Do you want to get paid for your poetry? Orna Ross, director of the Alliance of Independent Authors, interviews Trish Hopkinson about submitting poetry to paying publications in this month’s #AskALLi Self-Publishing Poetry Advice Podcast.
Trish has cross-referenced several lists of outlets, including those that use Pushcart Prize Rankings, literary magazine reviewer expertise, other online writing experts, and Duotrope to create a super useful list of paying markets for emerging poets. In this session, Trish shares her considerable knowledge of the poetry marketplace, and her submission tips to ensure you give yourself the best chance of success.
Trish Hopkinson is a poet, blogger, and advocate for the literary arts from Utah, USA, where she runs the regional poetry group Rock Canyon Poets and folds poems to fill Poemball machines for Provo Poetry. Her poetry has been published in numerous literary journals, online and off, including Tinderbox, Glass Poetry Press, and The Penn Review, and her most recent e-chapbook Almost Famous was published by Yavanika Press in 2019 and is free to download here.
You can find her online at trishhopkinson.com.
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About the Host
Orna’s work for ALLi has seen her repeatedly named one of The Bookseller’s “Top 100 people in publishing.” She launched at the 2012 London Book Fair, after taking her rights back from Penguin in 2011 and republishing her books herself, with the titles and treatment she’d originally wanted. Orna writes award-winning poetry and fiction, runs a Patreon page for poets and poetry lovers as well as an active author website. She is on a mission to help eradicate creative poverty through digital publishing and enterprise. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram: @ornaross.
Read the Transcript: Get Paid for Poetry
Orna Ross: Hello everybody, and welcome to our monthly session, Self-Publishing Advice Poetry.
Yes, we’re talking about poetry again and how to self-publish your poetry successfully, and tonight we’re talking about how to get paid for your poetry; two topics that are not very often put together money and poetry.
I am so delighted to have with me here, Trish Hopkinson. Hi, Trish.
Trish Hopkinson: Hi, happy to be here.
Orna Ross: It’s great to have you.
Trish is a poet and a literary arts advocate, and she runs a fantastic website. If you haven’t tuned in as yet please do at trishhopkinson.com. And there, for how many years now, you’ve been gathering all sorts of wonders. It’s like a treasure trove for poets.
Trish Hopkinson: It’s coming up on six years here.
Orna Ross: Coming up on six years?
Trish Hopkinson: Just gone over six years, sorry.
Orna Ross: Just gone over six years.
Trish Hopkinson: Just gone over, yes. It’s 2021. So, yeah.
Orna Ross: It’s a real labor of love, I mean, you’ve got so much information. Just to explain to people who haven’t gone on there yet, tell us a little bit about what people can find on your website.
Trish Hopkinson: Sure. So, I really started, it was about the end of 2014, I started sharing things that I found about publishing poetry, how to get that done and different literary magazines, and how that market really works for poetry. And so, on my site, I share interviews with editors, literary magazines where you can send your work off to get it published, other tips around that, where to find other resources to help you with your poetry workshops, things of that nature.
Orna Ross: Yeah, and there really is everything in terms of what I think of as, you know, it’s the time-honored way, isn’t it, that a poet becomes discovered, you start sending out your work to the literary journals, maybe to some competitions, you hope that somebody’s going to accept your poem and Pope put it out there.
What has changed in poetry publishing in the last 6 years?
Orna Ross: I mean, there is this incredible network isn’t there all literary journals and each one is also like your site, a labor of love. Have you seen any changes in that world over the six years that you’ve been doing this work?
Trish Hopkinson: Not really, I don’t think a lot of big changes. There are certainly some literary magazines that come and go. Some of the new ones that come onto the scene do really, really well and continue to grow, and then occasionally they don’t make it, and sometimes they end up going away because they don’t have all the support that they need. But there’s some really great ones that are relatively new, or if they’ve been around in print for a long time, they’ve all recognized that they need to be online in some capacity, and that shift started, probably a little bit before I really started building my blog up. In 2014 a lot of markets were already moving online. So, I think the majority of that shift happened just before I really started jumping in.
When did you decide to try and get paid for your poetry?
Orna Ross: Right. So, what we’re going to be talking about today is about how to get paid for your poetry, and this is something that you’ve, again on your website, gone to a lot of trouble to research no fee submission. Talk to me a bit about that and when you decided to do that, obviously, that was a conscious choice, right?
