From First Poem to First Book: Mistakes to Avoid — Leave my poems in coffee shops?

You can print your poems and leave them in coffee shops…

Van Gogh cafe terrace at night



You can recite them at parties and literary salons…

Reading from Molière



…or at public gatherings and on street corners.

Speakers' Corner, Hyde Park



You can post them on your blog or email them to friends.   You can print and distribute your own chapbook, or self-publish a larger collection.

I have done some of those things.  Some of them helped me become aware of and connect with the larger community of poets,  which has been a wonderful source of friendship and encouragement — while some were mistakes.

One of those was a mistake no experienced, published poet would make.  I learned the hard way that most literary journals will not print anything that has been “previously published.”  And—surprise!—”previously published” includes posting on FaceBook or in a blog—anything visible to the general public, even if your FaceBook page is restricted to “friends.”  It’s OK to share your poems by reading them aloud, by emailing them or by handing them to people.  But don’t send a poem to your local newspaper unless you don’t care that it will never be seen in a literary journal.

Notice that I said “most literary journals.”  Every journal has its own rules.  Always look for the fine print on a publisher’s website, usually with a link called “guidelines” or “submissions.”  One publisher’s anathema is another’s “no problem.”

Early on, I posted poems on a blog and on FaceBook, and submitted them to a local newspaper columnist, who graciously printed them.  Those poems immediately became ineligible for inclusion in any literary journal.  If I had not cared about those poems’ future chances for publication, that would not have been a problem.   If I had possessed a huge portfolio of poems at the time, I would not have minded a few being taken out of the running, but that was not the case.

In my next entry I will start suggesting ways to find the literary journals that can be homes for your poems.


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