Writing poetry is a creative and imaginative process, but getting it published is a very practical one. How To Publish Your Poetry is a clear and detailed guide on how to get your poetry into print - for both the novice and the more established poet.
Beginning with the basics - why write? How good is it? - Peter Finch systematically and thoroughly explores the whole range of essential topics including:
- preparation of scripts
- available markets
- publishing on the Internet
- vanity presses
- dealing with rejection
- publishing abroad
- readings and workshops
- There are also useful sections on organisations of interest to poets, the poet's library and books on publishing.
"A lively and impressively well organised tour of the poetry bazaar"
- Alex Hamilton, The Guardian
"An entertaining and readable book, illuminated with personal anecdotes and insights: a volume every aspiring poet should have."
- Michael Blackburn, Arts North
"This volume is a seminal work on how to submit, disseminate and publish poetry today. The book is quite simply the new testament of the poetry-maker, the primary standard guide to the poetry marketplace"
- Martin Booth, British Book News
This new completely revised edition to be published by Allison & Busby. ISBN 074900391X. Paperback. £8.99
Where do you send it? Begin with the magazines, but do you know what these are? Where do you see poetry used? For most of the public poetry is an irrelevancy, They ignore it. They imagine, I suppose, that it isn't there or that it is something that used to go on in the distant past and has no relevance today. But if you look hard you'll find it and the longer you look the more you'll see.
At the popular end - light verse, humorous rhyme, easy sentiment - you can actually make small amounts of money out of it. If this is you - good luck. Outlets include:
- Greetings cards.
- Letters written in rhyming doggerel to the editors of popular papers and magazines.
- Hearts and flowers styled moralising and sentimentality - known as "inspirational verse" and made popular first by Patience Strong and more recently by the American, Helen Steiner Rice. The work usually has a clanging rhyme and is regularly compressed as prose to save space. You'll find it in the more down market women's magazines.
Most poets, thankfully, have a more serious intent. Here are some of the places which could be tried:
The Times, Guardian, Daily Telegraph, etc. all occasionally print poetry, usually from the well known. Some have regular contributors commenting, usually humorously, on contemporary life - Simon Rae, John Hegley and Anne McManus all do this. The Independent runs a daily poem usually (but not always) selected from a recently published book. Contributors to this slot do not get paid. The exposure and the two line plug they get for their book is regarded as being sufficient. The lesser known sometimes get a look in here. A more frequent use of poetry is made by the Sundays - The Observer, Sunday Times, Independent on Sunday, Sunday Telegraph. New work from contemporary poets along with famous pieces from the past appear in the review pages and in the magazine sections. It would be nice to say that beginners are welcome here yet to judge on past performance they most certainly are not. If you haven't got a book out and your name is not Sophie Hannah then try elsewhere first.
The Literary Review, New Statesman and Society, The London Review of Books, The Spectator, and others often use poetry and with less emphasis on the tried and trusted. Much depends, however, on who happens to be sitting in the literary editor's seat. Things change, and often. Before sending in check the current situation by buying a copy or two.
These usually avoid poetry at all costs although, depending on prevalent fashion, some include the occasional piece of popular work from a well-known name. Yet there can be opportunities for newcomers. Have a look at recent issues of The Lady, Woman and Home, She and perhaps a few others. If they appear to be using verse this month then why not send in.
Magazines devoted to fishing, history, sewing, brewing, aviation, ships, model railways, military matters, radio repair, religion, flying saucers and satellite tv do not generally seek poetry. But if you have something written in their subject area do try sending it in. Expect to know more than they do about what constitutes a good poem. Much can be done through personal initiative; write to the editor and suggest the establishment of a poetry page, even offer to edit it. Such proposals - particularly with country and county life journals - have actually been known to work.
Most places have an area what's on magazine which details local arts and entertainment. These often freely distributed journals sometimes publish work from poets living in the district, although usually it is in conjunction with a book publication or other literary event.
Radio and television
A pretty thin market for the newcomer and in the age of the fifteen second soundbite and dumbed-down schedule even harder than it used to be. Television offers almost no opportunities unless you are already famous or by sheer chance find yourself bumping into a programme researcher working on something else. At the time of the Sea Empress oil spill local poets were commissioned to record their reactions in verse and poets have occasionally been filmed reciting at political rallies but these are major exceptions. Fashion and century's-old fame apart, television's regular attitude to poetry is that, it hardly exists at all.
