Are You Planning Ahead for a Big Hit in Poetry?

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I received a couple questions over the weekend as part of my Writer's Market thing I do. And I thought they both would work well as things to ponder here. In fact, I'm opening myself up to poetry specific questions at my work email (robert.brewer@fwpubs.com) if you put "Poetic Asides Poetry Question" in your subject line AND if you refrain from asking me to critique your poetry (while I'd be honored, I just don't have the time to critique everyone's work).

If I get enough good questions, I'll try and answer some here from time to time.

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Question 1 had to do with planning ahead. The writer was ashamed she didn't know where to start with writing and getting published. This is a common problem, and the answer is very simple: Start by writing and not worrying about the other stuff.

Too many writers, including poets, worry about making money and finding fame before they've actually finished their manuscripts. Don't trouble yourself over all the riches and awards your writing is sure to earn you. Just write and enjoy the writing process.

As you're writing, you can (and should) read as many literary journals as you can. This is where you will be trying to place your poetry, so you should be studying these journals to have a good idea which journals match up well with what you're writing.

After you've got a lot of great material, read up on the do's and don't's of submitting your poetry. Then, read the specific guidelines of where you're submitting. As soon as you pull the trigger on submitting, don't wait around for a response: Get your butt back in your chair and craft some more poems.

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Tied to that 1st question I received this email (name omitted for privacy): "I am a very accomplished author and writer and I have written eleven poetry books to date now in a series. But I cannot seem to be able to land a good agent to represent me with my poetry books. They keep saying that they don't do poetry. I know that there is a big market for good poetry books. My newest two-book set of 600 poems is going to be a hit. Please help!"

Okay, so that's not really a question. It's a call for help.

The problem here is that this "very accomplished author" has an unrealistic view of the poetry market. Most bookstores reserve very little room for poetry. And then, the space in that rare shelf space is dominated by "the classics" and major award winning poets. So, there's usually no room for "good poetry books" by other poets--whether they are accomplished or not (in non-poetry fields).

Poetry is not a "get rich quick" method of writing. And literary agents are usually going to have no interest in representing poetry, because agents make 10-15% of what their authors make. And no agent is interested in working for 15% of 2 free contributor copies or even $50 (for those poets who do hit it big).

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So the message of this post (I really should try to have a message, shouldn't I?) is that you shouldn't get caught up in wondering what's going to happen to your poetry after you write it; you should just write it.

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