I get a lot of queries 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, soccer star or television personality or unless you 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 – Some South African examples: Off the Wall in Cape Town, Poetry Africa in Durban, the Jozi House of Poetry and the Melville Poetry Festival and the Reddits monthly poetry reading sessions in Grahamstown. Also attend the launches of collections of poetry. You will hear about these by joining the mailing lists of independent bookstores, such as The Book Lounge and Kalk Bay Bay Books in Cape Town; Love Books in Joburg and Ikes in Durban.
3. Send your work to the literary magazines. Google the following names to find their contact details: New Coin, Litnet, New Contrast, Carapace, Dye Hard Press, Incwadi, Baobab Literary Journal, Kalahari Review. There are other literary magazines, and sometimes you can find lists online.
4. you should have have had at least 10 poems published in three or more poetry magazines – print or online, before spending any money on getting others to review your work professionally. As a publisher I can say too, that it is far easier to work with poets who have been published widely, they understand the editing process and are not defensive about editing their work and looking for ways to improve it.
5. 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. In other words, get feedback on and responses to your poems. Google Slipnet, UCT Summer School, SA Writers’ College.
6. 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 R3000 or R4000 (2013).
7. 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 slim 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.
Liesl Jobson offers the following insights: “Gus Ferguson always says more folk write poetry than read it. Sad but true. Arthur Attwell 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.
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.
The tenacity required to accomplish that objective shows potential publishers that the poet has done the leg work required to get published and has tasted 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.”
This is an updated version of an article has been published previously on BooksLive.