Self Publishing

How to publish poetry in 2024

All about poetry-publishing:

  1. The silly intro
  2. The state of poetry publishing
  3. Ask yourself why you want to publish poetry
  4. Self-publishing vs. traditional publishing
  5. Poetry on social media
  6. Old-school poetry promotion
  7. So, how do you publish poetry in 2024?

The silly intro

So you’ve got a bunch of poetry

Verses you’d like the world to see

And once you’re done with publishing

You yearn for that fateful sound: ka-ching!

Well in that case

You’ve found the place

The website that you need

So don’t wait or procrastinate

Just go ahead and read!

Ugh, just stop and tell me how to publish poetry already!

Alright, alright. We’re sorry. That must have been rough for you, as a poet (at least we assume you’re a poet). We probably broke a whole lot of poetic rules writing that monstrosity you see up there. But hey, it wouldn’t be the first time we thought rules needed bending (and there we go again: our English teachers always told us never to start a sentence with ‘but’). In fact, bending rules is our business. We’re here to help you circumvent the gatekeeping and bureaucracy of traditional publishing. More about that later, however.

The state of poetry publishing

Poetry publishing has changed significantly in recent years due to the increasing availability and popularity of online self-publishing platforms. While these changes are still ongoing (making sweeping statements difficult), there are a few clear trends we can observe:

  1. Increased accessibility: With the rise of self-publishing platforms and online retailers, it is now easier than ever for poets to publish and distribute their work. Many poets are choosing to self-publish their poetry collections or e-books, which allows them to have more control over the publishing process and reach a wider audience.
  2. Growth of independent presses: In addition to traditional publishers, there has been a rise in the number of independent presses that specialise in poetry. These presses often have a more diverse range of poets and styles, and they may be more open to taking on new and emerging voices. On the other hand, this generally means that they will have high standards.
  3. Increased competition: With the increased accessibility of publishing, there is also more competition for poets to get their work published and recognized. It can be challenging for poets to stand out in a crowded market, so it is important for them to have a strong marketing strategy and to build a platform for themselves.
  4. Changes in reading habits: Ebooks didn’t change the way we read like many people thought they would. We can see that the way in which we consume art has changed, but this is primarily due to social media. While this is a huge topic that requires its own article, poetry is no exception. In fact, the rise of ‘InstaPoets’ and online poetry was something of a revolution for the medium.

    The biggest change in the way poetry is presented and consumed is the prevalence of the multimedia approach. People like to consume poetry in video form. You’ll see this on any social media platform; a poetry reading set to soft music and an atmospheric video, for instance, or a spoken word performance. This is not to say people don’t read poetry anymore, but rather that poetry is enjoyed in many different ways. Character limitations on social media have also led to shorter poems becoming more popular and widespread.

Do people still read poetry?

Absolutely. Poetry is alive and kicking us in the feels. The sales of poetry books in the UK have increased by more than 60% in the past decade, according to research firm Nielsen BookData This impressive increase is partly attributed to increased uncertainty and political awareness, particularly among millennials. Complicated times bring complicated emotions, and what better outlet for that than poetry?

The rise of short-form social media poetry has also made the genre more accessible than ever before. This has doubtless contributed to poetry’s recent resurgence, but more on that later on.

Where does that leave you?

Overall, the poetry publishing industry is in a state of flux which, let’s face it, is quite appropriate–thematically speaking. With both new and traditional methods to get one’s work published, it is a challenging but also exciting time for all the poets out there.

So where does that leave you, as an aspiring poet? With all these opportunities and the competition that comes with them, where does one start? Well, there’s actually quite a lot you can and should be doing, actually. A multi-pronged approach to publishing your poetry is the way to go. What does that mean, exactly?

Ask yourself why you want to publish poetry

We talk to lots of poets and authors who want to publish simply due to the widespread belief that it’s simply what you ought to do. We’ve been conditioned to believe that there’s no point in writing something unless it’s meant for publication and, in most cases, monetisation. We’re not saying writing poems for profit is a bad thing; you deserve to be paid for your creative labour. However, just because you write poetry (or anything, for that matter) doesn’t mean you need to publish and/or sell your work to make it matter.

