Kickstart Poetry book or Submit manuscirpt?
March 30, 2013 10:35 PM   Subscribe

I'm a poet. A pretty good one, occasionally. I've always been a coward when it comes to going for publication, and with April being National Poetry Month it seems an appropriate time to take submitting seriously. What makes more sense these days--trying to get a manuscript published by a publisher, or trying to make a book for a specific audience with a kickstarter/indigogo?
posted by letstrythis to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
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posted by taz (staff) at 10:57 PM on March 30, 2013

I've published four non-fiction books, three with a publisher and the last I self published. Self publishing was a great experience. Most publishers do so little to support their authors, especially for fiction, that jumping thorough their small hoops is not worth the challenge.

Many people believe publishers will do grand PR for writers, but they largely expect writers to do the heavy lifting. Unless you are famous enough for investments in PR to have high likelihood of returns there's little incentive for publishers to bet big on unknown writers.

Poets throughout history would be blown away by how technology has empowered writers to do everything themselves and for so little cost. Why seek a middleman?

Here is my summary of the self publishing experience
posted by Berkun at 11:33 PM on March 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

I read a lot of poetry. There are a lot of new poets out there, so I rely a lot on publishers (both book publishers and magazine/journal publishers) to give me a guess about what's worth reading. So one question might be whether you can get published in a relatively prestigious venue, which might help you get new readers.
posted by willbaude at 12:01 AM on March 31, 2013

Hoo boy. I guess this may be in some ways out of date, but my experience at college involved with our literary journal allowed me into the storage room that was packed to the ceiling with So. Many. Chapbooks. Filed, unread, and packed away forever, basically. The prof basically said if he wanted to give each one its due he'd have to give each one a week, and that would mean maybe 30 a year (he worked on his own writing in summer), and they had thousands of these. Naturally, today, self-publishing is an even easier proposition.

What you want is to get published in journals. That is, if you want to be read.

(Obviously there's no question of making money.)

Once you've been published in enough places, you might be able to get some of them to review a book, either in that journal or someplace else that publishes poetry reviews (again, a limited market). I really don't see the purpose of a book, other than vanity, until you can get that to happen. Otherwise, you're going in the storage room.
posted by dhartung at 1:42 AM on March 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

Seconding submitting to journals. The likelihood that a publisher will be willing to put out a book is significantly greater if you have a substantive publication (well-regarded literary journal) record.

My wife is a poet who published a book of poetry a few years ago. This is absolutely the route she took. I would add that many small-press publishers (perhaps this is peculiar to poetry) seem to be moving to a print on demand model. This is not, it bears saying, not the same thing as the countless scammy vanity publishing "opportunities" out there, but the differences are not always blindingly obvious.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 3:33 AM on March 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

I read a lot of poetry. I would not pay for a self-published book by an author who I have not seen in a magazine/journal whose editors I trust, to be honest. Many very accomplished poets also offer their own chapbooks online for free download, so if you really wanted to self-publish I don't think you should try and charge people at first.

If you have a bank of already finished work, there's no reason why you can't submit any to your favorite journals today. You'll probably get rejected, but at least it's a proactive first step.
posted by Think_Long at 5:54 AM on March 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also, I could be wrong, but I haven't really heard of a kickstarter working for a literary project from a writer who doesn't already have a true fanbase. In order for it to be successful, I would imagine you'd need to build one first. It's rare that anyone would pledge money on the strength of a couple of preview poems, unless they are so good that they knock those of us who care about this sort of thing flat on our asses.
posted by Think_Long at 6:19 AM on March 31, 2013

Yes, journals. Submitting to journals will cost you nothing but time and is the best way to get your poems read.

For whole books: I have an MFA in poetry, and am a soon-to-be published fiction author. The two processes are nothing alike. For fiction, you query, find an agent, and go on submission to major publishing houses. For poetry, there ARE no major publishing houses. What you'd want to seek out are, instead, first book contests. These usually require a nominal fee to enter (but which adds up over time, and is problematic in other ways), and are very competitive. Here's a list of contests.

Frankly, if I were still writing poetry, I'd probably go the self-publishing route. Not even kickstarter, but just putting an ebook up at Amazon. There's no money to be made in poetry anyway, and all you're ever vying for is prestige. If you don't care about prestige, it can't hurt to self-publish.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:54 AM on March 31, 2013

From my experience, only go the self-publishing route if you have a way to self-promote -- book promotion, especially poetry, is not passive, and becomes another job. That being said, if you regularly do readings, and people respond to your poetry, that is a form of self-promotion, and there's a real chance of selling a few chapbooks per reading. Thanks to some self-publishing sites, like Google's Createspace, you can print up only a dozen or so at a time (they print on demand), and then you're not stuck with a closet full of unsold books.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:27 AM on March 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

There are really awesome poetry journals online, especially on tumblr. There are still great ones being published here and there irl. Find them! Read them! Submit to them! Worry about your chapbook later.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:52 AM on March 31, 2013

Think_Long: It's chicken and egg - you get a fan base by publishing. If you have 100 Facebook friends and 20 of them buy the book, your fan base is born. That's mostly how it starts - and their support helps find new fans. Friends, even if the poet only has a few, are going to be the best initial fan base you could possibly have, better than one born from a single poem appearing in a journal (What fandom can a reader of a single poem in a popular journal do? At best they'd try to find the poets website and see what else they'd done, hopefully a book of poems they can buy or grab for free).

Bunny Ultramod: Publishers do so little promotion that writers are largely on their own anyway. I know less about poetry than non-fiction books, but I'd be surprised if on average they did more. They often certainly guide new writers and can help with some basics, but poets, like most writers, are largely on their own for PR anyway.

I'd also bet many people have just as many Facebook friends as poetry journals have subscribers.

Assuming the goal is a lifetime of poetry and not one book, it doesn't matter how publishing starts as long as it does.
posted by Berkun at 9:47 PM on March 31, 2013

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