Assembling and Submitting a Poetry Collection

Poet's Market editor Robert Lee Brewer shares his process of successfully assembling and submitting his poetry collection Solving the World's Problems to Press 53.
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As some of you may know, my debut full-length collection of poetry, Solving the World's Problems, will be published by Press 53 on September 1. The entire process of getting a poetry collection traditionally published was still foreign to me a year ago. So I'm going to re-live the whole process in an 8-part blog series (beginning with this one) leading up to the release date.

(List of Poetic Forms for Poets.)

This week's post is focused on the process of assembling and submitting the collection. There are many ways to go about this, and I'll be sharing only my experience. I know other poets who've traveled a completely different route, and their experiences are just as valid as mine. Hopefully, they'll share their stories too.

Assembling a Poetry Collection (Chapbooks)

For me, the process of assembling this collection started years ago—before I even thought publishing a book was possible. I'd already been writing poems for more than a decade when I finally started submitting my poems to literary journals and poetry publications.

The process of submitting poems individually helped me build confidence and start developing relationships with poets and poetry editors. Even the form rejections helped me realize the business of submitting poetry is okay. Rejections are not personal, but acceptances are.

After I'd been publishing individual poems for a while, I put together my first self-published chapbook, ENTER. It was basically a "best of" collection—the best poems (according to me) I'd written up to that point. Not every poem in the collection had been previously published, and not every previously published poem made the cut. But it was a good representation to that point.

ESCAPE chapbook

ESCAPE chapbook

Later that year, I fell in love with an invented form with very simple and loose rules. The poems excited me when I wrote them, and then, they were snatched up for publication (often in groups) very soon afterward. This gave me the confidence to follow up ENTER with my second self-published chapbook, ESCAPE, in the same year.

The poems in ESCAPE were organized around the invented form and a loose narrative I'd created. As with ENTER, not every previously published poem made it into the collection, because some seemed too similar to other poems in the collection or didn't seem to fit the narrative.

Assembling a Poetry Collection (Book)

Poetry is kind of a process. So once I'd found success with the chapbooks (both 20-ish pages long), I started thinking about the possibility of assembling a full-length collection. Moreover, I wanted to pursue the traditionally published route. After all, I knew what to expect out of self-publishing.

First, I started going through all my poems and listing ones that I thought were the best. As I did this, I tried grouping poems together that seemed to cover similar topics. The collection increased and decreased in size. At one point, my manuscript contained more than 120 poems. The working title changed a few times.

Finally, I settled on a manuscript comprised of 8 sections containing 10 poems. I went over it several times and decided it was time to try submitting, and I already knew where I wanted to submit my manuscript.

Assembling and Submitting a Poetry Collection

Submitting a Poetry Collection

I'll be the first to admit that my story is atypical for poets trying to publish their first full-length poetry manuscripts. Most poets don't pick only one publisher, submit to that publisher, and get accepted by that publisher on the first try. But that was the case for me, so I'll back up a little and share how I made my decision of where to submit.

Every poet should make a list of what's important to them before submitting to publishers. The top criterion for me was that I wanted a publisher who produced high quality books with impressive covers. Beyond that, I wanted a publisher that specialized in poetry.

While I was willing to enter poetry book contests if it came to that, I wanted to try submitting to publishers with open submission periods (that don't require reading fees) first. That list of criteria actually narrowed my list very fast.

And what caused me to make Press 53 my first publisher was completely illogical and impractical, but that's how I roll sometimes. Tammy knows that I've always had a fascination with the number 8 (we were married on 8/8/08, after all), and the numbers in Press 53 add up to (5+3=)8.

It felt like the right place to submit. A week or so after I made the decision to submit to Press 53, I was contacted by the publisher (Kevin Morgan Watson) about an unrelated issue—for the first time. Strange coincidence, right?

Then, I shared a status update on Facebook that I was ready to start submitting a poetry manuscript. One of the folks to comment was Press 53 poetry editor Tom Lombardo urging me to consider Press 53. Little did he know.

Poetry Collection Acceptance

Solving the World's Problems

Solving the World's Problems

I submitted Solving the World's Problems to Press 53 on one of the final days of November 2012 and got to work on other projects. Then, I received this message from Tom on January 4, 2013: "Let's solve the world's problems together, as Press 53 would like to publish your collection this coming Fall. I hope it's still available for publication."

And yes, it was still available. In fact, I'd convinced myself that it was destined to be published by Press 53. So I didn't dare submit it anywhere else without hearing back from them first.

Obviously, my excitement was through the roof. Press 53 publishes beautiful books and specializes in poetry and short stories. Plus, there's the whole number thing explained above. So that's about it, right?

Not so fast. This is an 8-part series. Next Friday, I'll cover revising a poetry manuscript—and after that, well, let's just take it one week at a time.

*****

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