For example; if you simply want physical copies of your poetry collections, you don’t actually need to publish. You can simply have your poems printed in book format.

Don’t worry, we’re getting to the point. In fact, here it is now: depending on your motivations for publishing, you may need to change your approach to it. Consider why you feel the need to publish:

  1. Do you want to make money with your poetry?
  2. Do you want your poems to reach more people?
  3. Does being published make you feel accomplished by imbuing your poetry with legitimacy?
  4. All of the above
  5. Another reason entirely

All of these are valid reasons to publish your poems. Furthermore, publication can absolutely help you achieve these goals. Now you’re faced with a different question, however: how will you go about publishing your poetry?

Self-publishing poetry books vs. having them traditionally published

These are two main ways to publish your book, at least if you’re thinking of being ‘published’ in the sense of having your work realised as a book that can be bought in shops or borrowed in libraries.

We’ve discussed the pros, cons and costs of these two methods elsewhere, so we’re going to stick to the short version here.

Publish a poetry book traditionally

To get your poetry book published by a traditional publishing house, you will need an agent. This agent will pitch your book to publishers. If your poetry book is published, the agent and the publisher will take a small and a large chunk of the profits respectively. On the flip side, you get professional editing, cover design, and (if you’re very lucky) some marketing in return. Most importantly, however, is that being published by an established publishing house nets you a lot of legitimacy. So, if that’s the reason you want to publish your poetry, this method is probably for you.

The hard part is getting your manuscript onto a publisher’s desk. What’s even harder is making them consider publishing it. This is often a long and frustrating process. However, it can be very rewarding if you succeed.

Just because you accomplish one hard thing doesn’t mean you’re done, however. You’ll still have to work to sell your book, especially as a poet. It’s rare for publishers to put much effort into marketing, especially for newcomers. It’s even rarer for them to market poetry, as it’s simply not as popular as the ubiquitous thriller. When was the last time you walked into a bookstore and saw poetry books in the prime spots?

Self-publish a poetry book

We’re obviously totally biased here, but we genuinely believe self-publishing and poetry are a near-perfect match. Why? Well, these days poets are heavily reliant on building up an online presence, perhaps even more so than other writers. The seemingly unstoppable Rupi Kaur started off by publishing her work on Instagram, for instance. Now her poetry collection has sold over 3 million copies worldwide.

Nevertheless, there are fewer bestsellers in the poetry category than elsewhere. As such, you’re probably better off aiming for a smaller, dedicated readership than hoping for the stars to align and shower you with mass appeal. This is where self-publishing really shines. Why is that?

Well, remember that we said when publishing traditionally, you’ll need to split your profits with your publisher and your agent? Well, you don’t have to do that when you self-publish. Whereas you’d earn perhaps between 4-10% of the sales price in royalties when publishing traditionally, you can easily earn royalties in 45-60% range when self-publishing. This means you’re earning around 5x more per sold copy than you would when published traditionally, making that smaller, more dedicated audience much more profitable.

The downside? You’ll have to do editing, proofreading, and cover design yourself.

Bookmundo (that’s us!) simplifies self-publishing

That 40-60% profit margin we mentioned earlier? That’s based on the Bookmundo rates. Why the wide range? Because you get to decide how much it costs to buy your poetry book in the bookshops! Pretty neat, if we may say so ourselves. You decide where your book is sold, and for how much. So, by extension, you decide how much you make per sold copy.

What’s more, Bookmundo handles all the logistics. Printing, distribution, sales channels, metadata – you tell us how and where, and we’ll get your book there (that rhymes, because this is an article about how to publish poetry). We’ve streamlined the entire publishing process so that all you have to do is fill in some info (what format should your book be in, what’s the title), upload some files (manuscript, maybe a cover), and then tell us where you want to sell it (Amazon, Kobo, your own website). We’ll take care of the rest. There’s even a cover designer that you can use to create a custom cover for your book, if you don’t feel like making your own from scratch.

overview of how to publish poetry on Bookmundo.com

An online presence is key, regardless

Whichever route you decide to take when publishing (and there’s nothing stopping you from pursuing both), establishing a respectable online presence is a massive help. For traditional publishers, a respectable online following indicates there are potential customers out there. This minimises the risk for them, making them more likely to take a chance on you.

