Bob Donlon (Rob Donnelly), Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg, Robert LaVigne, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti (L-R) stand outside City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, 1956
Success can mean so many different things to individuals, groups, and society, which makes it tough to define it for ourselves. As a poet, success could mean that you wrote a few poems and have some pieces published, or a book deal in the works and a decent advance on the way. There is a huge amount of ground between those things, and most of us are somewhere between a catalog of works, receiving publication compensation, and the dreamlike book deal. In modern times, what does success look like in poetry?
A quick Google search will define “success” in several ways:
- the accomplishment of an aim or purpose
- the attainment of popularity or profit.
a person or thing that achieves desired aims or attains prosperity.
Due to the decline in reading paperback books, magazines, newspapers, and other hardcopies, it is smart for publishers to release digital versions as well. These can look like eBooks, blogs, webpages, etc. In fact, most small and independent publishers start off by only publishing digitally until they start to see some cashflow, or put in money from their day job. Digital versions of poetry are easy to access and share. Rather than reading a piece in person or cutting out of a magazine, you can simply copy and paste a link to your socials or send via text. But does that take some of the fun and authenticity out of it? Are we losing our sense of attention span and patience? Is the average reading level and comprehension declining?
“50% of American adults can’t read a book written at an eighth grade level.” – According to The Literary Project, 2017.
With this information as a new writer looking to get published, it is smart to submit to new and smaller publications. There are many benefits to doing this including a shorter wait period, lower amounts of submissions, and they are usually run on a personal level. You may even receive personalized acceptance and rejection letters rather than the typical “Unfortunately, this piece is not for us. Feel free to submit again,” type of response.
Setting yourself some goals before you submit anywhere can help make your work more unique and professional. For instance, you could start by setting a bigger goal like “get my first poem published in 2019,” then set up 3 smaller goals to guide you to that first publication. 1) Write 5 poems a week for 8 weeks with no editing. Just writing. By the end of the 2 month period and if you’ve been strict to the schedule, you’ll have 40 poems written. A major accomplishment, especially for a beginner. 2) Edit the poetry. Plenty to edit and choose from for submitting. 3) Do some research on publishers. Before submitting to any publishers you should take a look at their websites, socials, and if they have free versions of their previous issues available. These will give you a better understanding of what they typically publish and how often.
It is a good idea to share your work with friends, colleagues, or mentors before submitting. It can be helpful because someone else may give a perspective that you have not considered or boost your confidence by praising your work. People who can give honest opinions about your work can be very helpful, especially with constructive criticism. Just try not to take it too personal, keep an open mind, and just remember what you are asking for. It’s not the best plan to keep your work hidden in a notebook in a desk if your goal is to be published.
In contemporary times, there are many resources you can use to quickly find the right publication for your piece, contests, and even get paid for some of them. Some popular submission sources are Submittable, Duotrope, and Facebook groups (surprisingly!). Submittable and Duotrope share some similarities but Submittable has a “Discover” feature that makes it very easy for creators to connect with publishers and organizations. Facebook groups on the other hand are usually encompassed by a mass catalog of publishers seeking submissions. They are posted by the publisher admin team as well as individuals who may have stumbled across the open submission otherwise.
Open mics are a great source if you are looking for an old school approach. You may not necessarily be “discovered” here, but there are many networking opportunities, people willing to listen (and might give constructive criticism), experience with reading your work in public, and discovering others. If you want your work read to an audience but you are not into the performance side, there are usually some folks that are open to reading your work.
Now it’s easy to say, “just go to an open mic,” when you may not live in an area where there are many hosted. However, there are unsuspected small establishments that do host shows and open mics. So do some research and see if you can find the coffee shop or house show of your dreams.
To summarize: eliminate procrastination and get shit done.
“If your fidelity to perfectionism is too high, you never do anything.” – D.F. Wallace