How to get your poetry published - or not, as the case may be

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Want to get your poetry published? Confused about which route to take? One publisher is offering a pathway through this potential maze. Helena Nelson, of Happenstance Press, has published How (Not) to Get Your Poetry Published, a revised and updated version of a pamphlet that quickly sold out when issued in 2009.  

In her foreword to the new book she warns that “poetry publishing has grown even more complicated”, and adds: “Why do you think some poets are successful in their publishing deals while others, who seem to you to write just as well, are not?”

Among the chapters are advice on “making the web work for you”, social networking, getting attention, doing readings, self-promotion, creating a readership and self-publishing. Chapter headings include Should poets blog?, How to make a book that wins all the prizes, Performing your poems, and Workshopping – yes or no?

One chapter, titled Thinking outside the book, says: “Stay on the look-out for new poetry publishers. Send work to them as soon as they enter the fray (advantage: they are probably actively looking for poets at this stage; disadvantage: you don’t know what sort of job they will do.” Other tips and options in this section include going initially for pamphlet publication rather than a full collection; setting up a writers’ co-operative with friends; creating postcards of poems, or hand-sewn booklets; crowdfunding, or publishing by subscription; and working with another artist, such as a painter or photographer, which could lead to an exhibition and greater public attention.

Another chapter, on Relationships, includes this advice: “I suggest you try to be consistently and doggedly nice to poetry people … A publisher rejects your book with a cursory note, while accepting one by your friend. Don’t blog about this experience sarcastically. Write and thank them for their time, and say how pleased you are about the news of your friend’s book. Be remembered for being nice.”

Nelson also says candidly in her foreword: “To tell the truth, I find the topic of publishing both interesting and bothersome at the same time. Too much of it frankly gets me down.”

So, as well as useful pages at the back of the book where readers can log their progress in various ways, Nelson also provides a number of poetry prompts at regular intervals which, she says, “are intended to engage the other, more joyous part of your brain. They may help remind you, should you happen to lose sight of it, what poetry is for.  Of course, you could also ignore them and just read the ‘how not to’ bits. But really, despite any evidence to the contrary, this book is all about the poem.”  

The editor of The Rialto magazine, Michael Mackmin, has described How (Not) To Get Your Poetry Published as “an essential investment if you want to be a published poet; and if you buy the book you help Happenstance to publish more work, perhaps even yours”.  


Helena Nelson, How (Not) To Get Your Poetry Published, Happenstance Press, £10


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