Written by Emily Harstone January 28th, 2015

The Truth About Poetry Manuscripts

Novelists and non-fiction writers face a lot of hurdles on their road to publication, but they are very different than the ones faced by poets.

The major hurdle that poets face is reading and contest fees.

I always tell writers looking to publish fiction or non-fiction that they should never pay a traditional publisher.  I tell them a traditional publisher of any standing will not charge their writers. This is true for fiction and for non-fiction. It is true for most genres.

Unfortunately it is not true for poetry books.

I am not saying that there are not good, reliable, traditional poetry publishers, just that there are very few that don’t charge a reading fee or a contest entry fee for authors without a significant track record (ie: a book or two).

That does not mean that the publisher should charge you anything beyond the reading fee. A legitimate publisher will not. But the reading fee has become standard for poetry manuscript contests and even for open reading periods.  Reading fees usually range in price from $25  to $50.

I have a lot of problems with reading fees and as you can see from our guiding principles,, we would not review a publisher that charged them. However as an individual who has an academic career, I must submit to these publishers.

If you are serious about publishing your book of poetry, the truth is that you will most likely end up paying a fee. Most publishers are open to first books and unsolicited manuscripts only through open reading periods (with a fee attached) and contests.

Most of the best publishers only select one book of poetry to be published a year by a poet without a previous book. These books are always selected via reading periods or more commonly contests.  Winning one of these big contests is a great thing but it isn’t easy.

I would say that a little over half the publishers I would consider for my book charge a reading fee and because I am serious about getting it published, I have ended up paying that fee.

There are other options out there and there are a number of good presses that don’t charge poets. New presses and very small presses often do not. If you want to take a look at some of the presses that have open reading periods for poetry manuscripts this list of 62 Poetry Manuscript Publishers is very helpful.


We Send You Publishers Seeking Submissions.

Sign up for our free e-magazine and we will send you reviews of publishers seeking short stories, poetry, essays, and books.

Subscribe now and we'll send you a free copy of our book Submit, Publish, Repeat