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Modjaji Books

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Advice to poets on getting a collection of poems published

I get a lot of emails and questions about how to get a book of poetry published. Firstly not many publishers do it. (That is publish poetry). It is not a financially sensible thing to do. So as a poet think about it from the publisher’s point of view for a minute.

You don’t stand a chance of getting your collection published unless you have a name as a poet, or are a well known writer who also writes poetry. Or you are a well known rugby player or have some other claim to fame and also write poetry. So how do you become a more established poet without having a collection?

1. Buy and read the work of poets who have had their work published. Do this regularly. See what is hot and happening. Subscribe to at least one literary magazine.

2. Attend live poetry readings – Off the Wall in Cape Town, launches and readings. Poetry Africa in Durbs. Jozi Spoken Word Festival.

3. Send your work to the literary magazines. Google the following names – New Coin, Litnet, New Contrast, Carapace. As far as I know Gary Cummiskey of Green Dragon invites submissions from particular writers and doesn’t have an open submission policy. There are other literary magazines and perhaps those who are reading the blog can add names and thoughts.

4. Before you submit your collection to a publisher – ask a published poet whose work you like/admire to read your manuscript. You will have to pay them to read it and tell you if in their opinion it is publishable. You could do a Creative Writing course either at a university or a short course. Get feedback on your poems.

5. When you have reached this stage, I can recommend people to edit your work (once again you will have to pay for this). It will cost about R2000 or so (Sept 2009).

6. If you can say Yes, to all the above steps, then you need to go through your collection and choose the ones that fit together in some way. A first collection that will comfortably be published as a thin volume, needs to be about 56 or 64 pages. But remember that the book will be typeset and remember that you need at least 7 or 8 pages for front matter and end matter.

If you can’t find a publisher, it is OK to self-publish. It is harder work and a bit less prestigious, but at least you get your work out there and you will find your readers or they will find you. Don’t leave out any of Steps 1 to 6 above, or your book will not be as good as it could be.

Other publishers who publish poetry – Deep South, Botsotso, Aerial (if you are part of the Creative Writing group in Grahamstown). For most other publishers you either have to be as well known as Gabeba Baderoon or Antjie Krog. Or you have to be a graduate of the Creative Writing MA at UCT.

Please read the comments at the bottom of this post too, I am going to get all the knowledgeable people I know to comment and add their wisdom if they would.

 

Recent comments:

  • <a href="http://www.modjajibooks.co.za" rel="nofollow">Colleen</a>
    Colleen
    September 8th, 2009 @14:10 #
     
  • <a href="http://www.modjajibooks.co.za" rel="nofollow">Colleen</a>
    Colleen
    September 8th, 2009 @14:12 #
     
  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    September 8th, 2009 @14:14 #
     
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    Superb links to complement a superb post, Colleen! Hopefully now we all get less email of the "publish my verse" variety.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    September 8th, 2009 @15:14 #
     
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    Colleen, you and Arthur have nailed it. Both your posts are brilliant, and I am bookmarking this for the many enquiries I get. All I'd add to Colleen's post is before Step 4 (sending your poems to a professional for a paid assessment), you should have have had at least five or six poems published in two or more poetry magazines -- a good rule of thumb before spending any money. I loathe doing poetry assessments more than any other kind because 19 times out of 20, I have to say "This isn't publishable". Bear these odds in mind.

    Also wanted to add that the Writers' and Artists' yearbook is quite handy as a map towards what's out there. Even better (if predominantly North American oriented) is Poet's Market -- once again, not so much as a guide to getting your poems published, but as a source of specialist, interesting and esoteric poetry magazines and websites.

    Gus Ferguson always says more folk write poetry than read it. Sad but true. Arthur makes the point (and this goes for ANYONE who wants to get ANY kind of novice work published) that if you don't read lots and lots and lots and LOTS of poetry, don't even think about trying to get it published.

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  • <a href="http://liesljobson.bookslive.co.za" rel="nofollow">Liesl</a>
    Liesl
    September 8th, 2009 @15:18 #
     
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    Splendid article, Colleen. I will be sending the many queries I receive here.

