Another Peek into My Mailbox

or, “Everybody’s Gotta Start Somewhere”

Dear Rachelle, What is your advice for my 26-year old daughter who has not yet published her poetry?

Signed, The Poet’s Mom


Dear Mom,

Here’s my advice for your daughter: Get immersed in the world of poetry publication. Subscribe to magazines like Poets & Writers. Buy the Poets Market. Get connected online with blogs, websites, forums and message boards for poets (there are hundreds). Read all the poetry books you can find. Write down who publishes them and check the acknowledgments page – you may find out the poet’s agent, if they have one.

Be proactive. Learn, learn, learn. And separate the “artist self” from the “business self.” Publishing poetry is a business and needs to be treated as such.

Hope that helps.


Dear Rachelle,

But – aren’t there Agents in my area that my daughter could contact and go talk to and show her poetry to them and get advice? Don’t agents take a new poet and provide advice ? Can’t she just put together a book of her poetry and have the Agent market it to publishers ?




The hard truth is, it takes a lot of work to learn the publishing industry and how to properly pursue getting published. It’s your daughter’s job to learn how to approach agents and publishers in a professional manner. I suggest you give her the advice I gave you, then step back. She’ll only be published if she wants it enough to do the work herself.

I wish you both the best!


P.S. This email conversation is real and posted with permission.

(c) 2010 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. maine character on September 17, 2010 at 1:31 AM

    >I found my way here by way of THMafi’s blog, and just started clicking back through your posts, and copying out that paragraph, and that paragraph, and that comment, and then I got to this one, which is exactly what a friend asked me about the other day and very much what I told him – get Poet’s Market and contact local poets and start learning.Many thanks, to both you and your readers.

  2. SphinxnihpS of Aker-Ruti on September 15, 2010 at 9:14 AM

    >And separate the "artist self" from the "business self. — This is great advice for writers of any genre. It is yin and yang, one "self" cannot survive without the other in this game. Thanks for sharing this email and advice.

    Blog-a-holic in Progress:
    Happiness Spotter, Happy Freelancer, Campaign for E-Literacy

  3. T. Anne on September 14, 2010 at 9:27 PM

    >I would suggest the daughter get involved in online writing circles. A good place to start would be the absolute write water cooler. Good luck!

  4. David A. Todd on September 14, 2010 at 3:45 PM

    >I might have replied: "Poetry is a tough, tough gig. It doesn't pay. It has no substantial market except for other poets. If you can, run from it right now and never look back. If you can't, read all the poetry you can; write all the poetry you can, learn as much about the craft of poetry as you can about whatever type of poetry you like best. Do the marketing thing too, as Rachelle describes. Prepare to be disappointed in the markets available."

  5. eeleenlee on September 14, 2010 at 1:12 PM

    >the writer's job does not end with the MS

  6. eeleenlee on September 14, 2010 at 1:12 PM

    >the writer's job does not end with the MS

  7. Amy Boucher Pye on September 14, 2010 at 10:07 AM

    >I'm glad you mentioned that this was from a real email; I was surprised!

  8. Anonymous on September 14, 2010 at 9:48 AM

    >There's also e-publishing. For poets, that may be an excellent way to go.

  9. Teenage Bride on September 14, 2010 at 9:26 AM

    >I love advice posts!

  10. Sandra Rose Hughes on September 14, 2010 at 9:17 AM

    >This letter could just as well have been from my mother. I am also a 26-year old poet. I have had some success submitting to small literary journals and contests. I recommend for submission listings. There is no sense in sending a poem to a magazine that doesn't want that style of poetry, and duotrope stays very up to date on submission guidelines. I will probably never make much money on my poetry, but it is nice to have a growing collection of journals with my poetry in them to sit on my bookshelf.

  11. Anonymous on September 14, 2010 at 9:03 AM

    >I've published some of my poetry and it's a hard way to go. I write poetry because I need to write poetry. And I've sold a piece or two, had some others published in contests, online journals but I haven't been in the big mags yet. That's my goal.

    You won't ever live on your poetry procedes. You probably won't be famous either.

    But poetry shapes the soul so it is worthwhile.

    Some notes for Mom:

    For the SpokenWord Poetry scene, check out Stand As 1 on BlogTalk Radio, it's a live poetry reading show that meets Tuesdays at 8Pm Eastern. You can Skype or call in and read your poems aloud. A poem spoken aloud is very different from a poem written for the page. It's changed my writing in wonderful ways.

