I’m in the process of taking the following steps, trying, at the rickety ripe old age of 67, to get my first poetry published in a literary magazine. There are many of these journals in either online or paper form (or both). The process involves first looking over some articles by ‘experts’ who advise you about the process, giving the do’s and don’ts – and encouraging one not to grow discouraged by the inevitable rejection notices. I already have 4 of those. Then looking closely at available magazines because they differ in a few ways…checking out samples of what and who they publish, the type of poetry (there is a lot of variety), to see how ‘close’ a given magazine’s is to the type I produce. This is so that your chances of selection are increased slightly. Then comes selecting your ‘best’ poems for a given magazine and repolishing to get them as ‘brilliant’ as possible. Most unsolicited poems go into a “slush pile” that may take the editors a long time to get to, or they may never get to them given the fact that time moves on and the pile keeps getting deeper. But lightning does strike from time to time and I’m willing to give it a shot. Right now, I’m going through samples of work in the various magazines – they give me a clearer idea of what’s out there, and a dose of envy and self-doubt while I’m at it. The other problem is that most people who get published do so because they have already been published elsewhere. You see it highlighted right there in their mini-bios that accompany their poems. It’s comparable to young people trying to get hired, and they’re told they can’t be hired because they don’t have any experience, and the kid rightfully asks, “And how do I get experience if no one will hire me?” If no one will give me a chance, how do I break into being published? I guess just by sending stuff out until someone somewhere who is reading stuff is irresistibly impressed. Or the stars align just so and it happens. The thing seems to be that getting over that initial hurdle helps you subsequently, so I have my head down and am charging forward. Seeing if I can knock down the proverbial door. Or at least get a foot through it. There’s no money in getting published in literary magazines, but if you do it enough, you may get to the point where you could convince a book publisher to take a bunch of your poems (some already published previously in literary magazines) and come out with a book. That’s the system that exists for poetry writers who have ambitions to get their work published.
Two other things exist as options – a thing called a chapbook – defined as a smaller number of pages, saddle stitched, united somehow thematically, and something you could relatively easily produce yourself and circulate (and even sell) on a small scale. Often it can act as a ‘calling card’ for a beginning writer, and can also be a way in for a writer to make himself known to a circle of followers and eventually a publisher or agent.
FROM REEDSY BLOG
It’s been said many times in the publishing world that a chapbook is a poet’s calling card: a tantalizing sample of their work. Poet Jackie Kay writes that “[chapbooks] are the connoisseur’s version of a very tasty starter. Straight away, they give you a sense of somebody, an idea of their voice, just enough to make you know that you’d like more — or not.” In other words, a chapbook is the perfect way for a newcomer to break into the literary industry.
It’s hard to get a book deal for your first poetry collection, so many poets begin their careers by sharing their work online, participating in events like open mic nights, submitting poetry to literary magazines, or releasing a poetry chapbook/pamphlet. These short books function as a serious first step into poetry publishing, and help establish your name and reputation.
Provided your chapbook is well-received, it can also increase your chances of having a full-length collection published down the line, as poetry editors at large publishing houses and small presses alike stay up to date with new releases with an eye to adding new voices to their lists. At the same time, if your chapbook becomes commercially successful, that’ll give you an advantage when you get to a stage where you’re submitting your debut poetry collection to publishers, since it’s clear evidence that there’s an eager market for your work.
And the other way to break in is to self-publish a full book – although apparently this option is not well-received by the poetry world, typically it is denigrated as a ‘vanity project’ and as such is not worthy of much admiration. For some reason, it seems that doing so with a chapbook is fine.
For poets, the most common, acceptable way to move along the road to success is via publication in literary magazines. Hence my concentration on that avenue.