The Truth About Poetry Manuscripts

Written by Emily Harstone

Novelists and non-fiction writers face a lot of hurdles on their road to publication, but they are very different than the ones faced by poets.

The major hurdle that poets face is reading and contest fees.

I always tell writers looking to publish fiction or non-fiction that they should never pay a traditional publisher.  I tell them a traditional publisher of any standing will not charge their writers. This is true for fiction and for non-fiction. It is true for most genres.

Unfortunately it is not true for poetry books.

I am not saying that there are not good, reliable, traditional poetry publishers, just that there are very few that don’t charge a reading fee or a contest entry fee for authors without a significant track record (ie: a book or two).

That does not mean that the publisher should charge you anything beyond the reading fee. A legitimate publisher will not. But the reading fee has become standard for poetry manuscript contests and even for open reading periods.  Reading fees usually range in price from $25  to $50.

I have a lot of problems with reading fees and as you can see from our guiding principles,, we would not review a publisher that charged them. However as an individual who has an academic career, I must submit to these publishers.

If you are serious about publishing your book of poetry, the truth is that you will most likely end up paying a fee. Most publishers are open to first books and unsolicited manuscripts only through open reading periods (with a fee attached) and contests.

Most of the best publishers only select one book of poetry to be published a year by a poet without a previous book. These books are always selected via reading periods or more commonly contests.  Winning one of these big contests is a great thing but it isn’t easy.

I would say that a little over half the publishers I would consider for my book charge a reading fee and because I am serious about getting it published, I have ended up paying that fee.

There are other options out there and there are a number of good presses that don’t charge poets. New presses and very small presses often do not. If you want to take a look at some of the presses that have open reading periods for poetry manuscripts this list of 62 Poetry Manuscript Publishers is very helpful.