How To Make Money With Poetry

While paying your bills with your poems might be an improbable goal, if you think out-of-the-box it might not be an impossible one.

"There's no money in poetry." You'll find this common refrain everywhere from writers magazines to creative writing courses. For the most part, moreover, it's true. It is far more difficult to make money writing poetry than almost any other type of creative fiction or nonfiction. But, if you have a creative outlook and a strong head for marketing you can earn money with your poetry -- if not enough to pay the rent, at least enough to cover some bills and treat you to a nice dinner once in a while.

Starting with the obvious, there are traditional publishing markets -- zines, journals, magazines and online venues -- that publish poetry regularly. There are publishers of books, chapbooks and anthologies of poetry. And there are a significant number of contests for aspiring and experienced poets alike. You can find many of these listed in the current year's Poets Market, or check out online markets at PublishersArchive.

Although it seems as though there are a lot of traditional markets to pursue, there are many, many more poets competing for those venues than you could even imagine. If you manage to break through the crowd and get published, the pay for most poetry markets is usually paltry. So what is a lover of verse to do but think outside the box?

Self-Publish

With digital publishing and print-on-demand services offering no-cost or low-cost publishing options to self-publishing writers, putting together a small book of poetry in a high-quality package is not difficult even for a novice. You can purchase copies of your printed book or chapbook in small quantities at a reasonable price. You can then sell your book to local retailers, or at markets and literary events in your region.

While any collection poetry can be sold in this way, you might have more success with themed collections. Consider compiling a book of love poems for Valentine's day. Or a book of poetry packaged for weddings, or anniversaries, or the birth of a child. These would make unique gifts and create extra marketing opportunities for you.

Readings

Once you have a physical product to sell, check your area for poetry slams and clubs that hold readings. You're likely to find these in larger urban areas, so if you live in a small town or rural area, you may need to drive a fair distance to find these venues. Participating in poetry readings and festivals is a great way to sell copies of your chapbooks and become known to poetry-lovers in your region. Increasing your popularity and name-recognition will also help you hone your craft and receive more opportunities to publish in traditional markets as well.

Personalize

Just like caricature artists can earn money by creating quick works of art at markets and festivals, you can create fast, personalized poems for people at the same venues. People who want to have a funny poem written about themselves, or a love poem to express how they feel about their significant other, or even a breakup poem.

If you've honed your skills at markets and produced business cards with a website you promote to all your customers, you might get additional poetry requests or even bookings at parties through your website and contact information, much like the way The Haiku Guys have converted their quirky writing talents into a solid business.

If you can work quickly and with style and wit, this might be a good way for you to supplement your income with your writing.

Collaborate

Not all songs are poems, and not all poetry should be put to music, but the two artistic fields can overlap significantly. The view of poetry as music came to the forefront when Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for the poetry of his songs, but the intermingling of music and poetry has a long history. Even recent music has been inspired and influenced by poetry. In 1965, for example, Simon and Garfunkle had commercial success putting a 19th-century poem to music, releasing "Richard Corey" on their Sounds of Silence album; and in 1972 Fleetwood Mac's song Dragonfly was adapted from a poem written by William Henry Davies in 1927.

Poetry is also often a natural fit with artwork, making very marketable posters, postcards and greeting cards. These can be sold online, at craft fairs, or at a discount to local shops that sell gift items.

You may have the musical or artistic skills to create these items on your own, but quite often the best way to make money with your poems in this manner is to collaborate with someone who has made a reputation for themselves as a musician or designer.

Write for Greeting Card Companies

This option might be a bit of a stretch since what greeting card companies like is rarely the sort of poetry that is normally written by poets, but if you can create the generic, sentimental verses that card companies bank on, it can be a way to make money from your writing.

The Bottom Line

Writing poetry will likely never be considered a lucrative venture, but if that is what you truly love, there are ways to use your verse writing to generate some income. The sad truth is, though, that you probably shouldn't quit your day job.

Wendy J. Woudstra

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