On radio things are a little better both Radio 4 and in particular Radio 3 run poetry programmes. These range from features on individual poets to popular half-hours where the famous reveal their favourite verse. Beginners do occasionally get a look in but generally Network radio poetry is devoted to those who have already acquired their reputations elsewhere. Local radio is a different matter. Here cash starved programmes have a real need for content and the local poet should learn to take advantage. Many stations have an arts slot where poetry is either already welcome or could become so if you approached. And should you have written anything newsworthy make sure the station knows. If payment doesn't concern you and you've an extrovert side to your nature then this could be an area worth pushing.
A highly personalised area where certain poets have successfully co-operated with artists in the production of calendars, postcards, tea-towels, posters, prints, even tie-pins, rings and ceramic work. To become involved you would need to know people working in such media and be sympathetic to their aims.
The audio book revolution of recent times has put a great deal of spoken poetry onto the market, most of it classic material from the dead or already hugely famous and generally recorded by actors, often to the accompaniment of suitably inspiring music. Victorian Verse recited by Harry Secombe or Romantic Ballads read by Judi Dench are unlikely to include you. There will also be little chance of you joining the likes of Wendy Cope, Roger McGough, Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney with a high profile rendition of your selected works. There are, however, a number of smaller outfits producing cassettes by performance poets or writers already included in their pamphlet series. The Poetry Business in Huddersfield work like this as do 57 productions in London. Bloodaxe Books, the poetry specialists, are also putting a number of their titles onto tape. Occasionally there are anthology selections of regional verse produced by regional arts boards. But in general market for this kind of work is small, and usually solicited.
It is here that the publishing revolution is happening right before our eyes. Publication on computer readable disk is so economic that the only thing preventing small publishers from embracing the process totally is the lack of equipment ownership among the general population and the small problem of not being able to read easily from a screen, especially in bed. A couple of small poetry specialists have experimented by putting some or all of their back catalogue onto disk but take-up has generally been disappointing. The way ahead is clearly on-line. The Internet with its furious flexibility and total disdain for international boundaries is now providing all the new opportunities poets need. From complete oeuvre to guest appearance with a single poem in an e-zine, all down loadable and inevitably for free, poetry's future is most certainly here. Read Chapter 18 where you'll find this virtual revolution discussed in greater detail.
Vanity Press Anthologies
Typical titles are: Best British Verse 2000, Diadem of the Muse, Glorious Verse, etc. You contribute by responding to classified newspaper small ads requesting verse. There is inevitably a charge for inclusion and the resulting anthology will turn out to be pretty worthless. Avoid such enterprises at all costs. As a rule of thumb if the publisher asks you for money ask for your poems back. See Chapter 15 for more information.
As you will have read in Chapter 5, this is the biggest market of all. Little mags, literary periodicals, small mags, poetry journals - these are the places where all newcomers should begin. They can be divided roughly into two:
(a) The Larger-circulation, review-based, discursive magazines which include poetry as part of their editorial policy. A number of these periodicals are heavily subsidised, They include The Literary Review, London Magazine, The Times Literary Supplement, The Edinburgh Review, and Critical Quarterly. National distribution is standard and all would continue to function quite normally if they were never sent another poem. Work from new poets is included but not a lot and competition is fierce.
(b) The Little Magazine - corner stone of poetry in Britain and Ireland. They've been around a long time. In the nineteenth century The Germ (allegedly the first ever), Cornhill and Bentley's Miscellany; in the early twentieth, Blast, The Egoist, The English Review - all important purveyors of emerging modernism. By 1947 Hoffman, Allen and Ulrich note in their survey The Little Magazine that the "little reviews" had become the prime outlet for 80 per cent of our most important poets. At the end of the 1990s this percentage remains unchanged.
What distinguishes a little mag is not its physical size but its origin. It is not the product of commercial corporations. The little mag is the prerogative of the individual - often total one-person operations from editing to selling on the street. They range from photocopied journals set on typewriters to bulky spine-bound publications that look much more like permanent books than disposable magazines. There is as much range in their content. Magazines exist devoted to specific schools, styles, groups, biases, theories, verse forms, interests, sexual preferences, districts, counties, occupations, political and cultural colourings and ethnic origin. All forms have their outlet.
