Why are so many authors self-publishing? 

Getting a Publisher for a Poetry Book is Tough

Publishers of poetry books reportedly make very little money, unless the author is an established author or celebrity. Before you submit to them, most publishing companies want at least 30% of the poems in your book to have been individually published, thus establishing your readership and authenticity as a poet worthy of being read. Because it is so hard to get a book of poetry published, unless you are a known poet or a famous personality, many poets are turning to self publishing. In Self-Publishers Flourish as Writers Pay the Tab by Motoko Rich (New York Times, Jan. 27, 2009), while less people are reading books, more people are publishing them via self-publishing. 

Contests are Expensive and Time-consuming

There are chapbook and first book contests that award publication, free copies and/or prize money to winners, but with hundreds of submissions, your chances of winning are slim. Also, there is usually a $15 and up reading fee, and if you enter very many contests the costs will add up to a hefty sum quickly. Maybe this money would be better spent on self-publishing them yourself! Add to this the fact that you often have to wait months to find out if you have won. If the publishing company doesn’t take simultaneous submissions, you have an even smaller chance of getting published plus a longer wait to resubmit.

The Controversy

In  When Anyone Can Be a Published Author  by Laura Miller, senior writer at and contributor to New York Times Book Review, Miller claims there are “crowds lining up to dance on the grave of traditional book publishing.”The response to this article can be found in the Self-Publishing Review opinion piece by Eric Hammel, Why So Much Hostility Toward the Mainstream? and in the comments that follow. Henry Baum asks, “The weird thing is not the hate self-publishers have for the mainstream, but the hate the mainstream has for self-publishers. If they’re already successful, why do they care?” In reply Hammel answers, “Every penny they don’t make from our labor is a penny they can’t use to prop up a rotting structure.” Wanda Shapiro comments, “We don’t all hate the mainstream and we’re not all sitting on a pile of rejection letters. I’m an indie author who is self-published by choice because I’m an intelligent entrepreneur who saw an opportunity in front of me.”

I agree with Ms. Shapiro. No one should be hating anyone, it’s  a matter of choice, or lack of…

Self-Publishing Help 

According to Writers Digest, this is the best article they’ve seen on self-publishing: Self-publishing a Book: 25 Things You Need to Know by David Carnoy. Carnoy uses a combination of BookSurge, a print-on-demand (POD) outfit that Amazon owns and CreateSpace, which is a POD subsidy press or author-services company. For detailed, do-it-yourself instructions, he suggests going to Lulu who is very popular because they don’t require any upfront fees. Carnoy actually used Lulu’s how-to content to format his book for BookSurge. Most self-published books will only sell 100-150 copies and they probably, depending on the cover, won’t look as professional as “real” published books. Another choice is to buy your own ISBN and create your own publishing company. You can still buy your own ISBN and be your own publisher even if you use the subsidy companies like Lulu, BookSurge, CreateSpace, iUniverse, Xlibris, Author House, Outskirts, or whomever listed as your publisher. a single ISBN cost $99 at RJ Communications (at the time he wrote this article). You can also buy them in sets of ten. Self-Publishing: Tips, Tricks & Techniques by James A. Cox, editor of Midwest Book Review, Cox states that “A self-publisher is all of the following: writer, editor, designer/artist, typesetter/compositor, printer, financier/accountant, marketer, shipper/warehouser, legal adviser, financial underwriter, and business manager. “Format lists the parts of the chapbook, such as the table of contents, graphics, bio, etc… Chapter 21 tells How to Make a Chapbook in detail. They recommend Arial 10 pt., but I personally prefer the easier to read 12 pt. Times New Roman font. I’m thinking about making my own chapbook of my family poems, just for my family. I’m also thinking about doing a chapbook of religious/political poems that would have a targeted audience. I read some of these poems at a couple of places and had a great response from the local audience. Self-Publishing Your Poetry Book or Broadside explains the different types of books (chapbooks to broadsides), design software, recommended quantity, types of publishers/printers, and lists self-publishing websites and print on demand companies. Still confused about what a broadside is? Read about it at Pudding House (on the left side menu click on Broadsides: How-to & Why. There is a link on that page to examples that look like pretty poster poems. Wow, I’d like to make some of these!

According to Empty Mirror Books and numerous other places I have read on the internet, you do not need to buy a copyright for your poems before you publish them. I have been told by poetry editors that it is unnecessary, and they will think you are an amateur if you post a copyright notice on individual poems in a submission to them. Your work is protected by U.S. law the moment you write it. Plagiarism is rare. Let’s face it, poems are not worth much in terms of money. It is, however, correct to state on your poetry book, “Copyright 2010 by Your Name.” If you feel like you just have to copyright your poems put them all in one document and title it something like ” [your name’s] Poems Part I.” That way you only pay the $45 once instead of for each poem.

4 thoughts on “Self-publishing

  1. I was lucky enough to win one of Shadow Poetry’s contests back in 2003 and part of the prize was chapbook publication. Even though I didn’t have to pay for it, I still learned a lot about the publishing process. That book has since been taken on the shelf (by me because the poems were “old” and my style has changed some since then). I have been considering another book and am almost certain I will take the self-publishing route. Good luck with your poetry book if you decide to publish one. I will most definitely buy one. I enjoy your work. 🙂

  2. Thanks for sharing this information on self publishing poetry. I agree that the poetry genre is difficult to find a regular publisher. I did self publish a collection of my work with Outskirts Press. Publishing “Magnetic Repulsion, 100 Poems From Desire to Disgust” was an interesting process, and I am excited with the quality of my finished book. You can get a ‘sneak peek’ at the outside and inside of my book at: Good luck with your endeavors in publishing.

    • Thanks for the input! It’s good to know you had a satisfying experience. I read your poem, The Seed, from your book, and it is lovely! I like that there is also an electronic version available on Outskirts Press. I assume the file could be saved, because I’m sure I would want to reread your poems many times!

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