Vanity Presses and Literary Magazines

Category: Publish Your Poetry

Want To Get Published As A Poet? First, Learn About A Vanity Press And A Literary Magazine

Ways to Publish Poetry
This Article Is Part TWO Of A Series
by Don J. Carlson


When writers talk of getting published they usually speak of commercial publishers who pay royalties on books sold, and who distribute, promote and primarily manage the selling of the books.

A vanity press makes its profit directly from sales to
the writers who pay for the
opportunity to see their work in print.

A vanity publisher does not make its money from royalties or sales of publications in bookstores but directly from the writers. With vanity publishing you are expected to provide your own distribution. Vanity publishing is most similar to self publishing. Novices are often enticed by vanity publishers who direct their advertising to inexperienced writers who have had very little success in traditional publishing.

Vanity publishers usually have anthologies they publish that have names sprinkled with too many official sounding words, like International, 20th Century, Professional or American. The vanity publisher prints such a book whenever enough orders are accumulated to make it profitable. It has an expensive looking cover and cheap paper. The poems are printed in fine print with many poems to the page. The selling price is 50 to 100 dollars per copy. Orders are taken from the submitting poets, and advertising is directed at them.

A poet could self publish several books or chapbooks of poems for the same price at a local printshop. Such a book would need around sixteen to 36 pages for a chapbook (cheap book) and around thirty-six to fifty pages for a perfect bound book. This may be more than the targeted poet has written. If a person has written less than a dozen poems he may be more likely to appreciate such an anthology or any magazine that will provide a publishing credit.

Libraries and bookstores do not clamor to buy or stock these “Anthologies.” Such publications do not attract attention to the careers of their poets. They may contain some well written poems, but do not add to a poet’s reputation in the world of serious publishing.

Vanity publishers also publish collections of poems. They will offer to publish anything. Ask them for details of what they offer and the price. Compare their price with your local printer’s price.

Literary magazines do not often pay much for the articles or poems they publish. Most commonly the pay is in the form of free copies of the publication that contains the writer’s work: usually one or two copies. Although there is no pay, literary magazines are good places to seek acceptance; as their standards are usually high, and their editors knowledgeable. Such publishing credits may be very valuable to a writer seeking to improve his skills, or gain approval or endorsement.

Such magazines are varied in their submissions requirements. They require writers to demonstrate ability to write in various or specific styles. Writers’ resource publications such as the Writer’s Digest ‘Poet’s Market’ will give lists of magazines which rate the publisher by type of poetry and level of achievement required. Beginners will seek first to publish in Category I, and more experienced poets in Category II. Category III is available to established poets, who are ‘solicited’ for contributions. Category IV is available to people who write in a specific style or form, or about a specified geographic area. In fact, there is considerable variety of writing skills and substance in the poems published in each of the three major categories, as there is in Category IV. The differences are noticeable but not as clear as one might expect. The greatest differences are in use of formal devices and adherence to traditions and styles. Some of the Category I publications may be very desirable to specific writers for reasons other than supposed level of expertise required.

Publishing credits from literary magazines alone may advance a poet’s career very little financially. Such credits are likely to be invaluable as a stepping stone to greater things. You should know, however that poetry books are seldom great sellers. Eventually an aspiring writer would hope to gain acceptance of his works in textbooks, advance to chapbooks and single-author books that have the chance of greater circulation.

The literary magazine path is of more value in the academic community than to the larger reading public, but circulation numbers alone are not the measure of a magazine. A writer should hope to reach readers who appreciate his writing, or magazines which can help him grow in skills. A poetry professor who publishes and reads widely will usually find greater opportunities to advance his or her career than a plumber who writes a similar amount and publishes in literary magazines, but does not seek or find wider public attention. Promotional efforts will sell more poems than passive publishing in literary magazines. Publishing alone is not the silver bullet that will make a poet famous or rich. Acceptance in literary magazines is nevertheless very important to most poets.

© 1998 Don J. Carlson