Elliott Anderson and Mary Kinzie in The Little Magazine In America suggest that contributors are "people writing against the grain who nevertheless want recognition. Not content to wait until the new sensibility of which they may be the harbingers has proven itself in time, they insist on a revolution in taste now." Although this is only part of the picture - countless magazines exist to maintain the status quo - it does indicate why the little mags are so vital to the literary arts. They are proving grounds for new styles and new voices. Because of their economic organisation they are able to take risks - able, in fact, to cavort in utter abandonment of all convention if they so wish, and of course some do. Collectively, they are a combination of avant-garde laboratory and social service. Within them, all reasonably accomplished poetry can find a home.
The average little mag has around five issues in two years and a circulation of between 300 and 500 copies. Many new ones do not get beyond issue three while the long lived can be hard at work while you read this publishing issue number 110. At any one time there are around 250 or so British little mags and these account for a significant proportion of the poetry sold in the UK. There is always talk of a boom in poetry as well; any day now someone will make their living from it. It's rumour, of course. And until the mass-market paperbackers find it rewarding enough to put poetry on station bookstalls, so it will remain.
Among the hundreds of British little mags many have colourful names (check Terrible Work, Breakfast All Day, Spectacular Diseases, and Zimmerframe Pileup or if you can find them on the second-hand stalls the much missed Strength Before Bingo and Bollocks To Uncle Jeffrey). There is also a distinct pecking-order. It is difficult to quantify because it changes, often from month to month, as fortunes shift, new magazines start and old ones fail. From Denys Val Baker's survey of dozens of forties little mags only two are publishing today: Poetry Review and Outposts.
At the top are the larger, better-off operations which usually claim to represent poetry as it is today. Their success in achieving this aim varies considerably. They include both the aforementioned champions of longevity Poetry Review (journal of the august Poetry Society) and Outposts along with PN Review, Agenda, Ambit, Stand, The Rialto, Acumen, Staple, The North, Orbis, Envoi and on the more popular front Ian and Tracey Walton's quarterly journal Poetry Now. This brief list is by no means exclusive, there are others mags which could well make acceptable claims for inclusion. Poetry publishing is a fluid thing.
Below lie periodicals which restrict their contents to work from a specific regions - HU (The Honest Ulsterman), The New Welsh Review, Poetry Ireland Review, Chapman (Scotland), Poetry Wales, Doors (Dorset), The Interpreter's House (Bedfordshire) or to work of a specific kind - Psychopoetica (psychologically based work), Christian Poetry Review, Still (Haiku), Krax (humorous verse), Ostinato (jazz poetry), Modern Poetry In Translation, Barddas (Welsh poetry in the traditional meters), Lallans (work in lowlands Scots). There are also magazines such as First Time which only uses previously unpublished writers and The Whistle House in which everything is contributed pseudonymously by one J. Wistlin.
The vast bulk of magazines know no specific allegiance beyond the interests of their editors. Some are solid and regular like Smiths Knoll, others - Fire, , or Symtex & Grimmer seem to move with the wind. The list is enormous: The Affectionate Punch, Bete Noire, Bogg, Blade, The Frogmore Papers, Headlock, Hjok-Finne's Sanglines, Skald, The Penniless Press, Iota, Navis, Oxford Poetry, Poetry London, Pennine Platform, The Yellow Crane, Poetry Monthly, Rustic Rub, Shearsman, Tears In The Fence, Issue One, The Bridge, Tabla, Wayfarers, The Wide Skirt, Pulsar, Bangle, Metre, - the list goes on and on.
Little mags are small. Do not expect to get treated as you would be by a larger concern. Not all are exclusively poetry either - many deal in criticism or fiction or both. Find out what they do before you send off your work. Be sure you understand their editorial policy (or lack of it), work out if your poetry will fit in.
Editors often complain that publicity brings a great increase in potential contributions to their pages but very few subscribers. People want to be published, they don't want to read. As a consequence the magazines often sell so poorly that publication in some of them becomes a dubious honour. Buy a sample copy, subscribe, send in later on.
