How to Make Money from Writing Poetry
By: Dannie Phan | January 19th 2021
Starting a career as a professional poet isn’t easy, but that doesn’t mean that the side hustle isn’t worth it. Aspiring poets can start bringing in a supplementary income within their first year of querying. With hard work and patience, that supplementary income can eventually be the only income you have to rely on.
How to Get Paid to Write Poetry
Writing poetry is a challenging task. Under ideal circumstances, drafting the words you want to share with the world would be as simple as letting them flow out of you without concern for rhyme scheme, rhythm, or meter. While there is a market for this kind of poetry – known as free-verse – it is often to a poet’s benefit to first explore those fields that originally established poetry as an art form.
Put another way: if you want to get paid to write poetry, you have to first sit down and write.
Writing Good Poetry
“Good poetry” is a subjective phrase. What one literary journal, chapbook publisher, or group of Patreon subscribers consider to be “good” poetry will vary based on the trends of the day as well as the meaning that you want to convey. Some audiences, for example, will not hesitate to make deeper meanings out of aesthetic images brought together with purple prose – and to a poet’s credit, should she manage to create a piece that inspires such debate.
However, other audiences may turn up their nose at this kind of work and favor instead poetry that is “literary” in its meaning – often based on the struggles of reality and dictated by a metric that can be counted out. This poetry, though, too, has its place in the world and can stir the imagination just as readily as free-verse or poetry like it.
Breaking Down Genre
Put another way: to write “good” poetry, you have to understand what genre you want to write in. Genre here is different than metric; “free-verse” poetry isn’t a genre by rather a mode through which a poet can write. Genre, comparatively, encompasses all of the settings and themes and tropes a poet can use to her advantage. Some of the most popular genres of poetry include but are not limited to:
- Epics – Poetic epics are among the longest works of poetry published to date. These poems are distinguished not only by their length but also by the topics they tend to depict. Epics will often describe the heroic deeds of a singular or group of protagonists. Historical epics tend to feature heroes of legend from the past, whereas modern epics can create legends out of parties from the present. Examples of epic poetry include both “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey,” by Homer.
- Pastoral poetry – Pastoral poetry describes rural living with a romantic and gentle air. These poems tend to emphasize the simplicity of early rural chores in contrast to the development of the modern world. Examples of pastoral poetry include “Goblin Market,” by Christina Rossetti.
- Elegies – Elegies are obituaries put to verse. These pieces are mourning pieces meant to help both the writer and the reader understand the lessons that can be learned from someone’s life while also working through their grief. Examples of elegies include “Epitaph to a Dog,” written by Lord Byron.
- Satirical – Satirical poetry can both mock the form of poetry being written and the subject of that poetry. Examples of satirical poetry can include “Sea Dreams,” by Lord Alfred Tennyson.
- Lyric – It’s not easy to pin down lyric poetry. This form of poetry tends to describe work that touches on a person’s strong feelings in one direction or another. Epics are considered to fall under the umbrella of lyric poetry, as are ballads and sonnets. The bulk of Shakespeare’s published sonnets are considered to be lyric poetry.
- Odes – Similar to an elegy, but detailing grief or strong emotion regarding a subject either living, dead, or inanimate.
- Narrative – Narrative poems take on the form of stories more so than they do poems. Unlike epics, however – though there is some crossover between the two genres – narrative poems do not depict the deeds of famous historical or mythological figures. Instead, these stories are more explicitly fictionalized. Examples of narrative poetry include “The Raven,” by Edgar Allen Poe.
- Ballads – Ballads blur the line between poetry and music, as they can be either spoken or sung. These poems often have a set style, establishing the term “ballad” as both a genre of poetry and as a style of it. Examples of ballads include “The Ballad of Reading Gaol,” by Oscar Wilde.
These genres, while versatile, do not readily comply with what readers of fiction may understand to be “genre.” Poetry can also be written in these more popular genres, many of which include:
- Literary – Poems that detail events that can happen in everyday life.
- Mystery – Poems that leave the reader guessing as to the goings-on of the characters or depicted subjects involved.
- Thriller – Poems that encourage high emotion, often due to feelings of stress.
- Horror – Poems that shock using means of psychological, physical, or societal events that make the reader uncomfortable.
