POETPRENUER: HOW TO MAKE MONEY WITH POETRY
They say a novelist is a failed short story writer, and a short story writer is a failed poet. Although I have huge respect for novelists and short story writers (I’ve done a little of each myself), I tend to agree. So does Mark Twain, who famously told a correspondent that he’d written a long letter because he lacked the time to write a short one.
Poetry is efficient. It can be beautiful, funny, and powerful, carrying the impact of 100,000-word tomes in just a few precisely chosen and placed words. In my not terribly humble opinion, this distillation of the literary form is the sign of the most talented writers of any age.
Poetry is at the butt of plenty of jokes — mostly about it not being a source of livelihood. As a poet, I’ve experienced tons of confused, snide (and some surprisingly nasty) comments, and they’re usually reductive or just plain cliché at this point:
- So, you do poetry — how do you pay your bills?
- I can’t imagine that you make any money working as a poet.
- What does a poet even do?
- Well, we all know there’s no money in poetry.
- Wait, so you, like, have a book? Do you make money from it or is just a side hustle?
It’s almost as if — wait for it! — poetry isn’t inherently valuable unless it earns money. And that’s a problem. Because poetry is valuable. It’s valuable existentially, socially, politically, spiritually, and culturally.
That it is still sorely undervalued monetarily is deeply juxtaposed by the fact that poets have long been immortalized and revered (while their works are turned to for comfort, wisdom, and truth during periods of unrest or stagnation or renaissance).
Those remarks above are also awful because poetry is work. Many poets, even if they have a day job in an office, don’t consider their poetry practice a “side hustle” at all. In fact, many poets consider themselves poets first and employees second. In a sense, our jobs — the things that pay our rent — are our true “side hustles.”
Poetry doesn’t pay my rent, but I will always be a poet. It’s part of my identity. And money doesn’t make something more or less real to me.
Many poets view their poetry this way: Poets write, edit, submit, publish and promote their work.
Poets go on tours to give literary readings, run presses and literary journals — usually or very little to no pay, work in academia teaching poetry, lead poetry workshops, manage well-known poetry festivals, host ticketed poetry events, and, you know, write lyrics for top musicians.
And most of poets do that while holding down a day job. Poetry is not a side hustle. It’s a job and a passion and a love affair with language that doesn’t earn a liveable wage for most of us. Because many nations and cultures respect art — but not enough to fund it. They want it to simply appear, but they don’t want to nurture it. Because they don’t think it is tangible. They think it has no result or promise. It’s not efficient. It’s not profitable or scalable.
Except, it kind of sort of it all of those things. It gives more than we know, especially in the long-term.
For many other people, writing poetry is a hobby or a self-care tool.
It’s a way of exploring your creativity and relaxing your mind and finding ways to give language to your deepest, most inner thoughts and feelings and fears.
How is that not also valuable?
In short, poets and poetry majorly contribute to the artistic fabric of our society.
EVERY SANE POET WANTS TO MAKE MONEY FROM POETRY
Ask any poet you know if they ever considered making a living from their writing and you’re likely to get an incredulous laugh in response. That’s because most poets—particularly the ones who have tried to do it—understand that the prospect of making a career out of their poetry is slim… well, very slim.
In her article “Livelihood of the Poets,” Rachel Friedman writes: The three best-selling poetry books of 2011 were: Horoscopes for the Dead by Billy Collins, Leavings by Wendell Berry, and Come, Thief by Jane Hirshfield. Collins sold 28,406 copies of Horoscopes. If we estimate a 10% royalty rate, he made around $44,177 on it. Berry, in second place, only sold 2,928 copies of Leavings, making him about $4,377. Hirshfield did similarly, selling 2,250 copies earning $5,625.
Granted, even if you made it to the number-one bestseller spot, $44k is arguably not a liveable wage in many parts of the country. With that thought in mind, as a poet, you might want to keep your day job even if your work becomes a bestseller. However, if you’re looking to make a sizeable side income from your writing, that goal might be far less of a pipe dream than making a living from it.
For many people in love with the written word, nothing sounds quite as appealing as making a living through poetry—or even just making a living writing. After all, who wouldn’t want to make money through their passion?
The problem with making a living as a poet, though, is that the market is flooded. There are literally millions of people out there with the same dream who want to do the exact same thing. So, can you make a living through poetry writing?
Yes, you can. However, it’s not easy, there’s a high chance you won’t succeed, and you’ll need to approach the entire concept extremely intelligently. Here are the smartest routes you can take if you want to earn money using your poetry skills.
UNIQUE WAYS TO MAKE MONEY ONLINE WRITING POETRY
Once upon a time, poets lived off the patronage of wealthy nobles and royals. People with money liked the social status they derived from having poets and other artists on their payroll. Of course, that’s no longer a viable option for most aspiring poets. Instead, you’ll want to try your luck with a variety of other income sources.
The biggest challenge for most poets is finding a way to make an income doing the thing they love. Making money from writing poetry isn’t always the easiest way to support your writing passion. Let’s be realistic: most publishers are not begging for poetry submissions.
However, thanks to many different internet opportunities, there are many ways for you to make money online from your poetry. In this post, we’ll share some unusual yet very real methods of making money online from writing poetry.
WHY IS IT SO HARD TO MAKE MONEY FROM POEMS?
Poetry, as much as it is loved and revered, is not always the best paying form of writing. When compared to other forms of written work, such as books and freelance article writing, you can find it very difficult to find a market for your work.
When it comes to selling your written work, it all basically revolves around one very important thing: who is your audience, and what are they looking for?
Shorter form books such as collections of poems CAN sell and do well – this is becoming truer than ever as people’s lives are busier and more hectic than ever. A book of poetry and verse can be a nice change of pace that allows people to enjoy reading in small bits between their busy schedules.
However, getting a book of poems published is notoriously difficult. Most major publishing houses do not actively solicit poetry submissions. This can mean in order to publish your poems as a book you need to be diligent in researching where to submit your work or consider working with a literary agent to pitch your work on your behalf.
WHAT ABOUT SELF-PUBLISHING YOUR BOOK OF POEMS?
Many poets consider self-publishing as a means of getting their poems out there and making revenue. This is always of course a great option – even many established authors who have been published through traditional means find it a lucrative way to boost their bottom line. However, self-publishing can still have its downfalls.
There may be unexpected expenses related to printing and formatting, and you of course are still responsible for marketing your work to ensure the book actually sells.
Fortunately, there IS a market for poems – but you have to think a little bit out of the box!
IT ALL COMES DOWN TO UNDERSTANDING YOUR AUDIENCE:
Who Will Read Your Poems? What do they need?
The biggest factor in understanding how poetry can sell well in today’s current world is the audience.
Who needs poetry? What are their reasons for wanting poetry?
Once you understand who your market is, you are ready to start exploring all the many different ways you can share your poetry with the world AND get paid for it.
Making money by writing poetry might sound too good to be true – but there IS a demand for it, once you know the right angle to approach selling and sharing your work.