Trish Hopkinson: Yeah. So, early on, what I found is that a lot of the poets that are looking to really get published initially, they’re emerging writers. So, a lot of them are students or maybe this is just like you mentioned, it’s a labor of love.
So, it’s something that we do on the side and you may not have the funds to invest in it, or want to spend that money, and there’s some additional risk there if you’re paying $5 every time you send out poetry to have it published, and sometimes those literary magazines don’t have the funding to pay that back to you.
So, it’s really important to balance the fees that you’re paying with what you’re going to get in return, and sometimes what you’re going to get in return is some practice, being part of the literary community and really challenging yourself to write better, work on your craft and get published in some of the more well-read literary magazines, or what we call top tier literary magazines, you have to start somewhere. So, maybe you start submitting to university journals and things like that to just get the experience and, sort of, understand how the system works for submitting. In which case, as you’re just learning, you don’t want to pay $3 here, $5 there, $10 here, it starts to add up pretty quickly. And there are so many places that you can submit without having to pay a fee. So, I switched my focus to that pretty early. Initially, I was just sharing different resources, and I was learning my own strategy, I didn’t have a strategy yet.
I do have an article about submission strategy that you can find on my website to help you navigate that some, but initially, not paying fees makes sense. And there are so many great markets and down the road, there are some places I don’t mind paying a fee, but I look at it as more of a donation to support the work that they’re doing, then, as a reading fee where I need to get something back in return. What you might get back is more of that experience and getting your name out there and the publication kudos, of course, can be good for a CV or for your own website and social media.
What are the advantages/disadvantages of traditionally publishing poetry compared to self-publishing?
Orna Ross: Great, I was actually just going to turn to the whole website social media thing because, of course, this is the only way to get out there now, which we didn’t have before.
So, you know, the way you’ve just been talking about was the only way for a very long time, and in those days, there were no online and the journals were print, and so it was a pretty narrow audience. We’re seeing now, and we’ve spoken to on this show, a number of people who are using social media in the most phenomenal way to build their following directly on Instagram and other social media platforms. And then from there, going on to publish their own chapbooks and from there going on to publish their own collections, and not bothering at all with the submission process, not having that whole rejection cycle, you know, saving the creative energy for the work itself.
So, talk to me a little bit about how the two systems compare, there are advantages and disadvantages to both ways, right?
Trish Hopkinson: Yeah, absolutely. So, I mean, there is something to be said about being part of a community and contributing your work to that same community where the traditional method of publication of poetry is to send it out to the lit mags and journals, but there are poets out there who are doing tremendous work on their own with self-published publication.
I think, regardless, you need to build up your social media following. You need to contribute back to the community in some way, so that other poets or poetry lovers know where to find you, and also see what you’re giving back. If you’re always just posting, oh, look, a new poem, a new poem, and it’s not really giving anything back to the community in any way, then it will be harder to build your followers.
Self-promotion only goes so far. It’s great if you can contribute something back to that community that you’re asking for their support, and whether you’re publishing traditionally or trying to sell your own published material, you really do need to build that network up. So, you need it in both cases.
Do you find that poets are often uncomfortable with the idea of being paid?
Orna Ross: Absolutely, and I think, everybody who is doing well, you see that. The poetry community is incredibly generous in terms of, I mean, they must be the most generous of the indies, and the indie author community is incredibly generous itself. So, I think there is this whole thing of poetry as gift, really. I think of it as you know, there’s a gift you’re gifted with in terms of your ability with words, but it overflows and poetry more than any, it’s that spontaneous overflow of feeling that, was it Wordsworth, talked about. And more than any other art literary form, I think, poetry is given us as gift. The poem itself, and then that sense of connection among poets.
So, sometimes to the degree that poets are uncomfortable with even the idea of being paid at all, have you come across that?
Trish Hopkinson: I guess it really depends on what your goals are as a poet.