Locating your market
Unfortunately there is no one address and information sourcebook for all UK poetry markets. Many have been tried but the scene changes so frequently and so quickly that as soon as a list is compiled it goes out of date. You may, however, like to consult the following:
Once you begin to delve into addresses, the possible markets will seem immense. Move quickly - keep your ear to the ground. Find out which magazines appear to publish indifferent work from the famous while ignoring good material from the newly begun. Learn to spot the innovative and adventurous periodicals, those which hunt out new talent and are prepared especially to take the risks of publishing the unknown.
- Small Press Guide. The curiously titled but comprehensive annual guide to what it calls "small press magazines" published The Writer's Bookshop, Remus House, Coltsfoot Drive, Woodston, Peterborough PE2 9JX . The current edition lists more than five hundred periodicals giving addresses, subscription information, response time and payment details (if any) along with descriptions provided by the magazines themselves.
- The Writer's Handbook edited by Barry Turner (Macmillan) and The Writer's and Artist's Yearbook (A&C Black) are available from most booksellers. These annual publications cover the whole writing world and both include a section devoted to poetry and its markets. Both cover the commercial scene in depth with The Writer's Handbook going on to list addresses for a large range of small magazines.
- Light's List is a cheap address run through of more than a thousand small publishers, little mags, zines and fanzines. Available from John Light at The Lighthouse, 37 The Meadows, Berwick upon Tweed, Tring, Northumberland TD15 1NY
- Zene, Andy Cox's journal for the alternative magazine scene regularly reviews poetry outlets. Copies available from 5 Martin's Lane, Witcham, Ely, Cambs CB6 2LB.
- PQR - Poetry Quarterly Reviewfrom Derrick Woolf at Coleridge Cottage, Nether Stowey, Somerset TA5 1NQ runs a regular small mag comparison table and keeps readers right up to date with what's new.
- The American Directories: Poet's Market edited by Christine Martin (Writer's Digest Books), Len Fulton's Poet's Market (Dustbooks) and The Co-Ordinating Council of Literary Magazine's Directory of Little Magazines (Asphodel Press). All three claim extensive coverage and are full of interesting comment and data on the multitude of periodicals they cover. Poet's Market in particular goes in for interviews with editors and long screeds of advice to potential contributors. All are available through British bookshops (so long as you are willing to order them) yet all three face the same problem - they are American. US coverage is strong, foreign markets (i.e. ours) weak.
- The Poetry Library, currently the finest and most accessible collection of contemporary poetry in the country. Recent magazines can be consulted here, obscure ones can be traced. They publish a free "current awareness" list of poetry magazine addresses which is available in hard copy form or on-line. See Appendix 1 for more information.
- The Poetry Society, the London home of British verse, offers publishing advice to poets and produces a list of recent magazines. For those with access this is also available on-line. See Appendix 1 for the full address.
- Specialist Bookshops (such as Peter Riley Books, 27 Sturton Street, Cambridge CB1 2QC tel: 01223 327455); and Paul Green, 83b London Road, Peterborough, Cambs PE2 9BS.
- The little magazines themselves.Most give details of other periodicals on their "publications received" page, some quite extensively. Particularly good are Orbis (199 The Long Shoot, Nuneaton, Warwickshire) who run a quarterly poetry index and The Poetry Review (22 Betterton Street, London WC2H 9BU) which often carries regional round-ups and features on new periodicals. Magazines are a good way of keeping up to date. Surf one to the next, they spread out across the world like hyperlinks.
- Greeting Card and Calendar Association (41 Links Drive, Elstree, Herts WD6 3PP tel: 0181 236 0024) produce a list of members who accept freelance work.
- Regional Arts Boards (see Appendix 1). Many publish a local arts or literary magazine and all can give details of poetry magazines operating in their regions
- Specialist Writer's Magazines. These include Writer's News (PO Box 4, Nairn IV12 4HU), The New Writer (BCM Writer, London WC1N 3XX) and The Writer's Club (PO Box 269, Redhill RH1 6GP). All give regular updates on the publishing scene and often run listings of new markets. Writer's News in particular regularly publishes lists of small and literary magazines.