Apr 172011

Is it the Art of Poetry or the Business?

by David B. Axelrod

Have you heard writers complain that they aren’t able to sell their writing? It probably isn’t fair for poets to complain. Let’s face it, the old adage “for love or money” is a benchmark for poets. As there is very little money in selling poems or even books of poetry, devoting yourself to poetry is almost certainly for the love of the art.

You can, however, find a steady outlet and even a small source of revenue in your poetry but it takes the right mind set. (See our tip on increasing your chances of publication as an example.)

It would help if you start with some basic definitions. If art is what you do for yourself, commercial writing is what you do with a particular audience, editor or publisher in mind. Art, if you wish, is from the heart. Commercial writing is for a particular audience.

That doesn’t mean you can’t sell your art. Nor does it mean commercial writing is “heartless.” Rather, it should alert those who wish to get published to the need to know their markets. An educated writer targets submissions to particular outlets. 

For poets, “commercial art” might be most obvious in your trying to write greeting cards or offering poetry written for specific occasions. More likely, a poet who sees a call for poems on a certain theme or for a particular purpose can use that “commercial” opportunity to trigger (if not indeed inspire) a new poem or two.

It isn’t fair to complain if you send your work out blindly and get rejected. Imagine you send poem with a “liberal” use of language to a “conservative” magazine. It would be unlikely you would make a match. You might as well send poems that rhyme “posies” and “rosies” to an experimental poetry magazine. You’d be speaking the wrong language!

Clearly, the directories that list magazines and outlets for writing are of great use. They describe the general requirements as outlined by the editors. However, as often the magazine will say “We are interested in publishing only the best”—whether that is poetry, stories, opinion pieces, etc.  What “the best” is, naturally, is subjective.

You’d do best to find and read a sample of work before sending to a magazine or publisher. If you have “commercial” aspirations, study the contents–not just the table of contents but the advertising and layout. Ask who reads the magazine. Think what you need to do to match your writing to that special audience.

Because magazines and publishers survive and thrive by targeting their publications to special markets, you need to analyze the audience. Often you can get the guidelines for publication from the magazine either by sending a SASE or going on line.

Best of all, if you are an artist, you will be able to write for yourself and match your creations to various markets. You may be that special talent which appeals to a wide audience. If writing is a song, marketing is the dance and after all, you ought to take pleasure in it!