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Monday, June 23, 2008

The Problem With Poetry

Here at LitMatch, we get a lot of questions on a variety of different subjects, but one question that keeps coming up again and again is this: How do I find an agent who will represent my book of poetry?

A comparatively small number of agents represent poetry, so few that LitMatch doesn’t list it as a distinct, searchable category. The reason is simple economics. Of the over 200,000 books published in the United States each year, only about 1500 of those are poetry. That’s less than one percent, and that makes poetry a hard sell for an agent who makes his living on his ability to place the books he represents. Even so, you can find a few agents in our database who are willing to take on poetry projects by using our full text search feature.

But if you’re the next Robert Pinsky or Maya Angelou, and you’ve exhausted these few options, what then? I can’t claim to be an expert on all the options available to up-and-coming poets, but I can offer a few, basic suggestions.

Contact Publishers Directly
A number of publishers, especially smaller houses, will consider poetry projects. Some even publish poetry exclusively. Many of these publishers accept queries directly, which makes it easy to get your work in front of them for consideration. To help you get started, the Poetry Society of America has a list of poet-friendly publishers.

Enter Contests
Contests can be problematic, so proceed with caution. Avoid contests with high entry fees and overly restrictive terms for winning entries. Always do your research before you submit in order to make sure the contest is legitimate. Once again, the Poetry Society of America is a good place to start.

Consider Self-Publishing
There used to be a stigma against publishing your book yourself. These days, however, self-publishing is not only a great way to see your book in print, but often a reliable way to get your work in front of a large audience via online shopping outlets. Be sure to choose a publisher who will not only print your book, but help you promote and sell it as well.

Publish Your Book Online
By far the easiest and cheapest way to self-publish is to post your work on the web. For many, this option is nowhere near as satisfying as seeing their work in a printed book, but it can be an excellent way to get your name out there, gain a following, and make it easier to get your work published through print channels in the future.

Which, if any, of these ideas you choose ultimately depends on your goals you have in mind for publishing your work. If you just want your work to be read by a wide audience, then Web or Self Publishing might be right for you. If you want to a little money at the same time, then the more traditional avenues may be what you’re looking for. Regardless of your approach, the important thing to remember is that there are options for Poetry, or any book for that matter, that don’t require a literary agent at all.

That being said, I wish you all possible luck on your road to publication, no matter which road you choose!

Christopher Hawkins

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