Finding a publisher for your ready-to-go manuscript is not for the faint of heart. On the one hand, it seems there are millions to choose from, and on the other hand, it seems there are none that are just right.
Sure, if you are a known entity with a seat at the round table within poetry’s ivory tower, you’re all set. Poetry journals have published whatever you sent their way, in some cases regardless of the quality. Big-name publishers with public relations departments to help with advertising and sales are ready to listen and joust for the rights to publication.
But let’s get back to the world as we know it. For the rest of us, who score publication in somewhat known and unknown journals (with the occasional breakthrough in a bigger-deal journal, perhaps), finding a publisher means time and money. Yours.
Vanity press, you ask? Like “used car,” that term has gone out of style in favor of euphemisms (“pre-owned,” anyone?). But yes, in spirit, they exist. A publisher who offers soup to nuts in the publication process for your book, sight unseen, is one that is willing to print anything for the money. The BIG money. This is a vanity press.
Then there are publishers who will publish your work only after reading it, liking it, and seeing an acknowledgements page that proves 25-50% of the poems have been accepted and published by journals and ezines. In this case, you may get a few books free, but for the most part will have to buy your own books at a discount. The more books you order, the bigger the discount.
Still, the publisher is in this game for profit. It’s up to the author to sell books on her own if any monies are to come her way. As for royalties, read the fine print. They are seldom offered and, when they are, seldom achieved by the unknown or little known poet, anyway, making them a moot point, dollar-wise. Poetry collections sell like space heaters in Hell, as a rule.
And yes, you can always take the self-publishing route, which lies through amazon’s CreateSpace and other outfits. But if you want a more traditional trajectory, you face these questions: Where to go? When to go?
It’s a money proposition, mostly. Sure, some publishers do not charge reading fees, but more do. Then there’s the contest game. You may enter your manuscript in contests, but at $25-$45 a clip, you are hoeing that row to the poor farm.
And where is the action at, anyway? My advice is to read the biographical blurbs of poets published in magazines. They will often cite past books, their publishers, and the year of publication. Pay special note to those published in the past three years, as many small, independent publishers go under over time, then visit those publishers’ web sites to see the lay of the land.
Looking at the bios at the back of Poetry magazines from the months of September, October, and November, for instance, I see that, over the past three years, the following publishers have put out books by poets:
University of Pittsburgh Press
University of Arkansas Press
Wesleyan University Press
Southern Indiana Review Press
Louisiana State University Press
University of Notre Dame Press
University of Nebraska Press
Offord Road Books
University of Chicago Press
Academic Studies Press
Lost Horse Press
fog machine press
Tin House Books
Alice James Press
Copper Canyon Press
University of Washington Press
Kent State University Press
Harvard University Press
I have tried to leave out the heavy-hitters reserved for limelight poets (W.W. Norton, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Ecco, etc.). I have also left out known vanity publishers who make you pay-all or require the selling x number of books to ensure their own profits.
What remains on the above list by no means guarantees a happy match, but it’s a start and it’s an education.
Bottom line: Artists have to be businessmen, too, and THAT’S an education. A necessary one. For those ready to dive in and market their poetry collection, good luck! If anyone would like to add a reputable publisher of poetry to the list, feel free to use the comments sections.