- Historical – Poems that detail events or the lives of people who lived in the past, be they famous or not.
- Romance – Poems that are meant to woo, to celebrate the concept of love, to mourn lost love, or to otherwise address the topic of romantic, platonic, and sexual love.
- Bildungsroman – Poetry involving the process through which a character comes of age, either physically or psychologically.
- Speculative – Poems that involve subjects that do not exist in reality, including personifications of non-human beings or the use of magic.
- Fantasy – Similar to speculative poems, fantasy poems often invoke images of knights, princesses, princes, royalty, and magic.
- Dystopian and science fiction – Poems that not only disrupt the norm but challenge it in such a way that the behaviors within the poem seem both foreign and contrary to a general state of peace.
- Magical realism – A form of poetry that’s taken root in Latin America and Spanish-speaking countries; while similar to both speculative and fantasy poetry, poetic magical realism sees everyday events interwoven with literary tropes.
Note that no one genre of poetry sells better than any other. Instead, you only have to go about finding the market you’re interested in if you want to sell fantasy poetry versus literary poetry. While you’re first bringing together your work, find the genre that you’re most interested in writing, but don’t let concerns about whether or not that genre will sell overwhelm you. Instead, get your work down on paper, then start looking for journals or other publishers who may want to buy it.
Choosing Your Style
Once you have your genre of choice sorted out, you can determine what style of poetry you want to embrace. Note that you’re in no way confined to one style over the others. However, there are some literary magazines and online publishers who prefer to pay for poetry written in one form over another.
The term “style” here refers to how you write your poem. Certain types of poems have specific rules confining them, meaning that they can be more readily categorized based on, for example, how many syllables each line has or what kind of rhyme the poem uses.
Some of the most common styles of poetry readers see today include but, again, are not limited to:
- Blank verse – Poetry written with a meter but without a rhyme scheme.
- Free-verse – Poetry written without a meter or rhyme scheme but with established line breaks.
- Prose poetry – Prose poetry and flash fiction have a significant amount of overlap. Prose poetry is poetry without meter or rhyme that’s often styled as a paragraph or a narrative.
- Rhymed poetry – Poetry with or without a meter but with a marked rhyme.
- Haiku – A three-line poem originating in Japan. Its style is dictated by its syllables; the first line has five, the second line has seven, and the last line has five.
- Sonnets – A fourteen-line poem ending in a couplet.
- Limericks – A single-stanza poem with an AABBA rhyme scheme that tends to be humorous.
- Soliloquies – A monologue typically narrated by a single speaker. Soliloquies can be written in the styles of other forms of poetry but are distinguished from those forms by the singularity of their narration.
- Villanelles – A poem with nineteen lines and a complex internal rhyme scheme determined by the poet in question. Examples of villanelles include “Mad Girl’s Love Song,” by Sylvia Plath.
Revise, Revise, Revise
Once you have your poetry crafted and your rough draft complete, let the poem sit for a while. It can be tempting, especially if you’re eager to see your name on paper or to bring home a few extra dollars, to submit a piece of poetry that you haven’t revised to a journal as soon as you’ve written it. You’re not as likely to get published, however, if you do so.
Instead, give yourself a day or two to mull over your poem. Then, once you’re able to separate yourself from the piece, sit back down and revise. Repeat this process a few different times until you’re satisfied – or as satisfied as you’re going to be – with the piece you’ve written. Then and only then should you go about submitting it to the journal or publisher that you’re interested in working with.
Note, too, that you’re under no obligation to edit your work on your own. Instead, you can reach out to a professor, editor, or any available beta readers for guidance. All of these parties can help you identify any weak spots in your poem. In turn, you’ll have a better chance of bringing your work up to snuff.
Submit Poetry for Money
Only when you have poetry that you feel you’re happy with should you consider submitting it to a press, online publication, or another publisher. To find parties looking for poetry to publish, you can take advantage of platforms like Submittable. Here, you’ll find a plethora of parties looking for content that they are often willing to pay for as well as poetry contests.
Do note, though, that submitting a piece of poetry to one of these sources does not guarantee that it will be published. Similarly, this submission process can often cost you money before it generates an income for you. Many poetry magazines and websites require their potential-authors to pay a submission fee. This fee helps keep the presses in question running.
