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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 side.

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 either.

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- fiction?

Readers buy genre magazines for pleasure, many more than buy literary magazines. That allows the editors of genre magazines to pay relatively well.


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 fiction worlds.

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 twenty-five.

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 local postmaster.


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 guidelines.

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.


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 FICTION.

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.


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 the bills.

© 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.

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