Guest Writer: A Case for Self-publishing (Gary B. Fitzgerald)

In my opinion, a person is much better off self-publishing poetry if
they ever want to see it in book form. If one looks at the publishers of
books submitted for review to, say, Poetry Magazine, they will see
scores of small presses nobody has ever heard of. What exactly is the
difference between a small obscure outfit and a self-published book? Are
there that many fantastic editors and poetry experts out there? I doubt
it. I would guess that with so small a market and so many poets it is
only good business for the big houses to disregard anything
‘unproven’. Hell, they can barely sell what they publish now.

Few read poetry these days. You will also notice that when major awards
like the Pulitzer or Book Critics Circle Award are given out they almost
always go to the major Houses. Of course, with vested interests involved
this could be a fox/hen house type of thing. (Google ‘Silliman gang of
eight’ and read about how the big guys dominate the poetry market).
My point is that you can submit your work for twenty years, finally get
someone to publish it and then be completely ignored by the Poetry
‘establishment’ anyway or you can just publish your own work with
the same result. At least you have something you can be proud of (and
maybe sell). And don't forget that posterity thing.


This post originally appeared on, January 2008.


  1. This one's for you, Mr. Christopher Woodman. Eschew the quest for fame and so become famous. Kind of zen, isn't it?

    Has anyone one checked Bill Knott's site today. He is trying to self-publish his own work and his publisher, FS&G, wont help him.

    He has asked for our help. Do it!
    We must support the 'rebel cause'.

    Nothing defines absolute freedom as well as poetry.

  2. Correction:

    "Has anyone checked Bill Knott's site today?"

    Shit, I type better three sheets to the wind than I do stone cold sober.

    Anyway, I have never read a word of Knott's poetry, but I think he should be supported for standing up for poetic freedom.

  3. Thank you for that, Gary--"eschew the quest for fame and so become famous."

    Yes, Zen when it comes to our so-called inner life, at least, but a most familiar condition in almost everything else we human beings do, like walking. In more extreme activities like making music, we struggle for years and years to hold that left wrist straight up against the tiny neck of a violin, and all we're rewarded for is the effort that builds character--and stars if we're lucky on a childhood practise chart. Then suddenly in a moment of madness we forget and out sings that sound in a miraculously easy rush, and we never look back. Oh, it's better than riding a bicycle!

    I have a theory about what happened to create the God-awful mess that is American poetry today, Gary--too many Americans went to college all at once. Indeed, far too many Americans had college English teachers that were far too good, like I did, but in the 1990s, not the 1950s, and I'm talking about NUMBERS! Yes, all at once too many people realized how wonderful poetry was and what a perfect life it would make to be able work with it professionally, and above all to write it as a Poet. And because American English teachers are so American, and are also paid very well for teaching what they love to teach, they praise their young students too much. They love everything their students write and make photo copies of their poems and passed them out in class and even put together a class poetry magazine on-line. Heady stuff for someone growing up in a world that says you have to be a lawyer or a dentist to lead a good life. I mean, this poetry stuff is far better, and I know I'm good at it because my teacher said I was and even passed out copies of my work and published it too in the class magazine on-line.

    And suddenly Critical Mass arrives in America. Everyone wants to be in a creative writing workshop and, even worse, everyone wants to teach that creative writing workshop with a white house and a golden retriever!

    The market is made--the only thing missing are the readers!

    Don't tell me what happened next in the story--I'm still trying to find that reader, Gary, what is more to get published!


  4. Gary,

    I agree with you; it's not how you publish, or, even IF you publish, it's what happens in the aftermath ----who talks about your book AFTER it's published, or, who talks about you BEFORE you are published--that matters.

    We lack honest critics, honest score keepers, or, at least, a recognizable SYSTEM of reviewing and tracking new and significant work.

    Poetry is being walled up by itself. Poetry--the publishing of it--is burying Criticism--the honest talking about it.

    Poets need to take a step back, take a deep breath...


  5. Yes, Gary, I think you are entirely right. Poets are primarily concerned with advancing their careers, and write not for an audience but for those who will decide if what they write will get published or win a prize.

    If you haven't done so already, you should visit the Colrain Manuscript Conference website that advertises weekends for poets to meet the editors and publishers who determine that next step. What the organizers do is read your book and then give you advice on how to revise its structure and content so that your book will appeal more to them and thus be selected for publication. In other words, as the website states very clearly, you are paying them to show you exactly what editors and publishers want, you are paying them to remake your book to match their expectations!

    $1200.00 for a weekend in the Berkshires--look at the photos to see how beautiful the houses and the people are. And how intelligent.

    What's gone wrong here? How is this possible?

    And it's not even a satire!

  6. I guess I'd never noticed the price of Colrain before. Does that include a personal manservant?

    Seriously, Joan Houlihan was quick to make the distinction that Jeffrey Levine is one of her faculty -- not a "business partner," but then that must make her a dean or some such.

    And the accreditation process? There is none. Levine and Houlihan both have made their way in Po-Biz by backscratching each other and the ones who could elevate their standing. They have few true credentials.

    The saddest testimonial is the one from Mary Crow. Why does a state Poet Laureate need to attend a conference sponsored/taught by those with lower standing than she?

    The answer is that these manuscript conferences are merely a way to pay to have your work seen by editors. It creates an artificial bond between poet and editor, which often leads to publication.

    Colrain is the po-biz equivalent to the manuscript conferences for fiction and non-fiction where you have the opportunity to meet agents!

    Colrain gets you noticed. For a price.

  7. I’d like to publish your work!


    But you have to pay me $1,200.


    You think I’m rich? I publish poetry. How am I going to publish you if you don’t give me money?

    I don’t know what to say. This is just like…vanity publishing…

    Is that what you’re worried about? No problem! You don’t give me the money directly! That wouldn’t look good at all! Here’s what you do: You attend my manuscript conference…a lovely place…picturesque…fresh air…and…


    Brilliant editors give you live, personal feedback on your manuscript.

    Brilliant editors like yourself? What are your credentials?

    I have a blog. And one of my brilliant manuscript editors is publishing me!

    Cool. You are brilliant.


    So you give me brilliant feedback on my brilliant manuscript?

    That’s right!


    Editors…who publish books…will…look at…your…manuscript.

    Then you publish me!

    Slow down, cowboy! That would be vanity publishing! If you’re good, we might publish you.

    I am good!

    Well, then…we’ll see…


  8. "I wouldn't belong to any club that would have me as a member."

    - Groucho Marx

  9. I heard that one Colrain Conference participant actually won the next Tupelo Press prize? Is that true. Because if it is it certainly isn't getting the sort of publicity it ought to. I would say it ought to disqualify the whole lot of them.

    And who are the people who pay so much money to get published like this? I mean, this is just vanity publishing, isn't it? And if a publisher is teaching the poet how to write the book, what are we reading, the poet or the publisher?

    And who is this publisher to be given such power over poetry? What credentials does it take?

    No wonder it's all so unreadable!

  10. Tupelo got the bling, yo.

    I got the Tupelo Press Prize, so don't mess with me.

    I went to Colrain, and now them boys afraid of me.

    Levine hooked me up, yo, don't tell me it's vanity.


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