    For workshops, check out The Next Big Writer. It has a good poetry critique group. They won't just say "This is great" or "This sucks".

    When you enter contests, enter a variety of types. Little ones, big ones, literary ones.

    The goal is to be visible.

    See if there are poetry readings in your area, if so you are lucky. You can try to get on the roster, read your work aloud. When you self-publish a book of poems, this is where you'll sell them to the public one-on-one.

    As well as promote your online sales.

    Few agents or publishers publish a book of poems from an unknown. No money in it.

    Good luck.


  12. Eyvonne on September 14, 2010 at 8:36 AM

    >Great advice! Parents so often want to do FOR their kids and make it easy for them. Unfortunately, they deny them the character growth and maturity that comes with the process!

    I told my 11 year old son yesterday that anything worth doing will be harder than he thinks it will be, but it will be worth it.

  13. Gospel Girly on September 14, 2010 at 8:34 AM

    >Bless, the mum is so dedicated and wanting it so badly for her child.

    Hopefully her daughter wants it just as bad…because she'll have to go t alone at some point and in this business its about hard work, passion and persistence. Otherwise forget it!

  14. Susan Bourgeois on September 14, 2010 at 7:42 AM

    >It's nice that you took the time to guide the mother of the young poet.

    I relate to the Mother wishing to help her child. I think most moms relate.

    You're right; it has to come from the child. She can assist her daughter in the process and they can learn together.

    As I've always told my children, "Anything in life that's worthwhile usually requires a great deal of effort to achieve."

  15. KathySkaggsPoet on September 14, 2010 at 7:07 AM

    >Publishing poetry, and being a "successful" poet, are totally different from publishing prose and being a "successful" novelist or writer of other prose forms. An agent can't help you and probably won't be interested in your poetry manuscript unless you're someone who's already famous, like Jewel or Stephen King. Even if you get your poetry manuscript published , there's no money to be made publishing poetry. Most poets make their living teaching creative writing or English, or in some other entirely different field. I average about $2500 to $3000 a year from grants, book sales, and honorariums for readings and teaching writing workshops. The rest of my income comes from my day job as a grantwriter. A poet writes for the love of the word and the form, because we have something to say and a unique way to say it. It's even harder work, I'd venture to say, than writing a novel or memoir. You have to change your idea of what it means to be successful, or you'll end up bitter and frustrated. Focus on doing the writing, and getting it out to people who want to read it. Rachel's advice is excellent. I'd also advise becoming part of a poetry writers group. And check out the poetry readings in your community. You'll have to endure listening to a lot of bad poetry, but occasionally there'll be a gem that reminds you why you write poetry in the first place. (And I especially agree with Rachel's advice to share this information with the daughter and then step back. Not everyone who writes poetry wants or needs to make a career out of it.

  16. Megan Schwark on September 14, 2010 at 6:38 AM

    >Perhaps the poet could look into the growing online publishing industry. Literary journals can be an excellent way to start.

    Megan Schwark

  17. Jessica Nelson on September 14, 2010 at 5:17 AM

    >Great advice! Sometimes moms want things for their kids, but like you said, it's the kids who need to want it, not the parent.
    It was nice of you to answer her questions.

  18. Em-Musing on September 14, 2010 at 5:16 AM

    >Ooo! Poetry! Now that takes guts to try and get published. Great advice. But of course, that's always what you give.

  19. Sharon A. Lavy on September 14, 2010 at 5:12 AM

    >You mean there really are no shortcuts? SIGH =)

  20. Aimee L Salter on September 14, 2010 at 3:18 AM

    >…and doesn't just apply to the poetry niche…

  21. Fiona the unknown artist on September 14, 2010 at 2:16 AM

    >I found this advice very realistic and positive, as it also relates to the world of art and galleries! I'm a painter and it's taken a long time to learn about the art industry and how to seek out opportunities. It's also very true that you have to keep your 'artist self' separate from your business self, and in the end to see the item you've made as a product.

  22. Rachael Harrie on September 14, 2010 at 1:21 AM

    >That's fantastic advice, Rachelle. There's so much more to the publishing industry than writing (be it a manuscript, poetry, short story etc) and then sitting back and waiting for others to do all the work. To learn how to properly pursue getting published is critical in today's industry, I think. I'm so glad you're sharing your insights and taking us a step further along that learning path…