Colleen Higgs on getting poetry published

Modjaji Books publisher Colleen Higgs has written a useful post on how to publish poetry on BooksLIVE. From her article:

1. Buy and read the work of poets who have had their work published. Do this regularly. See what is hot and happening. Subscribe to AT LEAST ONE literary magazine.
2. Attend live poetry readings – Some South African examples: Off the Wall in Cape Town, Poetry Africa in Durban, the Jozi House of Poetry and the Melville Poetry Festival and the Reddits monthly poetry reading sessions in Grahamstown. Also attend the launches of collections of poetry. You will hear about these by joining the mailing lists of independent bookstores, such as The Book Lounge and Kalk Bay Bay Books in Cape Town; Love Books in Joburg and Ikes in Durban.
3. Send your work to the literary magazines. Google the following names to find their contact details: New Coin, Litnet, New Contrast, Carapace, Dye Hard Press, Incwadi, Baobab Literary Journal, Kalahari Review. There are other literary magazines, and sometimes you can find lists online.

There’s lots more, go read the full piece here.

Writing poetry: “there’s a mission, there’s a goal, and there’s an objective”

Inc magazine has a fascinating piece about William Roetzheim, a very successful serial entrepreneur, and a poet.

Retired at 50, in 2005, Roetzheim made a list of all the things he hadn’t done “because they didn’t pass the litmus tests of, Will this help me in my business pursuits?” First off: writing poetry. But he didn’t want to waste time wandering lonely as a cloud. “I treated poetry the same way I treat everything,” says Roetzheim. “There’s a mission, there’s a goal, and there’s an objective. I even had Microsoft project plans for it.”

For a year, Roetzheim spent six hours a day reading books of and on poetry. He eventually self-published a volume of verse and compiled an anthology, The Giant Book of Poetry, which is taught in colleges across the country. That anthology underwrites the small press Roetzheim founded to publish his work and the work of a dozen other writers.

I like his approach to writing poetry. He takes it seriously, focuses, researches and reads before committing himself, and invests his own time, money and energy into self-publishing before he expects others to invest in him. I think this is a model for most poetry-writers today – and perhaps always has been.

I also don’t think it’s necessary to have his money to do the same thing. Your first self-published collection could be eight poems neatly laid out on two A4 sheets, folded and stapled, and sold for a rand to your family and friends. Start somewhere, but take it seriously.

Read the whole article here.

Self-publishing guidance from the New York Times

I’m a big fan of self-publishing, especially for poetry. Alan Finder in the New York Times has some useful guidance on this. From the article:

Digital publishing and print on demand have significantly reduced the cost of producing a book. The phenomenal growth of e-readers and tablets has vastly expanded the market for e-books, which can be self-published at little or no cost. Writers who self-publish are more likely to be able to control the rights to their books, set their books’ sale price and keep a larger proportion of the sales.

But one thing has not changed: most self-published books sell fewer than 100 or 150 copies, many authors and self-publishing company executives say. There are breakout successes, to be sure, and some writers can make money simply by selling their e-books at low prices. Some self-published books attract so much attention that a traditional publishing house eventually picks them up.

I highly recommend reading the article.

So I’ve got this poetry manuscript …

Once you’ve published a book of poetry, or helped others self-publish theirs, you get a lot of questions about how it’s done. Usually, I am asked by writers in South Africa how they can publish a poetry collection. Here’s the simplest answer I have.

These days, I think self-publishing poetry is the best option 99 per cent of the time, and this tends to cost an average of about R12000 in total with a good self-publishing services company (design, proofreading, and print-on-demand distribution). The service my company developed (and from November 2009 will be run by another company, but under the same banner) is Mousehand. Other South African services include Crink and New Voices Publishing (sometimes a little cheaper, but distribution works differently; make sure really understand each service before deciding what’s best for you!). Of course, this gets cheaper if you only distribute as an ebook, or only pay for design and proofreading and handle distribution yourself, perhaps printing in small quantities (say, 50 copies at a time) directly with a digital-printing company like Megadigital.

If you want to keep costs really low, try publishing first in ebook form only. For a how-to, start with EBW’s practical advice on self-publishing ebooks.

Beyond self-publishing, I’m afraid I don’t really know of other options these days. The poetry collections published occasionally by established houses are almost always commissioned (that is, they don’t come from unsolicited submissions). It’s really a question of funding, and having the time and energy to promote the book enough to break even on sales. I’m yet to find a book of poetry that made a profit. Poetry in South Africa and, I suspect, elsewhere is very much a labour-of-love industry from what I can tell, a craft and a contribution to the undergrowth of letters that’s so important to a national literature.