How to submit your poetry book or chapbook to a traditional publisher

Recently The Poetry Editor blog talked about the poet’s task of finding a theme for a book of poems or chapbook, selecting poems relevant to that theme, then looking for connections between each poem to establish a sequence or flow.

Once you’re satisfied with the results, consider sending your manuscript to the editor of a traditional publishing company, but just any editor won’t do! Some will be open to your work, and some will not. To find out, research companies who produce the types of poetry you like to read.

As mentioned in a previous article, “Getting poems together for a poetry book,” I submitted my manuscript for Living in the Nature Poem to Hiraeth Press because I liked the editors and their focus on the natural environment and other nature themes my poems often contain.

When you, too, have found publishers whose poetry books or chapbooks you like and who seem likely to like yours, study and follow their writers’ guidelines, keeping in mind that those guidelines are not suggestions but necessities.

In the initial contact, most editors want to see only a few poems attached to your cover letter and sent to the email or mailing address provided with the writers’ guidelines. For either print mail or a Word attachment, select a favored font such as 12-point Times Roman or Arial and type each poem on a separate page, not centered, but flush left beneath your letterhead, which includes your full name, mailing address, and email. If you have a blog or website, add that too.

For the cover letter that covers sample poems from your book also include:

Your contact information set as a letterhead across the top of the page

Date (flush right or left with the remainder of the letter flush left)

Editor’s Name

Name of Publishing Company

Address

Re: (aka Regarding: Title of manuscript)

Greeting of the Letter: (Dear Editor Last Name:)

Body of the Letter (within one page)

Closing (such as “Sincerely,” or “Best Regards”)

Your Name

Enclosures: (i.e., SASE aka self-addressed stamped envelope for manuscript’s return; number of poems if sent by postal mail)


The body of the letter will briefly say why you’re contacting this particular publisher, what your poetry book is about (theme and purpose), how many pages the book has, how many poems are enclosed, and whether any of the poems have been published in poetry journals, e-zines, or anthologies.

Waiting to hear can be hard, but give the editor at least 6 weeks to respond before following up by mail or email with a quick note asking about the status of your manuscript (title) sent on (date.)

If, however, your manuscript comes back or keeps coming back without a contract, you may need feedback or professional advice in a Poetry Critique for a minimal fee. This does not mean criticism of your work but practical suggestions and helpful corrections to show you how to improve your manuscript and make it more marketable.

If, after all of the above, the book or chapbook still does not place with a traditional publishing company, THEN you might want to self-publish – the exception being if you know going in that you have a specialized market and/or readers eager to buy and read your book. However, even with a built-in eager market (such as TV personalities have) do not self-publish without first getting a final edit from an experienced editor.

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© 2012, Mary Sayler, all rights reserved.

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