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The 2023 Poetry Publisher Update: Data, Deadlines, and a Tool to Track Submissions
Plus new insight on prizes, fee waivers, first book reading periods, and more.
Hello and happy new year, poets! This is the special, annual update of poetry book publishers, with a new spreadsheet to help you track deadlines in 2023. The usual monthly newsletter (with near-term deadlines, resources for revision, and more) will go out in February. This bulletin includes:
The list of 150+ poetry book publishers, completely updated for 2023.
Trends and data on submission fees, prizes, and more—with new insight this year on fee waivers, no-fee reading periods, and how open the door is for poets trying to publish their first book.
Possibilities for presses and people who want poetry publishing to be more accessible and fair.
This is the fifth year of the project. It’s been a very organic, poet-to-poet labor of love that started small in 2018: I’d been gathering publishers on a list as I submitted my first book (finally coming out next month!) and thought the list might be useful to others.
Eventually I included prize information, and then a group of us started a submission fee support circle in March 2021, which has given over $5,000 to over 70 poets. Some support is available now—here’s how to request it.
If you’ve been part of the fee support circle, if you’ve shared updates about publishers with me, if you’re a press that has adjusted your practices for the better: thank you.
I hope this project can make the publishing journey a little easier. If you find it helpful, please pass it along to the poets you know.
Here’s to all the poetry yet to be written—and published—
Get monthly deadline updates, revision ideas, craft conversations, and more.
The Publisher Spreadsheet
I track contests and reading periods for full-length poetry manuscripts. As of January 2023, the list has 183 different opportunities to submit your book. Every January, I go line by line to update the entire list. It’s a spreadsheet on Google that you can copy and customize to track your own submissions:
New for 2023! Please make note of a second sheet with no-fee reading periods or waivers.
As of January 12, I could confidently update 147 reading periods based on their websites or my knowledge of them after five years of doing this work. Presses and reading periods with details to be announced are gathered at the end of the spreadsheet as “TBA.”
I’ll continue to check TBA listings and update the sheet—but for the purposes of the data in this bulletin, I focused on the 147 listings I could confidently update.
Trends & Questions
Who is practicing equity? Especially in 2020, virtually every press said something about their commitment to inclusion, anti-racist work, and lifting up marginalized voices. Does that come through in their submission practices?
Submission practices matter because these reading periods are the way in for most poets. Is the front door a door at all? For example, there are multiple prizes for first books that charge $30 to submit. If you live in Michigan like me and make the minimum wage ($10.10 per hour), you’ll need to work at least three hours (accounting for taxes) to afford just one submission.
Who can encourage publishers to be more accessible, equitable, and fair? How can we celebrate those who are already doing this work well?
Two Possibilities: Who shapes poetry publishing?
I struggle with the tension between helping poets cover submission fees vs. doing more to change the system behind those fees. I think we need more advocates who sit in other positions, with different influence, to celebrate presses who “get it” and challenge presses that can do better:
What if judges make a commitment to only participate in contests with equitable practices and fees (e.g., waivers, fee-free periods, etc.)? Might this even be a collective promise would-be judges could sign onto? Judges are often folks who have more influence in the poetry world, sometimes have more privilege, less at stake if they speak up, etc... it would be one way they could advocate for poets who are earlier in the journey and may not have resources, privilege, etc. to get in the door.
Funders—with recent NEA grants as an example
What if funders used this data to help assess a grantee’s bonafide commitment to equity and inclusion? What if publishers that have received new funding adjust their fees or offer fee waivers accordingly?
For example, the National Endowment for the Arts recently announced a new round of grants. Almost $400,000 was granted to 16 presses that offer 20 of the 147 opportunities we’re exploring in this bulletin. Of those 16 presses:
Only two offer no-fee reading periods.
Only four offer fee waivers.
Three increased their fees from information I had in 2022.
The average submission fee (among those charging) is $25, one dollar higher than the average fee on the full list of opportunities.
One possibility is that any press that has received federal funding offers a fee-free submission period or commits to a number of fee waivers. If you’re a press that’s ready to make that commitment, please let me know.
If you’re a funder that wants to use this data, I’m happy to provide any additional information or context that would be helpful.