Certainly if, financially, that’s not something that is a concern or it’s not part of your career plan. There are a lot of poets who are in education, who are teachers, professors, or, you know, in that way, using poetry more broadly as their financial means. But there certainly are some poets who really, you know, they’re just creating that art and it’s not something they rely on financially. Although, it’s always nice to get a little something in return, it never hurts to get paid and recognized for your art. I think, in the United States and possibly in the UK as well, it varies from country to country, how poets are valued, and that’s one of the things that I think is really important to me. That’s the literary advocacy part of what I do, is that it’s still art and we put a lot of time and effort into our artwork and it needs to be better recognized.
And having Amanda Gorman speak at Biden’s inaugural and read a poem, I think, was a great boost for poetry. I know that she’s seeing some substantial book sales and I think that’s fantastic news. I hope we continue to really support our poets in the US and in some of the other countries where it’s not as recognized. In the past poets were considered just as important as a politician, and they were often consulted and brought into political roles, and I would love to see a lot more of that.
How should new poets approach submissions?
Orna Ross: Yes, I mean, that is something that has happened in traditional societies all the way up and somewhere along the line, poetry began to be seen as this kind of esoteric thing that’s separate from “real life” and, obviously, we don’t subscribe to that.
Talk to me a little bit about, you mentioned your there, your submission strategy. So, back to the idea of sending out work and submitting to journals, it took you a while to work out your strategy.
So, maybe save some of the people here some time by talking about what you wish you knew then that you know now, and how do you handle it? How do you do it?
Trish Hopkinson: Sure. Well, I mean, I think if you’re new to it, then certainly supporting university journals is a good way to get your feet wet and get some practice. But once you’ve done a few submissions and you’ve maybe gotten one or two acceptances, then you can start to look at, you know, where do you think your work fits best? And are you ready to really challenge yourself, because it does get more challenging and it’s a little bit trickier to get accepted by some of the literary magazines and journals that we consider top tier.
I mean, I send to the New Yorker and poetry every year. Maybe someday I will get accepted, but they get thousands and thousands of submissions. So, they accept, usually a fraction of a percent of the submissions that they get. So, it’s a lot more challenging and you have to be willing to take those rejections, a lot more of them.
So, over time as I’ve started to really aim higher, and send my work out to some of those top tier magazines, I send there first, I wait for those rejections to come back and then I start looking for some of the mid-tier. Still well-read, but usually more specific literary journals and magazines that I think fits my work well.
So, I really love feminist-leaning journals and lit mags. I have a tendency to seek those out and send there. It depends on what your poetry is for, what genre does it fit into? Do you do a lot of really experimental work? Then you’ll want to look for those mid-tier literary magazines and journals that publish really experimental work, and you want to send their next.
So, I do it in those steps, but I did see that my acceptance percentage has gone down, because I’m sending to the ones that are really tough to get into, but it’s worth that to me. I want to take a stab. I want to get the work out there to those that are really hard to get in, and take that gamble and be very patient, let the work sit out there, and a handful of those until they all come back and tell me no, which is basically what has happened to date. Someday, I’ll get in one of those. I do believe that my work has the quality, but when there’s so many, it’s really hard for your work to stand out, or for your work to be the perfect fit for whatever they’re trying to accomplish that issue. So, it just gets more challenging.
I would say, once you’ve gotten a few acceptances, if you’re okay getting fewer acceptances for a while, then start sending out to those tougher journals and lit mags and see if maybe they might take a bite, but boy, you’ve got to be patient, and you’ve got to be okay with the rejections.
If those break your heart, maybe don’t aim quite so high. I’ve seen poets set goals of getting as much work published as they can, and they’re still selective where they send their work, but they’re really trying to support some of those lit mags and journals that are doing great things, regardless of maybe how popular they are or, maybe it’s a brand new one that’s going to do really well, and you want to go ahead and support their efforts. Send to their very first issue and then, who knows, a few years from now, maybe they’re really well read, and they refer to you as being one of their inaugural poets. So, there’s lots of benefits to submitting to different levels of lit mags and journals.
Can poets submit to literary journals and publish their own poems?
Orna Ross: It’s so interesting when you talk about patience and rejection, because I think they are the two main reasons that authors generally, and poets in particular, go indie, because they can’t. They can’t handle that rejection, either it discourages them creatively or just the whole process of the submission, and the waiting, and all of that, they feel, is creative energy that will be better spent putting together another poem, or a chapbook, or indeed a collection.