Before you complete the submission process, double-check to make sure that your poetry meets the journal’s submission guidelines. Then, once you’ve entered all of the pertinent information, send your piece off. You should hear from the journal you’re interested in within one to two months, depending on their publication period and the number of people they have on staff. Afterward, the date of payout will depend on the publication.
How to Sell Poetry
Selling poetry is different than submitting poetry for money. If you’re looking to sell your poems, you don’t always have to go through an existing literary journal or publisher. Instead, you have the option of taking commissions.
Different platforms, like Patreon, make it easy for you to reach out to an audience looking for unique poetry or poetry upon request. You can make a Patreon account and start advertising poems for a commission, bringing in a consistent stream of supporters as you go. Alternatively, you have the option of advertising your commissions on social media, using a Carrd or similar web page to let potential buyers know that you’re open for business.
Alternatively, you can always take advantage of platforms like Fiverr, Etsy, Guru, and Upwork. When you make an account on platforms like these, you can begin working for clients who want you to write poetry on their behalf. Some of this work may turn out to be ghostwriting work, whereas other assignments may allow you to publish your work under your name. Because you have the right to choose what kind of work you take on in advance, you can decide whether or not ghostwriting poetry is the right path for you, both in terms of credit and cash.
If you have a substantial amount of content and don’t have any representation. Consider self-publishing your poetry online or selling poetry books on Amazon.
Write Poems for Money
It isn’t always easy to establish a full-time freelance or professional career as a poet, or freelance writer. That does not mean, however, that it isn’t possible.
New writers starting to write poems for money may need to keep their expectations regarding their freelance career realistic at first. Unless you’re some manner of wunderkind, you’re unlikely to make a livable wage during your first or second year of work. Instead, consider maintaining a primary full- or part-time job while you begin to write poetry on the side.
During this stretch of time, you’ll have the opportunity to sort out your style and determine what genre you’re most comfortable writing in. You can begin to stack up publishing credits and get your name in a writer’s circuit. Your reputation as a poet, as well as your publishing rate, will help you either grow your credibility or begin establishing a clients’ list.
While it’s not necessarily easier to get your poetry published if you’ve been published before, having pre-published works can add credibility to your career. If you want to begin working with a publisher to publish a chapbook or another collection of work, these credits will do some of the legwork needed to help establish your style on a professional level. With that kind of credibility comes larger payments for your work. If you’re able to make your way into one of these positions, you’ll have a better chance of leaving your full- or part-time job behind to focus on your writing.
Finding a website to publish your poetry, or that pays freelancers for writing poems can be a challenge if you don’t know where to start looking. As mentioned, certain websites and their affiliated journals will only accept poems written in certain styles or genres. With that in mind, you’ll need to be discerning as you research what kind of places may be willing to publish your work.
Note, too, that different websites and publishers want different quantities of work. Some publishers are more interested in chapbooks than they are in individual poems, while other websites would prefer to publish a single poem over a collection. With that in mind, keep your research specific and up-to-date.
Some websites currently offering to pay their writers for an accepted poem include but are in no way limited to:
- The Account
- Apartment Poetry
- The University of Alabama Press
- Blue Mountain Arts
- Cartridge Lit
- Chicken Soup for the Soul
- Driftwood Press
- The University Press of Florida
- The Meadow
- New Ohio Review
- The New Yorker
- Passages North
- Real Fake Lake
- Sweet Lit
- Willow Springs
- Zone 3
If you’re still not sure where to publish your poetry, take advantage of the submission guides offered up by Entropy Magazine. Alternatively, explore the open contests and journals currently advertising through Submittable.
How to Publish a Poem for Money
It takes time for a poet’s career to gain traction. The best way to start making money as a poet, however, is to start writing. If you have the time, energy, and inspiration to start putting poetry to paper, don’t wait. Instead, get your thoughts down, revise them as you need to, and then start exploring the different outlets that may be interested in sharing your work.
If you want to supplement your poet’s income while you’re still getting your feet off of the ground, you can. You can sign up for an account through a program like Swagbucks and make money by taking surveys, searching the web, and playing games. The platform awards you points for every in-site activity you participate in. Once you’ve earned enough points, you’ll be able to cash your winnings out in exchange for PayPal credit or gift cards to your favorite retailers.
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