If you’re self-publishing, it’s sort of the same thing. You want as many people to know about you (and ideally, like your work) as possible. Each follower on social media is a potential customer for you. To that end:

Spread those poems around like confetti

We know that your ultimate goal is probably to publish your book of poetry and sell it. That’s a reasonable, respectable, and achievable goal. However, publication does not automatically lead to sales.

We see far too many poets and authors working towards publication as if it were the ultimate goal. This is a mistake. Publishing is an ongoing process. It’s a tool, not a goal in and of itself. As such, it’s something that doesn’t end once you hit that publish button or get your manuscript accepted. Thousands of people publish their books and poems every day. You’re going to need to make a splash.

The earlier you get started on this, the better. If you manage to build a readership (no matter how small) before publishing, you’ll be off to a much better start.

Poetry on social media – create a buzz around your word-honey

It’s almost impossible to talk about contemporary poetry without also talking about social media. The two have become so intertwined at this point that it should be implicit that there is a social media aspect to publishing poetry. Many social profiles focus exclusively on poetry in various ways: publishing original poems, aggregating the work of other poets or creating original content about poetry (usually in the form of commentary or discussion). Long story short: you need to get on these platforms and share your work.

We’ve elected to focus on the social media platforms that we think make the most sense for poets. If you happen to have a very specific target audience that you know is using another platform, then you should of course also establish a presence there.

Poetry on Instagram

Instagram’s heyday may be over, but it’s still one of the most popular social media platforms out there. It’s also the platform most responsible for the current poetry boom. Whether you’re a fan of so-called ‘instapoetry’ (it’s not like it’s all the same) or not, its influence is undeniable. People like bite-sized things. Poetry is an excellent (perhaps even the perfect) medium for exploring the human condition in the limited space provided by most social media platforms. If you’re interested in the topic and haven’t seen Ariel Bisset’s documentary #poetry, you should definitely check it out!

The key to posting your poems on Instagram is presenting them in a visually pleasing way. If you’ve spent any time on Instagram, you’ve probably seen posts like these. A popular format is a hand- or typewritten page, seen from above with an artful arrangement of miscellaneous surrounding it–fairy lights, coffee cups, feathers–you name it.

Unfortunately for the more introverted poets among you, simply posting to your Instagram feed just isn’t enough to be noticed anymore. You’re going to need to post some reels too. For better or worse, most successful reels are just repurposed Tiktoks, so we’ll cover this type of content in the Tiktok section below.

Poetry content ideas for Instagram:
  1. Present your poetry in visually creative ways. This is the most fundamental building block of any Instagram grid that features poetry. The focus of the image should be the actual text of your poem, so make sure it’s clearly legible. As long as that’s sorted, get creative about the presentation. The typewritten page is a classic, for instance, but it’s bordering on cliché at this point. Find a format that speaks to you. The best way to ensure quality and consistency is to find your own style, one that’s true to your identity as a poet. The most important things to keep in mind are that you need legible text, good lighting, and an eye-catching presentation (accessories, background, and the format of the poem itself).
  2. Recycle your TikTok content (or vice versa). As mentioned, video content is where it’s at, and poetry is no exception in this regard. We cover poems in video form in the next section, but keep in mind that once you’ve created the content, you can reuse it on any platform that supports videos.

Full disclosure: posting poetry content on Instagram isn’t going to get you a lot of followers or recognition. At least not organically. Like most Meta platforms, your reach is largely tied to how much you’re willing to pay to boost your content. This doesn’t mean that there’s no point in getting started, however. You don’t need tens of thousands of followers, fantastic though it would be. What you need is to create awareness about your work within a small, but enthusiastic target audience. Make that your first goal. This makes it less daunting to get started; you can always reevaluate your goals later.

Examples:
Screenshot of the poem 'Ceramics', by Kate K
Photo by Kate K. on Instagram
The text of 'Dream Bathroom', a poem by Hollie McNish
Photo by Hollie McNish on Instagram
Repurpose your Instagram pictures for Pinterest

Pinterest isn’t quite social media–it’s more of a visual search engine. This is a fantastic way to connect with niche audiences, such as poetry enthusiasts. What’s more, Pinterest allows you to link directly to a website on each pin you create. This means you can direct people who are curious about your pins directly to say, your webshop of choice where they can buy your poetry book.