And the other thing is patience, if you’re waiting to build up your poetry, I think of one of them as being a career and the other as being a business. And that’s how it actually is, because once you publish a poetry book on Kindle or wherever, the day you sell your first one is, you know, you’ve gone into business, whether you realize that or not. Or is it advisable even to, you know, on the one hand do your submissions so you’re getting to know when you’re, as you say, connecting with real people and supporting other people’s, you know, the lit mag efforts and so on, while also putting out your poems and creating your own chat box and stuff.
Is that possible, because lots of them want to accept poetry if it’s been published, even on your own website, is that right?
Trish Hopkinson: Yes. There are there, and I do have a whole list of literary magazines and journals that will accept re-prints. So, that is one Avenue that you can go if you are publishing your own work and your own chapbooks or online books, on your website, however it is that you’re promoting it or through social media.
Those certainly can be put in lit magazine journals who are willing to accept reprints, keeping in mind that very few of those actually do offer a payment for a reprint publication. There are some that do, but it’s not super common. Most of the lit magazine journals, they want to be the first ones to put it out there, and usually those rights refer revert back to you so you can then publish later on, either in your own indie publication or through a place that accepts reprints.
So, there’s opportunities for that, a hundred percent, and some of these poets who are really doing a great job in the indie space are prolific, which is why they don’t want to wait, because they write two or three chapbooks, or a book a year, or maybe more. If you’re really prolific and you’re putting out a lot of work, you may want to say, okay, this work, I’m not sure if this is going to turn into a book, so I’m going to start sending these poems out to lit magazines and journals.
Once those get published, then you can share them on your social media. That’s the approach I take. So, I share my work as, oh, here’s a piece that was just published, and that’s how I promote it, is once it’s already been published, then I can go ahead and share it freely and those rights have reverted back to me.
So, that’s my method of doing it. Certainly you could create whole collections that you publish on your own, but for traditional presses, they typically are fine having up to about 50% of the individual poems being published in lit magazines or journals that are part of a book or a collection. They’re okay with about half, usually, being published prior to the book’s release. So, there is a lot you can do to juggle that and, certainly, if you’re producing a lot of work, there’s no reason why you can’t do an indie publication, a chapbook, or your own full length, while still sending other pieces out to other places to see how that turns out.
I’ve seen a lot of indie poets will put work out on Instagram and they’ll create a collection, they’ll indie publish that, and then their next book, they’re like, I want to see if someone else will publish me. So, then they really start sending work out and going in that direction.
But either way, you’re your own publicist if you’re a poet. You need to build that network. So, if you build a great network and you can sell your own books, by all means, go for it. There are still some poets out there that think that’s not as great as being published by a press or by a literary magazine, but it’s much more accepted now.
I don’t think, poets that are out there really trying to be part of the community, they’re not getting looked down on by most.
Orna Ross: Yeah, I agree, there is a big change there, and I think poets come in two types. There are those who really do like, and need, the validation of somebody else saying, this is good work, and there are those for whom that’s not half as important as the reader following, the people who, you know, they’re looking out at the leadership. Whereas the other is maybe looking up at somebody who’s, kind of, it’s a kudos, and there is no right or wrong way. And indeed, as we were saying, you know, do both, it doesn’t have to be either, or entirely, you write your own script here just as you write your own poems.
So, you spoke about the tiers, when you spoke about acceptance, falling off, obviously, the higher you pitch, the fewer acceptances you get, you get paid more though, presumably? So, your income from your poetry may not necessarily go down by pitching higher. Is that your experience?
Trish Hopkinson: Yeah, I would say that that’s probably true. A lot of the smaller university journals, they might offer a little bit of a payment, a lot of places aren’t able to offer any payment. And so, yeah, if your goal is really to try to balance, to say, okay, I would like to see this much come in based on my work and efforts creatively, then you probably want to branch out a little bit.
I’ve seen poets who publish their own work and then they branch out, they open little online bookstores where they feature other poets, and they make some profit that way, they teach workshops, they offer editing services, things along those lines, to really make sure that they’re bringing in a little bit of income.
So, they do tend to turn it into more of a business instead of relying just on the creative work but finding other ways to get paid for what they’ve learned and what they can offer.
How do you balance the time needed to write and publish poetry?
