Write and publish poetry

Your Own Poetry Book

Publishing a collection of poetry is an achievement for any writer, and there are many avenues now than before to make it happen. Traditional publishers (in theory at least), small presses and self-publishing options have all opened new avenues for writers to get their work out there.

Traditional publishers are more established and reputable in the industry, but getting a publishing contract with them for poetry would be a major miracle. It can be extremely challenging for any poet to get accepted, and if you're a first-time author, it is almost impossible. There was a time when traditional publishers took some risks for art's sake but not anymore. For one, traditional publishers are one of the most risk-averse business people in the world, and very few books from even A-list authors (whatever the category) make the cut. Unfortunately, books of poetry also sell poorly. Only a few hard-core buffs collect them.

Wong Phui Nam, Shirley Lim, Salleh ben Joned and Cecil Rajendra paid their dues over decades for their current recognition, and none of them depended on their poetry books to pay the rent.

Small publishers, on the other hand, may be more open to working with emerging writers. They have less resources than traditional publishers but can offer excellent editing, design, and distribution services. Plus, theoretically, they can be more flexible when it comes to accepting manuscripts and working with authors. Unfortunately, they too have the rent issue because poetry is a hard sell.

Self-publishing is probably the best option for poets, thanks to the rise of digital publishing. Self-publishing allows poets to have complete control over their work, from the design to distribution, and can be a great way to get their work in front of readers.



Reading, studying and researching the works of masters and other poets is a crucial part of becoming a skilled poet or writer. Reading can help you develop a better understanding of the craft, build your vocabulary and improve your ability to convey emotions and experiences through words.

In addition to reading, another important aspect is regular practise. Writing regularly can help you develop your unique voice, hone your skills and experiment with different styles and forms of poetry. It's also important to seek feedback from others, whether it be from a writing group or a trusted friend or mentor, to help you refine and improve your work.

Focus on concrete, sensory details to evoke emotions and create vivid imagery. Using specific images and features can help your readers connect with your work and make your poetry more memorable.

Writing is a process that takes time to develop and to find your voice. Don't be discouraged by rejection or criticism but use it as an opportunity to learn and grow. It takes dedication, practice, and a willingness to learn.

What's the story behind your poem?

The narrative is a powerful tool for improving your writing. Every good poem should have a story, whether it's one with a beginning, middle and end or a more abstract exploration of emotions or ideas.

Understanding your story will help you clarify the central theme or message of your poem and guide your writing towards a more focused and cohesive structure. It can also help you identify gaps or inconsistencies and inspire new ideas and directions.

Your poem doesn't have to be literal or straightforward. It could be an exploration of emotions, a meditation on a particular idea or a reflection on a specific moment or experience. The key is to be clear of what you're trying to convey and to use the structure of your poem to guide your readers towards your message. With the story of your poem, create a more engaging and meaningful piece of writing that resonates with your readers and leaves a lasting impact.

Start small.

A small project is less daunting for beginners to ease into poetry. Writing just a few lines can help you focus on the essential elements of poetry, such as word choice, imagery and rhythm, without being overwhelmed by a longer narrative or structure.

Short forms like haiku or tanka can be a great way to start small and explore the possibilities of poetry. They can also help you develop your ability to convey emotions and ideas in a concise and powerful way.

Even a short poem can contain a lot of depth and meaning if well crafted. You don't need an epic poem to create something impactful. The simplest ideas and images can be the most profound.

Starting small can help you build confidence and inspire you to continue exploring the possibilities of longer structures and more complex narratives.

Don't edit while writing.

Separate the editing process from the writing. It can be tempting to try to perfect your writing as you go along, but it can hinder your creativity and stop you from exploring new ideas and possibilities.

The first draft is about getting all your ideas on paper; let your creativity run wild and try not to worry about mistakes.

Move on to the editing process after your first draft, and focus on the technical aspects: your grammar, punctuation and word choice, as well as the structure and flow.

Editing is just as important as writing, but it's a different process. Separating them will give you the freedom to explore your creativity and take risks with writing without worrying about perfection. This will create a more authentic poem. 

Read your poetry aloud.

Poetry is meant to be read aloud and that is also an essential part of the editing process. Hear how the words and phrases sound and flow together. Besides helping you identify awkward or clunky phrasing, repetition and other issues, this will help you understand its underlying rhythm and musicality and how it will sound to someone else.

Write what you know.

Know your song well before you start singing. Research your topics so you know what you are talking about. Incorporate emotional truths you have experienced and have become part of your life. Poetry allows for more freedom than other writing forms, but it still requires following rules and executing good writing. Connecting with other poets and critique partners can help you grow as a writer. Don't agonise over starting -- simply write, and worry about refining and editing later.

Formatting guidelines

Most poetry books contain between 30 and 100 poems, so it’s important to constantly do writing exercises and write poems. Only when you have a strong collection, do you start organising them. A book of poems isn’t simply all your work sandwiched inside a book cover. Choose your poems carefully and arrange them so they seem to be in conversation with one another, unified by a theme, a style or poetic form, and placed in a meticulous order. Finally, make sure your work is free of typos.

What type of poetry do you want to write?

To attract a poetry book buyer, you need to have a collection of poems that's strong and resonates with the readers. Not all poetry is equal with all readers. You may appeal to one segment but to others (until you reach the A-list, then you'd appeal to everyone).

For example, if one like a soothing storyteller, Wong Phui Nam's works would appeal, or you like dirt-under-finger-nails dirty and earthy, one would likely gravitate towards Salleh ben Joned (this writer's favourite). Lovers of protest-poetry would certainly love Cecil Rajendra. Then, there's Shirley Lim (the first Asian to be awarded the Commonwealth Poetry Prize for her first poetry collection, Crossing The Peninsula in 1980) is, in this writer's opinion, the closest to a Malaysian A-list poet there is (although she now lives in the US).

There are so many categories. What's yours?


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