Poets new to publishing sometimes ask how to get paid for publishing their poetry, and how to make a living as a poet.
The answer, in a nutshell, is: you don’t. Writing poetry is very rewarding, but not usually in monetary ways.
Even the best-known poets typically also teach, work in the publishing industry, journalism, or in some other field.
What do poetry publishers pay?
The market for poetry is very small, and publishers often make little or no profit.
As a result, standard practice for most literary periodicals & magazines is to pay with one or more copies of the publication in which your work appears, rather than cash.
The same is true for small literary presses, which often publish chapbooks, or poetry collections. Typical payment is a percentage of the press run. (If you are lucky, the publisher may also pay a small stipend, or offer a percentage of the profits, in the event your book makes a profit. Many don’t.)
You could sell some copies of your book at your readings & perhaps local bookstores or your website to generate a little cash. (See our book marketing tips for more ideas.)
Mid-sized and major publishing houses seldom publish poetry. When they do publish it, press runs are small, and with payment of corresponding size. They only publish well-known figures in the poetry world, who have amassed many periodical, chapbook & small-press book publications & have gained a large, loyal readership which is likely to buy the poet’s books.
Want to publish a whole book?
Because they have a heavy financial investment in each book they publish, publishers seek collections of poetry by those who have first gained publication in a substantial number of literary magazines and other publications. In doing so, the poet will have established themselves in the literary community and have built a readership (and, thus a market) for their work. This is the normal path to book publication in the poetry world.
(Since the publisher has invested a significant amount of money in publishing a poetry book, they want to know that the books will sell. There is only a very small market for poetry books to begin with, so usually only those poets with well established readerships will be offered publishing contracts.)
If you’re itching to publish an entire book, and do not want to take the time to first publish individual poems in periodicals, it will be almost certainly be necessary for you to self-publish your book.
Self-publishing has a long history as a route to publication for both beginning & well-known poets. However, just like with books published by major publishers, self-published books don’t have a terrific track record when it comes to making money (you may or may not recoup your costs). We’ve written articles about self-publishing and selling your own books which you may find helpful.
A short aside: poetry contests
Since we’re talking about money, I should mention poetry contests. Some are scams; they just want to publish your poems so they can sell you the book in which they will appear. Legitimate contests won’t ask you for money; they will compensate you as described above. If anyone tells you that you won a contest and then asks you for money, run the other way.
Some contests do ask for a reading fee or entry fee. This may be okay. If so, it should not be much money. Before sending a reading fee, please check out the “publisher” or company that’s running the contest to see if they’re on the up and up.
There are however, a number of legitimate poetry contests / awards, some of which are very prestigious & pay nicely. The current edition of Poet’s Market, published annually by Writer’s Digest Press, lists them, along with submission information & deadlines. You can get a discounted copy of Poet’s Market here.
Literary Careers & Publishing Info:
- Academy of American Poets Advice on publishing.
- WritersWrite.com database of markets, paying & non-paying
No matter what you choose to do for a living, keep writing poetry! Do it because you love it, need it, because you are a poet.
(And don’t forget to support poets, presses, and bookstores by buying poetry books!)
I wish you much success!