Writer Beware hears from a lot of poets. Much of the time, they've either gotten mixed up with, or are inquiring about the legitimacy of, vanity anthology companies such as Poetry.com. Often, though, they have questions about agents. Is the brand-new agency with an interest in poets a good one to query? Is the agent who just asked for the entire manuscript of their poetry collection reputable? Is the representation offer they just received legit?
I've never yet been able to answer yes.
Listen up, poets. Apart from celebrity projects and writers who are already well-known, successful literary agents rarely represent poets. Even in the best of circumstances, poetry collections are a tough sell, and the poetry market, which is dominated by small presses, simply isn’t lucrative enough to make it worth most agents’ while. Poets generally get their start by selling individual poems to reputable markets. Once they've built up a track record, they can submit their collections to small publishers on their own.
Beware, therefore, of literary agents whose guidelines say they represent poets or that they're seeking poetry collections. Nearly always, they’re unscrupulous operators looking to charge a fee, or amateurs who know nothing about the realities of the business. Most have no track record of sales to paying publishers of any kind.
To many of you who read this blog, the above will be old news. Judging by the number of questions I get from poets seeking literary agents, however, for many writers it will be a news flash. I'm hoping that websearches will bring them here before they pay that $80 critique fee, or hand over that $250 submission fee, or are steered into a deal with an expensive vanity publisher.
For poets who have read this far, here are some helpful links:
- The top ten questions poets ask, from Poets & Writers.
- A comprehensive FAQ from the UK's Poetry Society.
- Poet Beware is my own article detailing some of the schemes and pitfalls poets may encounter.
- Thorough, commonsense advice on how to sell poetry, from published poet Neile Graham. This is one of the best resources I've ever found on this subject.
- Solid tips on writing and publishing poetry, from the Academy of American Poets.
- An article on how to submit poetry to literary magazines, from author and editor Charlie Hughes.
- A large list of poetry journals and presses, from the Poetry Society of America.