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Formatting a Poetry Collection

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On a post titled Anthologies (, Buglady and Soosaw asked about submitting a poetry collection to a publisher.  It really needs its own thread, I think, so here's my answer there: 

If you're submitting a collection, you should sub the entire collection.  You will need to organize it in a way that makes sense to you (thematically, chronologically, whatever), and you will need a table of contents as well.  You will also need a cover letter.

If you're querying about a collection, you would have to describe what the collection is about, say how many poems are in it, what format you see it as (most likely picture book, but it could be for older readers and therefore just a collection of print poems), plus you'd include your Table of Contents along with it.

Here's a link to a post on Winning Writers about how to get your stuff pulled together for submission as a collection:
#1 - March 28, 2007, 07:03 AM


Thank you so much, Kelly!  Your post is very helpful!    :)

#2 - March 29, 2007, 09:24 AM

Yes, thanks, Kelly.  Very helpful link.

What about markets - houses that will look at poetry collections?   And is a poetry collection something to approach an agent with?  You just don't generally see a listing for poetry collections in the CWIM, ya know?

#3 - March 29, 2007, 11:28 AM


If you look in the Subject Matter Index of your CWIM, you'll find "poetry."  If it applies to book publishers, then it likely means a poetry collection (whether single-author or an anthology).  Also, spend a lot of time at libraries and book stores looking to see who publishes collections (and not just by X.J. Kennedy or Jack Prelutsky or Paul Janeczko or Lee Bennett Hopkins or Naomi Shiyab Nye, etc.)

My understanding from speaking with editors at conferences is that it's hard to break in with a collection of poems if you are a completely unknown poet -- some sort of track record with journals or magazines or anthologies is probably a help.  Particularly if you've got a collection of poems about something fairly common -- say, the moon.  Lots of moon poems out there.  As Karla Kuskin said in a poem, you might be better off writing about a radish ("Write about a radish/Too many people write about the moon").  But an original, inventive subject ups your chances of being read and considered.

#4 - March 30, 2007, 07:30 AM


I think I see what you mean, Kelly.  In the CWIM Index a rhyming pb, for instance, would be assumed under "picture books", not "poetry".  Thanks for that tip.  I'm ebarrassed to say that hadn't occurred to me before.  Your advice about having credits and choosing a standout theme is excellent, too.  Thanks again!

#5 - March 30, 2007, 10:21 AM


Yeah, well -- it's hardly obvious from the text, but it's the only thing that makes sense.  And most of the houses listed as taking poetry actually put out poetry collections (if you peruse their catalogues).
#6 - March 30, 2007, 01:29 PM

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Thanks for the info, Kelly.
#7 - March 30, 2007, 01:35 PM

Barb  :owl


I know this is a really old thread, but I had to comment because it's so helpful. Good info.

Think I'll go start that radish collection now.
#8 - April 22, 2008, 04:56 PM

The linked article is not for children's poetry, per se, but seems to be more for entering adult poetry contests.  I'm wondering if the recommendation to use single spacing applies to children's poetry collections?  Children's publishers all seem to specify double space, but they say so in guidelines that apply to both prose and poetry.  Do you think it would be okay to single space a children's poetry collection?  To my eye it looks much better and avoid making the manuscript too thick.  My background, though, is adult poetry, so I may just think it looks better because it's what I'm used to.

#9 - April 27, 2008, 08:20 AM

As a longtime graphic designer, I most definitely think single spacing (or maybe 1.25) looks better too. It's also easier to read, if formatted correctly. But I assumed that editors wanted the extra space for making comments. At least, that's what I like to believe. Also, I don't consider "Courier" a very legible font (as the article stated), though I'm sure editors have seen worse.

I use double spacing because I'm scared of angering anyone. But even long poems usually have short lines (esp. compared to prose) so there would be plenty of space on the side for editor comments.

Maybe it's just easier for them to make global guidelines so there isn't any confusion.
#10 - April 27, 2008, 05:05 PM
« Last Edit: April 28, 2008, 10:54 AM by luna5000 »


See "Putting Your Petry in Oder: the Mix-Tape Strategy" in the may-June 08 Poets and Writers Magazine. Funny, too.

#11 - May 25, 2008, 09:10 PM

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These comments have been quite helpful!
Thanks, to all of you.

Here's another link to Jeffrey Levine, editor in chief of Tupelo Press -- some of his ideas for organizing a poetry collection:
#12 - June 04, 2008, 12:48 PM
"Writing is making sense of life."  --  Nadine Gordimer

I'm still working on a poetry collection, and I'm wondering how many poems is enough?  How many are too many?  I've seen lots of poetry books where there are more than one on a page, and lots where a single poem (longer ones, or poems with special visual elements, such as concrete poems) take up more than one page themselves. 

So how is one to know how many poems to include in a collection?  And, do you include more than you need so that an editor has room to cut some?

#13 - July 11, 2008, 05:24 AM

hi, buglady,
Are you envisioning your poetry collection in picture book format, with 32 pages?
I've sold two poetry collections to be published in that format, and I subbed close to 30 poems for each
collection.  The editor cut four poems from the first collection, and I don't know yet how many the second
collection will contain.
My strategy was to A, crank out as many poems as I could over a period of weeks or months, B, let the ms. breathe for awhile, repeat A and B ad infinitum, then cut cut cut, keeping only the strongest. 
I hope this helps.
Good luck with your collection!
Jessica Swaim
#14 - July 11, 2008, 09:21 AM

Thanks, Jessica.  Yes, I was picturing a pb-type of format.  Thirty sounds about right, then. 

Thanks for the reply.

#15 - July 11, 2008, 09:58 AM

B.J. Lee

Jessica - you mentioned subbing 30 poems for a 32-page poetry collection yet I' ve seen many collections where there is just one poem to a double-page spread- such as Douglas Florians' Beast Feast, Prelutsky's Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant and Alice Schertle's How Now Brown Cow to name a few. Some of these books are more than 32 pages but still only onepoem per page (in some cases, like that of D. Florian, quite short). I wonder about this seeming discrepancy: you got accepted with 30 poems, which would be approx. one poem per page; these other books I've mentioned got accepted with 1 poem per double spread, or 15 poems per 32-page book, half the amount of yours. Can anyone comment on this?  Of course, D. Florian is a A/I so he can do what he wants but the other two examples are not. Thanks

BJ Lee
#16 - November 29, 2008, 10:24 AM


I think you're always better off subbing much more than necessary, so that the editor can pick and choose those poems she feels are strongest for the collection. 

Susie :D
#17 - November 29, 2008, 11:39 AM

I agree with Susie, more is better.
These big-selling authors might get away with fewer poems though, and definitely formats vary.
Editors often cut poems but it can be surprising to authors which ones get cut and which are kept.
It's a personal pet peeve of mine that many short poetry collections contain
a handful of poems that seem weak compared to the rest.  A subjective judgment on my
part for sure, but for what books cost these days, I strive to give my readers their money's
Good luck and happy writing!
#18 - December 01, 2008, 10:07 AM

B.J. Lee

Thanks Jessica and Susie for your comments. I will go with more rather than less as you suggest but I think another factor that must be considered is the length of the poem and the "story" content - just as one would go about story-boarding a pb, perhaps one should storyboard a poetry collection and see how many pictures the words of the poems actually create.
#19 - December 01, 2008, 05:58 PM


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