How to write a book of poetry

I first wrote this as a guest post for the Metro Writer in Residence blog from the Edmonton Public Library. This year’s writers in residence are Omar Mouallem and Natasha Deen.

Here’s my post, reposted here-

Here are some things you can do to help take you from scribbled notebook pages to published book.

1. Read. Start reading literary journals (things like Prairie Fire, Arc or Filling Station), and poetry books by Canadian authors. Find out what kinds of books are getting published. Learn about the various poetry book publishers and the kind of work and people they publish. Read something different, like works by ancient Chinese or Indian poets. Read the classics. Read contemporary poets from other countries.

2. Go to poetry readings. Support your fellow poets, and talk with those who are in the same space as you, both geographically and developmentally. Watch people give readings and see how they do it. Learn from the masters and find out what works for you. Take classes and workshops if you can. Break your mind open. Create a community of friends who love words.

3. Start submitting to literary journals and enter contests. Join the Writers Guild of Alberta or other poetry organizations and watch for contest calls. Check and find out where you can send your work. Publishers are more willing to look at you if your work has been published in other venues, if you’ve already contributed your voice. It may take a long time, but it will help you in the long run if you get yourself published in literary journals before you approach a traditional publisher.

4. Create suites of poems. Good poetry collections are not birds’ nests of found material. Poetry collections have narrative threads and longer ideas that span the entire book or collection. You can try breaking your book into chunks. I wrote my second book, “13”, by writing the sections individually, taking care to make sure that the major themes were woven throughout the book.

5. Send it out to publishers. Follow the instructions on their website and make sure that you’re bending to their rules and guidelines. Let them know you are serious. Act like a pro, even if you might not feel like it.

6. Wait. And try to forget that your little not-yet book is out in the world. Keep working and send it out again. Keep working on steps one through four. Play, learn, write and don’t ever forget that you are doing important work.

Alexis Kienlen is the author of two collections of poetry “She dreams in red” and “13″. She is also a journalist, books columnist and has taught creative writing to teens for the past two summers. Learn more about her at

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