a) look for a publisher or b) self-publish or c) go the third way

I was reminded today of an idea that has been simmering on and off in my mind for a while now.

The choices for publication for a poet today seem to be either a) get picked up by a publisher or b) self-publish.

Self-publishing definitely works out well in many cases, but often gets a bad rap, because (if I understand the rapping correctly) with self-publication, the poet acts as his/her own editor. The upside of getting picked up by a publisher is that you get an editor along with that — the extra pair (or pairs) of filtering eyes that essentially add their own “brand” to the poet’s work, so that what is being sold at the end of the process is both the work itself and the brand.

So here’s a third way idea: What if an established poet (and what’s “established”? I know, but you get the general idea — some level of poetic gravitas is required or the idea won’t work) volunteered to edit just *one* collection? Once edited, the collection is then self-published (through Lulu or whatever) by the poet under the poet’s name *and* the editor’s. Avoiding the stigma often associated with self-publishing and also by-passing the looking-for-a-publisher nightmare. Empowering for both the poet and the one-time editor, no? Volunteer non-profit work of course (although I suppose the team could agree to share whatever profits result), but a win-win situation and a great way for those who have made it to “give back” (assuming they want to), to help keep poetry going, to get names out there one believes in, give first-book poets a leg up/way in, etc etc.

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Nic Sebastian

Nic is the author of Forever Will End On Thursday and Dark And Like A Web. She founded the now-archived Whale Sound site and is co-founder of The Poetry Storehouse. Nic blogs at Very Like A Whale and Voice Alpha.

13 thoughts on “a) look for a publisher or b) self-publish or c) go the third way”

  1. Interesting idea. I’d bet the problem is mostly getting the people you’d trust to edit to be willing to edit.

    A few years back, I was trying to get going with the notion of poetic mentorships. It was one of those things where people said it was a good idea but it never got off the ground (rather like my Crossroads, currently). Your idea seems to go back to that old idea of mentorship, which is one I find very appealing but oh-so-difficult.

  2. Yes, there would definitely have to be a degree of mutual trust and understanding. It’s the kind of thing that might catch on like wildfire, though, once it has been seen to work well a time or two. After small and micro-presses enlarged the field so admirably, this seems to be an obvious next step in enlarging it even further.

  3. I don’t know if many “established” poets would want to edit a self-published collection and put their name to it. I could be wrong.

  4. Here I am again a few minutes later – mentorships, both informal and paid, are pretty common here in the UK, but usually the mentee is looking to submit to recognised publishers. It can work well, but you need to become part of what’s happening locally to build these kind of contacts.

  5. Hey Rob!

    “I don’t know if many “established” poets would want to edit a self-published collection and put their name to it.”

    The whole point is that it wouldn’t be “a self-published collection” as that concept is normally understood. It would be an edited collection. And yes, the editor would be putting his/her name on the line, but why would that be a problem, if they believed in the work they are editing and deem it worthy of further exposure? As I said, there would have be mutual trust and understanding between poet and editor before such a collaboration could take place.

  6. Hmmm. I think it’s a great idea in theory, but knowing how hard it was to get an established poet to write a blurb for me, it could be difficult to get established poets to read manuscripts out of the goodness of their hearts.

    But, I like the idea of some sort of volunteer poetry collective that helps emerging writers find their footing. I’m all for giving back/paying it forward.

    In addition to publishing, it might be helpful to offer marketing/pr advice so that the book and author find an audience.

  7. When our small poetry group brought out our book, we applied for and got a grant from Creative Communities (the local branch of Creative New Zealand). Included in our budget was the cost of paying a well-respected poet to conduct a workshop for us and edit our book – that is, she helped us select which poems would be included, and occasionally made suggestions for improvements. We didn’t want to bicker among each other as to what should be included or not, so we felt that having an independent opinion was really important.
    Since poetry doesn’t pay well, we felt we were helping to support an established poet, so we all benefited, even though it wasn’t a huge amount that we paid. The poetry scene is quite close in New Zealand, so we were all good friends to start with.

  8. Honestly?

    When I publish my chapbook of Lily poems — probably self-published — I will consider that they have been edited by the various online workshops that they have been through.

    I think we will regard publication differently in the future anyway.

  9. Editing a collection is no small feat, and to ask an ‘established’ poet to do it for free wouldn’t work, so that would indeed be a challenge, though an interesting project.

    And yes, going through Lulu or any other paid service is still considered “self-published” since you don’t have a publishing house or press backing you, even if you have an established poet as an editor.

    My other concern would be that if the established poet thought the collection was truly good enough for publication, they’d likely recommend you to publishing houses, no?

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