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Last updated on Nov 24, 2021

How to Publish a Poem: 3 Ways to Get Your Work in Front of Readers

Having figured out how to write a poem and honed your craft, you’ve started to build a portfolio of work you’d like to share with readers  — but how? Turns out, learning how to publish poetry is not that difficult after all.

Once you’ve worked with a poetry editor or, at the very least, polished your work to the best of your abilities, there are three approaches you can take to start publishing your poems besides releasing a poetry book: you can post them online, submit them to magazines and literary journals, or enter poetry contests. 

1. Post your poems online

Posting your work online is the quickest and easiest option available to you. There’s a wide range of free platforms where you can create an account and have your poetry online within minutes, from a personal blog to social media.

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The downside, of course, is that both options involve giving away your work for free. That said, social media can be an excellent tactic for sowing the seeds for long-term success, and building up an audience interested enough in your work to buy your first chapbook or poetry book down the line. And if all you want to do is share your work and connect with readers, publishing on a blog or social media account is the most direct and simple way to do that.

Social media

Since it’s often short in length, poetry is a convenient form to disseminate via social media: Twitter is ideal if you’re writing really short poems (e.g. haikus) or posting images of your poetry, while Facebook’s lack of character limit is perfect for bigger works, and Instagram is rife with ambitious poets posting images containing their poems — so much so that Instagram poetry is now a recognized (and lucrative) literary movement. 

For anyone who lacks a following or hopes to build up their author platform, social media is a fantastic place to be: it’s where millions of people go during their time of leisure. Some “Instapoets” have amassed such large audiences that their self-published poetry books became bestsellers — which is remarkable, considering poetry is unfortunately one of the least commercial book genres. The power of social media, in other words, should not be underestimated.

Collage of Rupi Kaur's book covers
Rupi Kaur is a well-known self publishing success story, having used her talent and platform to sell over 8 million copies of her first two poetry collections.

Personal blog

A personal blog is free to host until you want to buy a particular domain name, so it won’t cost you a thing to curate a space for your work when you’re just starting out: you can set up a free blog through a service like WordPress, Blogspot, or Tumblr. This means you’ll have more room to tell readers about yourself and share your author bio and a sign up to your mailing list, if you have one. Once you’re more established as a professional writer, you can replace your free blog with a professional writer’s website, to show your audience that you’re serious about your writerly ventures.

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The important disadvantage of personal blogs is that it’s much harder to attract traffic to them than a social media platform, so you could try combining a social media presence with a personal blog, and use the former to point your audience to the blog.

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2. Submit your poetry to magazines and literary journals

Another option is to submit your work to a literary magazine accepting poetry submissions. Again, payments are likely to be small here — many poetry magazines operate on too tight a budget to make more than token payments, if at all — but journal publication will get your work in front of a larger audience, and lend it considerable prestige. This will be especially important if you hope to secure a book deal with a traditional publisher later on, as publishers will look at your publication record when deciding whether to take your book on. 

Check out our directory of literary magazines to find your dream publication today! 📚

The first thing to know when submitting your poetry for publication: make sure you read and follow the submission guidelines. We really cannot stress this enough. Most publishers won’t even consider submissions that don’t adhere to their preferred format, so don’t make things unnecessarily hard for yourself by ignoring them.

It’s also important to read several issues of the magazine to get a sense of the kind of poetry they like. You won’t be doing yourself or the magazine any favors if you submit a humorous series of haikus to a magazine listing asking for heartfelt sonnets.

Need some inspiration? Pick up some self-published poetry books to support your fellow poets!

Most magazines these days have online submission forms that you can submit your work on, and some may also charge a small reading fee for each submission, so make sure to research them in advance so you know what to expect.

Be realistic when you’re starting out

When you’re first starting out, it’s best to start by approaching smaller magazines, such as regional or newly-founded titles. By all means submit to the New Yorker (ambition is good), but also understand that larger magazines predominantly publish household names, so you have better chances of getting your poems published in smaller magazines. Be patient!

Don’t let rejection get you down

Rejection is an ordinary part of the writer’s life, and it happens to absolutely everyone. Try not to be disheartened — it’s normal to feel disappointment, but don’t instantly conclude that you’re a terrible poet and your work is worthless. Often, the people who get published are not necessarily the “best” writers, but the ones that persevere for the longest time, so don’t give up.

Stay open to feedback

If you’re lucky enough to receive personalized feedback from a magazine editor, listen to their advice and assess your work honestly and without defensiveness. By all means believe in your abilities, but stay humble enough to consider criticism with an open mind. Writing an imperfect poem doesn’t make you a bad writer, so detach your self esteem from every individual poem you write, and remember that you get better with every try.

With a little work, you too may see your poetry in print. (Image: Unsplash)

3. Enter poetry contests

Another way to publish poetry is to enter poetry contests. Some of these are run by literary magazines, others by institutions (universities, non-profits, cultural organizations). Some will accept whatever poems you’ve got, others will specify a theme, prompt, or particular poetic form.

As with submitting your poems to magazines, make sure you’ve proofread your work diligently, and read submission guidelines with an eagle eye. Rule-bending when it comes to subject matter is usually allowed to some extent (this is poetry, after all), but don’t try to shoehorn existing work into a themed contest that it’s not a good fit for. 

Track runner ready to start running
Though contests are by nature competitive, remember that contests don't define your worth as a poet. (Image: Unsplash)

It’s notoriously difficult to win large poetry prizes, as you’ll be competing with a huge number of fellow poets. Again, remember that your work’s intrinsic value is not altered by whether it wins prizes or not! If you do manage to win a contest, you’ll improve your chances of having your poetry accepted in literary magazines or by poetry publishers — in effect, a past win will function as an endorsement of the quality of your work. 

Regardless of which path you choose, writing and publishing poetry is a rewarding pursuit that will enrich both your own life and those of your readers — so next time the road ahead diverges in a yellow wood, take the one that leads you toward your publication dreams.

– Originally published on Mar 27, 2020