    Other resources for finding poetry markets internationally:
    http://www.newpages.com/literary/submissions.htm

    http://www.duotrope.com/

    http://www.winningwriters.com/

    http://www.poetryresourcepage.com/resources/crwropps.html

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  • <a href="http://hughhodge.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Hugh</a>
    Hugh
    September 8th, 2009 @15:25 #
     
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    Thank you Colleen and Arthur: very good advice. Of course, at this forum we speak to the converted. It'd be good if we could carry the message to a wider audience.

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  • Karin
    Karin
    September 8th, 2009 @15:49 #
     
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    I am interested in compiling a list of regular open mike sessions across the country and I'd be glad if other poets could post events (with as many details as possible regarding time, place, host and any contact details) they're aware of in their cities or towns. Or email me directly with the information.

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  • <a href="http://www.modjajibooks.co.za" rel="nofollow">Colleen</a>
    Colleen
    September 9th, 2009 @13:00 #
     
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    Gary Cummiskey of Dye Hard Press & Green Dragon says he does have an open submissions policy, but most of the submissions he gets are either not to his taste or "unusable".

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  • <a href="http://ingridandersen.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Ingrid Andersen</a>
    Ingrid Andersen
    September 9th, 2009 @16:22 #
     
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    Thanks, Colleen and Arthur, for the sound and valuable advice.

    I’m calling for submissions for the Spring 2009 issue of my new online journal, 'Incwadi', a South African online journal of poetry and photography.

    Email submissions can be made to incwadi.editor@gmail.com - deadline October 15th. Photographs should be below 1Mb in size, and up to 5 poems or photographic items can be submitted can be made.

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  • <a href="http://ingridandersen.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Ingrid Andersen</a>
    Ingrid Andersen
    September 9th, 2009 @16:25 #
     
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    er.. *del* can be made :-)

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  • <a href="http://liesljobson.bookslive.co.za" rel="nofollow">Liesl</a>
    Liesl
    September 9th, 2009 @20:08 #
     
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    Helen suggests that poets have five or six poems published in two magazines. I would increase that recommendation to a minimum of 30 poems published in at least 5 different journals, print and online.

    The tenacity required to accomplish that objective shows potential publishers that the poet has done the leg work required to get published and has taste rejection and lived through it.

    It also means that when a volume is published there are a number of journals who can be approached to run a "Huzzah!" or better still, a review.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    September 9th, 2009 @20:27 #
     
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    I agree, Liesl, but to clarify: my advice is have five or six poems published before you spend money asking a professional for an assessment of your poems (or ask anyone for any kind of assessment at all). (Presenting a publisher with a collection still way down the line, if ever.) So often I'm asked to "just take a look at" a whole clump of poems, not one of which has been published. The above is the rule of thumb I apply before I'll accept poems for comment.

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  • <a href="http://philyaa.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Phillippa Yaa</a>
    Phillippa Yaa
    September 10th, 2009 @09:06 #
     
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    Thank you Colleen! The article really makes the whole poetry field infinitely more manageable by providing strong boundaries. You are the Good Mother of Poetry in South Africa. I hope that this will bounce me out of the little impasse I'm finding myself in at the moment. All hail Modjadji!

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  • <a href="http://philyaa.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Phillippa Yaa</a>
    Phillippa Yaa
    September 10th, 2009 @09:07 #
     
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    that's funny. Why do I look like Helen? not that I mind... but...

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  • ar
    ar
    September 10th, 2009 @22:58 #
     
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    Colleen, thank you - you can't imagine how valuable this post and the links to Arthur's stuff are.

    Liesl - your poem Pit Work from View from an Escalator has become one of my favourites. And then directly after Pit Work, Sabbath Prayer... delicious. Absolutely delicious and deeply satisfying.

    Helen - I'm about to start reading Strange Fruit, and I promise not to spam you with reams of poems before I've followed all the advice here. Gimme a couple of decades, I think :-)

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