scam?
  12. Where can I find a list of poetry scams?
  13. May I send poems to the Academy for evaluation?
  14. How can I get feedback on my work?
  15. What resources and publications are available for kids?
  16. If I am a poet facing a crisis where can I go to find help?




  1. How can I become a poet? The best advice for writing poetry is to read lots of poetry. Read everything you can get your hands on: contemporary and classic; English and translation, formal and experimental. A good place to start is our poems page where you can browse over 5,000 poems. You can also sign up to receive Poem-a-Day, which will deliver a free poem—by a contemporary poet on weekdays and a classic poet on weekends—to your inbox.

  2. How can I get my poems published? Start small. Everyone wants to publish a book, but you should be aware that most writers start their careers by submitting their work to literary magazines and journals, gaining recognition from editors, agents, and peers. Creep up the ranks. After your work has appeared 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.

  3. Where should I submit my poems? Research is key. Spend some time finding journals and 'zines, online or in print, that publish work that you enjoy or is similar to your style. Poet's Market, published annually, is an essential sourcebook for poets interested in sending out their work. It contains listings of publishers with descriptions, contact information, and submission guidelines. Poets & Writers magazine, published six times per year, is another excellent resource.

  4. How do I format my submission? There are eight steps you can take to keep your poems out of the recycling bin:

    • Read the publication (or samples of the publisher's offerings) before you send your work. Make sure they publish the kind of poetry you're sending.
    • Request submission guidelines from the publisher and adhere carefully to them.
    • 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 reliable proofread your work. Check the spelling of the address, especially if you are sending it to a particular person's attention.
    • Keep your cover letter 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 unless it is to inform them your work has been accepted by another publisher.
  5. 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. A hand-written, personal rejection from a good publisher is far better than an acceptance from a bad one. Many writers who are now well-known earned nothing but rejections slips for years. When a poem or manuscript comes back from one publisher, submit a fresh copy to the next one on your list.

  6. Do I 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, the big publishing houses -- the ones whose books you see in every bookstore -- publish very little poetry at all, and almost exclusively through the mediation of agents. Many good agents, meanwhile, won't even return your call unless you've already published a book.

  7. Can I make a living from poetry? Very few poets rely entirely on the proceeds from their work. Journal publication is frequently unpaid, compensated only 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 and journalism.

  8. How much does it cost to publish? Publishing your work should cost no more than your own expense to produce and submit your work -- paper, envelopes, and stamps. However, some contests and awards require a small entry or reading fee. Once a poem or manuscript is accepted, the publisher typically covers the cost of publication and promotion. However, some writers choose to self-publish their work, or use a subsidy, or vanity, press that requires the author to pay the costs.

  9. 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, self-published books are ineligible for most reputable book awards--including the Academy's. On rare occasions, one hears of a writer whose self-published or subsidy-published book became a bestseller, but more often the writer ends up with a basement full of books. The Academy would strongly advise any writer not to agree to a subsidy plan to publish his or her book.

  10. Should I 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.

  11. How can I tell if a 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. It does cost money to run a contest, so don't label all contests with fees as scams. Your entry fee may be used towards helping to keep a publicly supported arts organization healthy. A commercial sponsor of a contest, however, should only earn a profit by selling the winning book.
    • 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. If your work is worth publishing, it's worth paying for.
    • The publisher lists only a P. O. box address. If no phone number or street address is listed, they might be purposely obscuring their whereabouts. Why--or what--are they trying to hide from you?
    • 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 from a charity or book-club, but you shouldn't find it on an acceptance letter from a publisher.
  12. Where can I 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.

  13. May I send poems to the Academy for evaluation? Unfortunately, no. Our small staff is very busy administering the Academy's many programs and cannot respond to the enormous volume of unsolicited poems and poetry manuscripts we receive each week.

  14. How can I get feedback on my 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 our National Poetry Map and choose your state to find helpful resources in your area.

  15. What resources and publications are available for kids? Check out the following web sites to help set young writers on the right track. About.com's Creative Writing for Teens is an inviting and informative site with articles, practical tips, chats, bulletin boards, an excellent collection of links, and more. Poetry for Kids features games, contests, links, forums, and a rhyming dictionary.

  16. If I am a poet facing a crisis where can I go to find help? The following website is a 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.