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.