Friday 21 October 2011

Getting Poetry published in the UK

Books are harder to publish nowadays, and paper magazines are struggling to survive. Competition for publication is fiercer, thanks to all the budding poets produced by creative writing courses. If you're going to be published you'll need be professional and stubborn. Here are some suggestions.

New Possibilities

Perhaps there was a time when budding poets got published in ever better magazines until they were finally ready to send a book manuscript to a publisher. You can still pursue that route (details at the end) but the times they are achangin'.

There's a world beyond paper. It can replace paper for some people. For others it's a way to make progress towards book publication

  • Performance - Venues continue to open
  • Festivals - In summer there's a string of festivals - a chance to see and be seen.
  • Creative Writing - Opportunities have emerged around Creative Writing courses and education in general - residencies, schools, etc. Once you're on a Creative Writing course you'll be able to develop a network of contacts.
  • Mentoring - The Poetry School and Nine Arches Press are running a mentoring and publication scheme - see Primers
  • Interning - Various organisations (especially magazines) offer foot-in-the-door chances
  • Grants and Fellowships - A few exist for developing writers. Contact your regional arts board
  • The WWW - Some web publications are very respectable, or you could start your own. You could put recordings online. At least you could become part of the scene by contributing to discussion boards and blogs. Web magazines are already appearing on the Acknowledgements pages of books. Here are just a few of the UK ones

If you're young there are special opportunities

  • The "Foyle's Young Poet of the Year" prize is for under-18s
  • The "Eric Gregory Awards" are for under-30s. These have been going for a long time.
  • Mentoring - a number of organisations (not least of which Faber!) have been given money to foster young talent, often leading to pamphlet publication.
  • Age-limited anthologies pop up every-so-often too

Traditional Routes

First decide on what your aims are and why you have them. Poetry is a tiny world - the amount of fame (or even respect) available is limited. According to Nielsen Bookscan

  • not one of the shortlisted collections in the 2007 T.S. Eliot Prize for poetry had sold more than 1000 copies by 2008. The winner ("The Drowned Book" by Sean O'Brien) sold 785. "Hawks and Doves" by Alan Gilles had sold 39 copies.
  • sales of poetry in 2009 stood at £8.4m. By 2013, they had fallen to £7.8m

And "who-you-know" still matters. Here's part of an article from "The Wolf", issue 15, (Summer 2007) by its editor

  • Recently I visited a sifter for a leading poetry mag in the UK. She asked me to cast an eye over a stack-pile of submissions with a clear preference on ordering all poems (and prose) into 'Friends' and 'unknowns' piles. All 'Friends' would be placed in the provisional PUBLISH folder, often before the intention to read a line of their work. Apparently this is 'how the magazine has operated for years.'

Several publishers (including many of the bigger ones) don't read their slush pile. They depend on recommendations, so you'll need to get yourself noticed. Paper magazines are a rather slow way of doing this.

Paper Magazines

Moreso than in the UK you can often send all round the year. UK mags often don't like multiple submissions. I've not noticed a bias against rhyming poetry. Note that a poem published in a poetry group newsletter probably gets read more than a poem in some of the magazines mentioned below.

Which are most worth sending to? Here are some pointers

  • Grants
    • For 2000-1 the magazines most supported by the Arts Council were London Magazine (£27,500), Poetry Review (£25,000), PN Review (£17,500), Wasafari (£20,400), London Review of Books (£14,050) and Ambit (£11,200).
    • In 2004-5, various presses and magazines were supported in some way by Arts Council England. Beneficiaries included Other Poetry (£6k), Acumen (£12k), Agenda (£29k), Rialto (£88k) and Smiths Knoll (£9k).
    • In 2005-6, Arts Council England beneficiaries included Bloodaxe (£3,500),Flambard Press (£4,500), Headland Publications (£16,350), Magma Poetry (£14,950), Other Poetry (£8,750), Peterloo Poets (£165,000), Wasafari (£4,900).
  • Forward Anthology
    • 2003+2004: Acumen (1), Interpreter's House (2), The North (1), Poetry London (3), Poetry Review (1), Smiths Knoll (1), TLS (2)
    • 2009: Acumen (1), Dream Catcher (1), The London Review of Books (3), Magma (1), Poetry Review (4), Rialto (1), Smiths Knoll (1)
    • 2010: Brittle Star (2), Erotic Review (1), Frogmore Papers (3), Irish Pages (2), The Journal (1), The Liberal (1), The London Review of Books (3), Poetry Nation Review (1), Poetry Review (3), The Shop (1), TLS (3), Warwick Review (2), The Wolf (1)
    • 2013: The London Review of Books (2),Magma (1), The North (2), Poetry Nation Review (1), Poetry Review (2), TLS (2), Warwick Review (1), The Wolf (1)
  • The Best British Poetry
    • In 2011 the top contributors were Poetry London (8), Iota (5), Magma (5), Rialto (5).
    • In 2014 the top contributors were Poetry London (10), Poetry Review (8), Kaffeeklatsch (7), London Review of Books (6).

In the poetry world I think these are the big hitters

The following are smaller or less established than the magazines in the previous section, but in other respects just as serious. Some even pay.

The easiest way to research these is to visit the National Poetry Library on the South Bank, or see

These magazines often aren't easy to get into. Prizewinning Andrew McMillan tweeted that "3/4 of Physical never made it into magazines at all, and a lot of what did was only after I'd managed to find a publisher"


Many competitions offer few bragging rights and not that much money. Even success in the big ones doesn't lead to book publication The bigger ones are

A longer list of competitions is maintained by the poetry library.


Also known as chapbooks. More publishers are producing them now - see Carrie Etter's list. A few competitions offer pamphlet publication as the prize. They're one of the most promising ways to be published if the competition's respectable - no networking necessary, and you won't need to wait years for a verdict. The ones below are worthwhile, but the entry fees are about 20 quid.

See also my article on Pamphlet Publication in the UK.


Not easy nowadays. Read "How not to get your poetry published by Helena Nelson. There's a lot more to getting a book published than just sending the manuscript away.


  1. I know its there is a high level of competition in UK when it comes to Poetry. I also discovered that a lot of modern haiku poems are from UK. :)

  2. Just start a blog and publish online... I get my poems seen hundreds of times per day over at !

    Then use social media to advertise them. It's better than a measly 1000 copies sold by the award winners mentioned, surely.