There’s not a lot of resources out there that get into detail about how to sustain yourself financially as a poet, so this Q&A post is an attempt at creating a resource. I'll briefly answer some questions I received on Instagram regarding poetry publishing and promotion tips. Please share with others you think may benefit. And if you appreciate this post, and my other artist resources, please consider becoming a monthly Patreon supporter, as I am also a freelance poet trying to make ends meet.
Q: Would you recommend sharing full-length poems on social media?
A: Depends what your goals are! Publication records are important if you want to: get an MFA, teach at the university level, and apply for grants/retreats/fellowships/awards. However, if poetry is simply a hobby for you, then by all means, share away! You may even feel happier and maintain a better relationship to your work if you pursue poetry as a hobby, not a career. I’ll say more about that below.
Q: Any zines, journals, etc. you recommend for emerging poets/writers to submit?
A: My best advice is to find poets who have a similar writing style or aesthetic to yourself and then see where they are published. Go to their website and check their list of publications or look at the Acknowledgements page at the back of their book. Their publications will be listed there.
Q: Can I make a lot of money from publishing a poetry book?
A: Essentially, no. It is not common to make much money, if any at all, from selling a poetry book. You have to remember: poetry is a niche market. If you want your poetry book to sell, you have to basically bend over backwards to promote it, and even then, it’s not usually a huge return investment. On top of that, most presses only pay you 15-20% royalties from the sales of your book, so you’re usually making somewhere between $2-5 for each copy of your book that is sold. Two presses that are exceptions to that are Grieveland and Game Over Books, which I highly recommend, but ONLY if you are already highly visible as a writer and you have the resources to heavily promote your book. Typically, poets make the most money from book sales at live shows or if your book wins a big award and suddenly everyone wants it.
I want to stress again that it is perfectly acceptable and good if you do not wish to deal with all of these external factors -- you can decide to write poetry as a hobby and keep it at that. It’s just that once you put your work in the marketplace, there are all these other monetary factors to consider.
However, if you’re determined to try to make some money as a writer, I suggest learning to write fiction, essays, or a young adult novel in verse instead. Novels in verse for teens are extremely popular right now; some examples are Dreaming of You by Melissa Lozada Oliva, The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, and Home is Not a Country by Safia Elhillo. They are essentially themed poetry collections written for a younger audience. Poetry is a niche market, but adult fiction, essay collections, and young adult novels in verse are much more popular. You are more likely to make money in these genres, though I will caution: it’s still not very much.