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Write Poetry That Sells
by Stephen D. Rogers
While writing a novel seems a complicated and
daunting task, crafting a poem is eminently doable. In less than an hour you can
write, revise, and print out a finished piece of poetry.
That's the up side of poetry. It's also the down
The problem is that everyone else can do the
same thing. And the topics you're probably covering -- universal experiences
illustrated by unique perspectives -- that's not specialized knowledge
In fact, there are so many people writing and
submitting poetry that the editors can afford to "pay" in copies or exposure.
There's a glut of poetry floating around with many more people willing to write
it than pay to read it.
Now throw in the Big Names who are competing
with you for the same few slots.
So how do you put food on the table? Write
poetry that sells. Take your poetic skills and apply them to the wonderful
world of genre poetry.
Genre poetry is poetry written for mystery,
science fiction, fantasy, and horror markets.
At last count I knew of six publications which
accepted mystery poetry, fifteen which accepted horror poetry, and thirty
which accepted science fiction and fantasy poetry. These are paying markets
with rates ranging from a low of $1 per poem to a high of $50.
One dollar might not seem like much but it
brings you a heck of a lot closer to a cup of coffee than exposure does. And
fifty dollars? That's not a bad hourly rate.
Now calculate payment per word. My mystery
poem "Victimless Crime" earned me $50 for 33 words. That's a buck and a half a
word. How many people are making that writing fiction or non-
Readers buy genre magazines for pleasure, many
more than buy literary magazines. That allows the editors of genre magazines
to pay relatively well.
WRITING GENRE POETRY
Genre poetry is poetry which touches upon the
themes of a given genre. It's really that simple. Take the last poem you wrote
and rewrite it using the sensibilities of the mystery, horror, or science
Congratulations. You're just written a genre
poem. Send it out, perhaps multiple times just like any other poem, and when
it's accepted, cash the check and buy yourself something nice.
For example, I've written many poems about
strained relationships, something we've probably all endured at one time or
another. Now let's make it saleable.
If the strain is caused by space travel, it's
a science fiction poem. That poem sold for two dollars. If the strain is
caused by transformation, it's a horror poem. That poem sold for three. If the
strain leads to murder, it's a mystery poem. That poem sold for
Granted, two dollars is not going to let me
upgrade from coach to first class. It will, however, buy me five first-class
stamps. My appearance in a non-paying literary magazine does nothing for the
STRUCTURE AND RHYME
Whether you prefer writing in sonnet or free
verse, rhyme or non- rhyme, genre poetry in no different than the poetry you
studied in school. Of course editorial taste does come into play but the
editors usually spell out their likes and dislikes in their
As a general rule, I've found mystery more
accepting of rhyme than science fiction or horror. Fantasy poetry often
follows ballad structures. Science fiction poetry, in reflecting a possible
alien intelligence, can be quite obscure.
GENRE POETRY MARKETS
The genre magazines you usually see on the
store shelves are the ones with the highest circulations and thus the deepest
pockets: ANALOG SCIENCE FICTION AND FACT, ASIMOV'S SCIENCE
FICTION, BLACK OCTOBER, ELLERY QUEEN'S MYSTERY
MAGAZINE, and THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE
Even the online STRANGE HORIZONS (http://www.strangehorizons.com) pays $20 a poem.
And don't forget the hidden market of
children's magazines, many of which pay a minimum of $25 for gentler versions
of genre poetry.
FINDING MORE MARKETS
Ralan's Webstravaganza (http://www.ralan.com) includes
guidelines for science fiction, fantasy, and horror markets.
You can also learn about SF/F/H markets by
joining the Science Fiction Poetry Association (http://dm.net/~bejay/sfpa.htm).
The best place to hear about mystery markets
is the Short Mystery Fiction Society (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Shortmystery).
The reason I suggest these avenues rather than
market books is that anthologies spring up throughout the year. Because of
their short-term nature, these golden opportunities don't appear in listings
collated and printed months in advance. Some genre anthologies are all poetry
while others will accept it.
Poetry communicates our experience of the
world. With a little imagination and a sprinkle of the genre, it can also pay
© Copyright 2004, Stephen D. Rogers
Over two hundred and fifty of Stephen's poems and stories have been selected to appear in over a hundred publications. When
not setting down words, he is busy keeping stephendrogers.com safe for visitors.