Visually speaking, what works on Instagram should also work on Pinterest, as long as you adapt it to the recommended image ratio (2:3). Make sure to fill out all the relevant text fields when uploading a pin, especially the alternative text: this will allow people with visual impairments to understand what’s going on in your pin. If your poem is 500 characters or shorter, you can even paste the whole thing in the alternative text field, allowing people who use screen readers to experience your poem.

In addition to posting your own content, you should also actively save poetry-related pins that other people have created. This helps Pinterest understand what content niche you’re in. If done correctly, this should lead Pinterest to recommend your pins to people with the appropriate interests.

Poetry on TikTok

You’ve probably heard of booktok, but you shouldn’t sleep on poetrytok either! While not as big a community as booktok, that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. There are still plenty of people that you can introduce to your poetry. And it’s only one of many hashtags that lead to the poetry community on TikTok. Do some research and find a way to carve out a niche for yourself.

Content-wise, you’ll find a lot of spoken word clips and lingering shots of poems that have been handwritten or printed. The more ambitious TikToks will feature more hands-on displays of poetry, e.g. creators scrawling their stanzas on the pavement in chalk or handing out hastily improvised verses to strangers in note form.

The fact that a poem can be as long or as short as you want it to is a great advantage here. Try to think of original, creative ways to serve up your piping-hot verses to people and build a following. But first, get on your phone and watch some poetry content on TikTok to get a feel for the community!

Poetry content ideas on TikTok
  1. Read poems out loud. Either film yourself reading or create an atmospheric video montage for people to look at while listening. It might be a good idea to start with some popular poems just to gain those initial views. Once you’ve lured some followers in, hit ’em with your original stuff.
  2. Talk about poetry. Discuss poems and poets that mean something to you. Explain what you like and dislike. Recommend and review poets and poems. Be personal, be genuine. The content of the video matters less than you’d think, but it definitely helps to show something eye-catching that encourages viewers to stick around. See the example featuring yoga and Sylvia Plath below.
  3. Make poetry-related memes and other funny content. Humour almost always works on TikTok, regardless of the topic. If you’ve got comedic chops, try to surf on whatever meme format is popular but give it a poetic twist.
Examples:
@thriftaddict222

some wonderful & ordinary moments from this year that remind me of this #poem

♬ the orange x like real people – bad art everyday

Poetry on Reddit

There’s a subreddit for pretty much anything you can think of. Poetry is no exception of course. The biggest subreddit for poetry is of course r/poetry; but do not make the mistake of trying to post your work there. r/poetry is not for self-promotion, so you risk infamy by trying to seize the spotlight for yourself. Instead, head over to more specialized subreddits like r/OCPoetry or r/ThePoetryWorkshop.

Reddit is a platform with high engagement potential. The key is to find an appropriate subreddit, engage with it correctly (follow the rules!), and stay humble. Shameless self-promotion is not going to get you far on this platform, so it’s smarter to create posts that stimulate discussion. People on these subreddits are going to be passionate about poetry, meaning they’re going to have an opinion on your work as well. Framing your post as a request for feedback, or sharing information about your process or the source of your inspiration tends to be a better approach than simply plugging your new book of poetry (in fact, this behaviour will often get your post taken down). Always endeavour to start a conversation!

Poetry content ideas on Reddit:
  1. Ask for recommendations.
  2. Ask for feedback on your poetry.
  3. Engage with posts in a genuine way
  4. Only share your own poetry once you’ve been doing 1-3 for a while, or when asked

Poetry on YouTube

There’s a vibrant poetry community on YouTube producing content covering a wide variety of different styles, formats, and topics. Much like on other video-centric platforms, you’ll find a lot of poetry readings, reviews, discussions, workshops and more. Unlike the content on TikTok, which will be short, snappy, and often packaged in whatever meme template is trending, poetry content on YouTube tends to be longer and cover topics more in-depth. Or that was the case at least, until they introduced YouTube shorts. Now you can do both long and short-form content effectively.