Orna Ross: Sure. Now, all of this takes time, whichever way you go, either or both, and you also, you do all of this and you also have a full-time job I found out, which I was really surprised to hear, because you are very prolific, I mean, your blog goes out almost daily. I know you have lots of guests posts on your blog, but still, I know what it takes to have a blog that’s that consistent and regular.
So, can you give some tips to people about balancing their time, especially around, you know, there’s the writing part, but how do you balance that with all the submission, and a little bit about submission tracking, how to keep track of it all?
Trish Hopkinson: Yeah, sure, absolutely. So, I used to be a lot more regimented, I had very specific routines where I would post on my blog at the same time every day, and what I learned is that I have to be more flexible. My day job got more and more demanding and so, the way I manage my time now is really just, I have a list of things that I would like to get to, and typically those are prioritized. There will be a few things at the top, deadlines that I don’t want to miss for submitting, for example, or blog posts that have some date requirements that I want to make sure I get done. So, those are at the top and then, as far as the creative energy, writing new work versus submitting and other things along those lines, I usually just do whatever I feel like doing. Some days, writing new work, you’re just not in that head space and that’s when I submit, or revise. Maybe I want to do some revision work because, right now, I just don’t have the energy, or I don’t have the ideas to put pen to paper. So, that’s typically how I do it. I have my list and then what do I feel like doing? That’s what I’m going to be most effective at. So, those are the things that I do first. But there are other things that you can do that I think work for some of the poets I engage with on a regular basis. So, a lot of them do Submission Sunday, for example and they’re like, okay, every Sunday I’m going to do at least one submission. Other people will say, well, I’m going to do 10 a week.
So, you can set specific goals for yourself, but you also have to be kind to yourself and if it didn’t work out for some reason, you change it around or you decide, maybe you’ve got a great idea for a poem and you need to spend time being creative, then you don’t submit that day.
So, it really is about being kind to yourself, picking the things that you know you’re going to be most successful at, depending on how you’re feeling, I think is the best way to get it done.
Orna Ross: Lovely, flexibility for flow, kind of thing.
Yeah, and we have a comment from Becky Meyers. Oh my God, if Trish has a full-time job on top of everything she does, this means I have no excuse.
Trish Hopkinson: Excuses. We all need excuses. We all have a lot going on and all of those things have to be balanced, and you can’t be beating yourself up. I’m actually a pretty slow writer, I don’t produce a ton of poetry. I’ve discovered that, trying to push myself, that what happens is I’m not happy with the work.
So, I really wait to be inspired. I look at prompts and I go to workshops and other things to keep myself writing, because I have to have those little nudges to push me along. I think, otherwise I’d probably write a poem a month if I was lucky. Sometimes, that’s all I do. So, we all go at our own pace and yeah, no face-palming.
When did you start writing poetry?
Orna Ross: No face-palming allowed Becky.
Folks, if you have a question for Trish, please do get it into us, because we’re coming towards the end of the show. She will be back, however, for the next two months, where we’re going to be diving a little bit more deeply into various themes around self-publishing poetry, but if you have a question for her today, particularly on submission for payments, then please do drop that into the chat now.
So, yeah. When you were starting out and when you look back, talk to us a little bit about your poetry biography as it were, when did you start writing poetry and at what point did it become serious for you?
Trish Hopkinson: I think, I always thought it was serious, but that was really before I took any university courses on poetry.
So, I’m a non-traditional student. I started my day job career in my early twenties and really didn’t go back to college, well, I did it very, very gradually. I didn’t finish my bachelor’s in creative writing until the end of 2013. So, that’s when I got my degree. I was well into my career in software at that point.
So, I always thought that I was a serious poet, but I really didn’t understand a lot of the aspects of revision and craft. I had a little bit of talent that kept me writing, since I was very young, and I had always written poetry. I think by the time I was in my early twenties; I probably had written about a thousand poems that I had in stacks of paper and typed and some on the computer.
But it wasn’t until I really took my first creative writing class in college that I started to understand what the craft really meant and how to really become serious about it. And so, that’s when I really started sending out for publication, started understanding what it took to get published and that’s when the whole blog and all of that, sort of, came together for me at that same point.
What advice can you give to poets aiming to grow their craft?
Orna Ross: And if you look back at that starting point of it really becoming more than just a personal enjoyment, and so on. Is there anything you’d like to share with our listeners about the mistakes you made at the beginning that you would unmake now, or do you have a top tip as to what they should or shouldn’t do as a step forward and aim to grow their poetic outposts, but also to get paid for their poetry.