The Data: Poetry Publishing in 2023
About 82% (120) of the 147 reading periods charge a reading fee. The average submission fee is $24. This is the same as 2022, but I noticed at least 10 reading periods with increased fees.
With over 30 listings still marked TBA, I’m concerned more fee increases may be on the way. I don’t recall this many fee increases happening last year.
Fee Waivers: Not as many as you’d hope
Do fee increases mean fee waivers? No. Of the 120 reading periods that charge a fee:
76 do not offer a fee waiver.
17 offer a fee waiver—that’s only 14%.
What really strikes me is that the majority of presses that offer waivers are small, scrappy, very independent presses—not the big names.
The highest submission fee is $35 and is charged by the National Poetry Series and the Academy of American Poets First Book Award. The Academy offers waivers. The National Poetry Series makes a point of saying they don’t.
New! First Books
This year, I wanted to dig into opportunities for poets who are early in their publishing career. How friendly and accessible is the door into publishing? How generous is the compensation?
25 reading periods (about 21%) are open only to first books or first/second books.
The average fee among these is $23.
Only two have no fee: The Bergman Prize at Changes Press and Green Bottle Press
Only four offer fee waivers.
Two have increased their fees and do not offer waivers, as far as I can find on their sites: The Berkshire Prize at Tupelo Press and The Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize.
Two do not offer any advance or cash prize: the Gatewood Prize at Switchback ($15 fee) and Green Bottle Press (no fee). The Gatewood prize offers copies only, and Green Bottle Press offers copies and royalties (after 100 copies are sold).
Of the 23 reading periods that offer some kind of cash advance/prize for first books, the average prize is $2,522. That’s weighted by the Bergman Prize, which is $10,000. If I remove that prize, the average is $2,182.
Compensation: Still too murky. (I’m being kind.)
It’s ridiculous how hard it is to find this information. There are presses who will bark at you multiple times about how vital (and nonrefundable) your submission fee is but never say a thing about royalties.
Of the 147 opportunities, 34 have no compensation information that I could find in a public spot. That’s almost a quarter of the list. And many have vague information, such as “prize includes publication and a standard contract.”
This is what I count as compensation:
Cash prize or advance
While I may note if a prize offers a promotional package or residency, I do not count this as compensation. Compensation needs to be able to put food on the table or keep the heat on. An author copy can be sold. An advance can be used for groceries. Royalties (though often small) can help buy a bus pass or fill up the car. If a press says they offer a $10,000 prize but $1,500 is a promotional budget, I list the cash as $8,500.
Of the 113 reading periods with compensation information available:
About 80% (91) offer a cash prize or advance. The average is $2,019.
About 20% (22) do not offer a cash prize or advance.
Royalty information is hard to come by and tends to be all over the map. Publishers define royalties in different ways, so I have not been able to standardize this info in a way that would let us know what the average royalty is.
No Cash Prize: Worth Close Consideration
I’m curious how fairness plays out in the group of 22 reading periods that offer no cash advance or cash prize. You might expect most or all of these to charge no reading fee, offer waivers, or otherwise find a way to make the exchange fair. However:
The majority in this group (15 of them) still charge a reading fee.
The average reading fee is $19—but most of the presses (9 of them) actually charge more than that, anywhere from $20 to $30.
And only four presses in this group offer a fee waiver (as far as I could find).
Some in this group do not even appear to offer royalties or only offer royalties once a certain number of copies have been sold. If I was submitting a book now, I’d proceed with caution around a press that charges a reading fee but does not offer cash and also does not offer clear, competitive compensation (royalties and copies).
Is this a balanced ecosystem?
If each opportunity received 250 submissions, that would be over $725,000 put into the poetry community by writers—in just one year of submitting.
The total cash prize pool in 2023 is $183,700. That’s 25% of the fee revenue generated if each opportunity receives 250 submissions. And yes, publishers have expenses. The fees are by no means pure profit, but this percentage hints at the balance of the exchange between poets and publishers.
I’ll continue to update the spreadsheet as new information is available throughout 2023. Updates and deadlines will be shared every month in future issues of the poetry bulletin, but unless incredibly groundbreaking things come to light, I won’t update the data (above) again after this first big push.
Get the spreadsheet of opportunities on Google here.
If you need support to cover manuscript submission fees, find details here.
If you’re a publisher who wants to share an update, please say hello.