People tend to either see long-form content as an opportunity or a hurdle, but if you’re in the latter group, we encourage you to reconsider. There is most certainly a content niche that you can comfortably engage with on YouTube. Explore the poetry scene on the platform and take notes on which types of videos appeal to you the most. Once you’ve figured out the direction you want to take your channel in, try to build on existing content, rather than replicating it. And don’t worry about getting it right on your first try. Just because you started out making a certain kind of video doesn’t mean you can’t branch out in the future.

Poetry content ideas for YouTube
  1. Read poetry. It might be a good idea to start reading famous poems out loud in order to attract people to your channel, and then mix in your own original work once you’ve built up steam. The success of this type of content really hinges on your voice — you need to be able to read in an engaging, dynamic way. You can either film yourself while reading or create a video that people can watch while listening. Soft, unintrusive music might also help, but this is ultimately a matter of taste.
  2. Analyse poems. Take your favourite poems and write thoughtful, in-depth analyses of them to help others understand and love them as much as you do. Video essays like this are one of the most popular content formats on YouTube, so there’s a lot of potential here.
  3. Recycle your TikTok content. Get more mileage out of your TikToks by uploading them to YouTube Shorts. While your humble blog author personally has never met anyone who uses them, they are steadily growing in popularity, so don’t miss out!

As with most social media, the thing to remember is that you’re not there to promote your poetry book. Yeah, you read that right. Your personal brand is far more important than your book. People know when you’re trying to sell them something; most of the time they don’t appreciate it. This doesn’t mean you should ignore the topic entirely; just don’t make it the focus. You can make people aware of your poetry by mentioning it in your videos and including purchase links in the video descriptions.

Poetry content examples on YouTube:

Poetry on Facebook

We’re just messing with you. Don’t bother.

Ain’t nothin’ like the old school

The internet’s important, yes. But poetry is an art that does surprisingly well IRL too. Spoken word performances, for instance, are very popular. And they’re everywhere. Do some digging and you’ll probably find some kind of venue near you that organises them. Theatre groups, poetry clubs, literary societies, you name it. Go to these and read your poems. Get some exposure. Make sure to record your readings so that you can post the videos on your social channels. Tell your followers on social media to come to the next event. That way the event gets more attendees and you get a bigger audience. Win-win.

Similarly, you should keep an eye out for poetry festivals and competitions. Submit your work to these types of events. Just do it. Yes, it’s scary. But what if you win the competition? What if you get invited to read at the festival? Bucketloads of exposure, new readers, and book sales. That’s what.

The moral of the story? If there’s a place–a venue, an event, whatever–that is willing to let you read your poetry, go there. Put yourself out there. You’ll be vulnerable, yes, but that’s also what poetry is about, right?

To sum up: publishing is not the end

Publishing your poetry is a bit like signing up for the marathon. It makes things official, but it’s not the actual goal. What is the goal? That’s up to you. If you just want to print out your poetry in the form of a book, that’s great. You don’t even need to publish for that. If you just want to share your poems with the world, then just go ahead and publish your poetry on social media. These are both respectable goals to have in their own right. Don’t feel pressured to publish if it doesn’t get you where you want to be.

What can publishing poetry do for you?

If, on the other hand, you want not only to put your poetry out there, but also gain readers, recognition, and earn money selling your poetry, then publishing is essential. Publishing enables the recognition, sale, and distribution, of your poetry, in addition to providing legitimacy. The keyword here is ‘enables’. Just getting published does not mean these goals are just going to achieve themselves. You need to keep putting yourself out there, even after you publish.

Decide how to publish your poetry

How you publish poetry is also largely up to you. Traditional publishing has its advantages, but these are much less apparent when it comes to poetry. The massive hurdles preventing access to this type of publishing also make it less attractive. Self-publishing, while perhaps suffering an image problem among the more conservative poetry fans out there, is a very enticing alternative. We are most definitely biased in saying this, of course, but we’re not wrong.

There’s very little a traditional publisher can provide that you can’t arrange yourself. So why would you ever consent to them taking the lion’s share of the profits? Your poetry, your profits.

If you decide to go the self-publishing route, there are a whole bunch of options. Bookmundo is obviously the best a solid choice, but if you don’t like it, we will cry just shop around a bit. Whatever option you end up choosing, we wish you the best of luck publishing your poetry!