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Publishing Poetry: Alternatives to Traditional Literary Publishing

A guide for poets.

Self-Publishing Overview

Self-publishing has a long, proud history in poetry (for example, Walt Whitman self-published the first edition of Leaves of Grass). Self-publishing gives the author complete control over the process; self-publishing also makes the author completely responsible for production costs, marketing, and editing (including copyediting). Poets & Writers has put together an excellent overview of the process (along with the potential pitfalls and rewards) here, while WikiHow has a breakdown of pros, cons, and available choices here. And former Writer's Digest publisher Jane Friedman has published a useful series of blog posts on the process here.

On this page, we'll outline some platforms and options for self-publishing, from individual poems to full-length collections. 

Self-Publishing Single Poems Online

Huge numbers of people self-publish individual poems online. Some of the most public and visible online platforms for poetry include:

  • Social media. The sky really is the limit here. Some poets use Twitter's character limits to experiment with short forms and to build popular followings; others post poems and visuals on Instagram; still others have built huge followings on Tumblr. Social media offers visually appealing, highly public platforms for poetry and other creative work. 
  • Personal sites/blogs. Some writers publish poems and other writing on personal websites and personal blogs, which can be set up using a large number of platforms. Search for "best blogging platforms" to get started. Some current options include Wordpress, Blogger, and Squarespace (along with Tumblr, mentioned above). 

Self-Publishing Ebooks

Self-publishing poetry in ebook format can be somewhat tricky because of poetry's extra formatting requirements (you'll want line and stanza breaks to be preserved across multiple device widths, for example). For formatting options, see links below.

Self-Publishing Print Books

There are many printing vendors available to assist with the production of self-published books. It's beyond the scope of this guide to review self-publishing print vendors individually; instead, we'll examine the questions you'll need to ask yourself to determine which vendor or platform is right for you. 

Self-Publishing as Book Art: Make It Yourself

Finally, don't overlook the possibility of publishing printed work yourself in the form of a homemade chapbook or zine. Zines have roots in the subcultures of the twentieth century and a long history of amplifying voices outside the mainstream; chapbooks (in poetry, the term "chapbook" usually refers to a book that has fewer than 30 pages) are particularly easy to produce using standard household or office materials.

 

If you'd like to try your hand at making a zine, Whatcha Mean, What's a Zine? will get you started. This book is available in the Reference section of the Poetry Center Library.

For the ambitious bookmaker, Alisa Golden's Making Handmade Books is an outstanding resource. This book is available in the Reference section of the Poetry Center Library.