Trish Hopkinson: Yeah, don’t be afraid to revise your work. I think it’s so important to go back. There’s something to being an artist to saying, well, this is what I first created, but really digging in. You and I, Orna, talked a little bit about comparing, not necessarily to compare your work to other poets, but then you do need to see what’s being published out there and what are the types of work that readers are really enjoying and little things like, just making sure you don’t have cliches in your poetry or that you’re really using some of the important poetic devices, sound and making sure that your word choice is perfect. Spending time revising is one of my most favorite things about the craft of poetry. And so, I think that’s the biggest mistake that I see with beginning poets is that they feel like they’ve put this beautiful thing out into the world and that any kind of change to it would be not honoring the art.
Everybody has their own beliefs; I believe it’s the opposite. That you’re not honoring the art unless you really attend to it and give it all that attention and detail and make sure to make it the very best that it can be. So, that would be, I think, what I would tell beginners.
Orna Ross: Fantastic. I couldn’t agree more. Personally, for me, writing is editing, that second process is what makes a writer. Writers are people who find writing harder than other people, somebody said once.
I think it’s very true, and if you look at the manuscripts of the great poets who come down to us from other eras or across to us from other countries and territories, who are people who have broken out enough to transcend their own time or place, which is a sign that they speak to a lot of people, you see that the work has been revised again and again, you see all those scratched out manuscripts. In that time, you’re able to see the story of a poem coming together and something that seems completely effortless, you see that there was huge effort.
How often do you submit a poem?
Orna Ross: So, just a couple of questions to finish off.
Becky again, she’s just starting out and she has just begun submitting poems over the past few months. She’s finding it hard to figure out how many places to send one poem at a time. Any suggestions or guidelines on how much do you flog one piece before you give it a rest?
Trish Hopkinson: Yes, that’s an awesome question. So, I usually don’t like to send out to more than say five or six different literary magazines for a single poem. Sometimes they’re in packets with different poems, they’re grouped together depending on what I think that literary magazine will take.
But I will tell you, there are pros and cons to that. If you send out a poem to let’s say, 20 different places and it gets accepted, now you have 19 other places to tell it’s been accepted, and you need to withdraw it. And that work, while it’s exciting, is a lot of busy work. And I think, some people believe in that shotgun approach, I’m just going to send that to as many places as possible. That’s one way to do it.
I think it’s better use of your time to try to zero in a little bit, if you can. Certainly you don’t need to read 12 issues of every journal to get a feel for whether or not your work will fit, but I usually wouldn’t send a poem out more than five or six times at the same time, simultaneous submissions.
But I have sent poems out, like I had one that finally got accepted that I had sent out 31 times before it got accepted. So keep trying, keep sending them out. You know, you see the little quotes and stuff about these famous writers who sent their book out, they got rejected a hundred times, and it’s because it’s not about the quality of the work. It’s about being the right fit for that publication or for that press, and sometimes it’s hard to find it. I mean, there are thousands out there.
Orna Ross: Sure. Okay, we’re going to end on that hopeful note and say thank you to Trish for coming in and sharing her expertise. As I said, she’s going to be here for the next two months.
I think next month, we’re going to have a pure Q&A session where we will gather in questions from our own poetry readers and writers for you.
So, if any of you have particular questions that you would like Trish to address or us to research in the meantime so we could go a little bit more deeply into some of your questions than is possible on the live stream, just on the fly, then please do send those through to [email protected]
Sarah will pick them up from there, collate them for us and send them through to Trish and myself.
So, thank you, Trish. That was great. Thank you so much, are you off to work now?
Trish Hopkinson: Yeah, this was my lunch hour, essentially. I’m headed back to work, but this was a great break in my workday and yeah, I’m looking forward to the questions. I mean, those could turn into blog posts, you know.
Orna Ross: Absolutely. I predict that they will somehow. Fantastic. Okay, well, thank you very much for giving up your lunch hour for this.
I didn’t realize that was how it was happening. It was a great chat, and we’ll see you again next month.
Trish Hopkinson: All right. Thank you so much.
Orna Ross: Bye, bye everyone. Keep writing, keep publishing.