The Case for Publishing Your Own Poetry and Giving it Away

The Case for Publishing Your Own Poetry and Giving it Away

Like many people, I came to writing poetry later in life, starting in my late fifties. After a few years of posting to a micro blogging site anonymously, I was ready to seek “legitimacy” through journal publication, so I began submitting and. before long. I had some success. A few more years and I felt I had enough published poems that I should start thinking about a book. I put a manuscript together, did some research and chose a publisher that seemed likely to accept it. I was right. A couple of weeks after submitting it, my manuscript was accepted by a small press that specializes in publishing poetry by lesser known and new poets.

The quality control my publisher used was a requirement that about a third of the poems in the manuscript had to have a prior publication credit. I exceeded that, choosing only poems with a publication history to include in my book. My goal was to have a published book of poems that an editor at some online or print journal had already approved and published.

I knew going in that small publishers, including mine, didn’t have the resources to do much marketing, and I was perfectly accepting of that limitation. I would buy author copies, schedule readings with local book stores and poetry groups where I could and attend open mic opportunities. I also set up an author web page and social media accounts so I could do my own marketing without spending a lot of money.

My book was published in March of 2020, just as the country and the world went into covid lock-down so my own marketing plans were blown up. My publisher made the publication announcement to their mailing lists and on their social media platforms. I published sample poems on my author website and social media, but that was the end of it. No readings, no open mics – just a couple or reviews on Amazon and on my local library’s blog.

A couple of years later, I was thinking about another book, so I took a deeper look into my previous experience beginning with some research about various models that publishers use. I discovered some troubling truths about poetry publishing.

One thing I learned is that poets at my level do not make money from having their books published. Only the publisher makes money. That’s how publishing poetry works. In my case, I knew that my publisher would make more than I did when a copy of my book sold from their web site and from Amazon – much more.

I learned that small publishers who make a profit have to publish a lot of titles because even their best-selling poets sell a few hundred copies at most (most sell fewer than fifty), and those who do sell hundreds did so because they, and not the publisher sold them. That’s right, your publisher is not working for you, you are working for your publisher. You buy your author copies at a substantial markup, and you sell them from your own website or at readings, book fairs or whatever and no royalties come to you from selling author copies.

As poets, the numbers are not in our favor. To begin with, my published book is too expensive. How can I expect to sell a book of poems that costs more than a book by a well-known poet? Paperback books by Billy Collins, Ted Kooser, Naomi Shihab Nye or Ocean Vuong sell for between seven and sixteen dollars, depending on how old they are. The publisher set the price of my book at $18.50. I had no say in that. The author price for the copies I bought (I did get 5 free copies) was ten dollars each, a substantial discount, but that’s the price for me to buy copies of my own work and at that price, the publisher is making more from me than from any other sales.

I did some thinking about what I really wanted out of publishing my poetry and the conclusion I reached is that I wanted to share it with other people who appreciate poetry. I concluded the best way to do that is not through the traditional means open to me. I took a close look into self-publishing. I crunched some numbers. I found that I can get printed copies of a book of between 24 and 100 pages for $2.15 each (about $2.60 with shipping). At that price I can take books to a reading and sell them for three bucks or, better yet, I can give them away for free. But why stop there? Why not use my author website to give away free digital copies? If the sole purpose of publishing is to share my work as widely as possible, what could be better than making it free?

That’s exactly what I did with my next book, a chapbook that I published myself, I ordered thirty copies and sent them to my poetry friends. I was asked to do a presentation on self-publishing at a meeting of a state poetry society. I ordered fifty more copies and gave them away at that meeting. In the first six months the free version was downloaded 107 times from my web site and. on Amazon, ten print copies were sold for a minimal price.

This article was about the “why” of self-publishing. The “how” of self-publishing is something you can research on your own just as I did. I will tell you, there is a learning curve, but not one that’s insurmountable for most people. Learning is no more difficult than a 100-level college course.

Year of Moons

Year of Moons, my 2022 poetry month project, is available for free download. 

YearofMoonsCoverSmAs a lit journal editor, I have often been in the position of needing to evaluate submissions of claimed “haiku”, many of which had little to do with the actual spirit of the original Japanese masters and which were often simply poems written in the 5-7-5 syllabic pattern that most of us were erroneously taught by well-meaning but misinformed teachers in high school or earlier. I often didn’t feel confident in judging them on their merits as haiku.

My project for poetry month of 2022 was to have a deeper look at the forms of contemporary haiku, senryu and sijo in English; to read, study and learn to write them, not a simple task, as I already knew.

Just click on the cover image to visit the free download page.

The Canals of Mars / David Jibson

Astronomer Percival Lowell, founder of the Lowell Observatory, published Mars and Its Canals in 1906. His observations of the planet mars were greatly influenced by those of Giovanni Schiaparelli. The two men’s speculations generated many subsequent sci-fi novels, stories, movies and, eventually, this poem which appeared first in Apex Magazine and now in my collection, Protective Coloration, avialable from Kelsay Books and at

Protective Coloration

Protective Coloration is the author’s latest release from Kelsay Books.  It’s available from Kelsay or from You can open a sample in PDF format by clicking on the cover photo.


In this splendid collection of engaging and unmistakably American poems, David Jibson manages to find beauty in utterly unexpected places: piled up on a back shelf at the Salvation Army Store, for example, or strung along the bedraggled length of the Ohio Turnpike—or perhaps in the lovely, tentative dance of a blind woman learning to walk with a white cane. Along with a faint echo of Ted Kooser or Billy Collins at their conversational best, you’ll be captivated by Jibson’s own irresistible voice: that of a witty, insightful observer of the astonishments that surround us.

Marilyn L. Taylor,
Wisconsin Poet Laureate, Emerita

To read David Jibson’s poems is like leafing through a pile of photos of your life and suddenly rediscovering feelings and events you had forgotten or never knew. Each snapshot is replete with carefully selected images organized to create unity and fulfillment. His poems range from trivia to exotic, from people we recognize to those we would like to meet. Topics include science, religion, philosophy, history, music, art, and (the requisite for all good poetry) basic old-fashioned entertainment.

Lawrence W. Thomas,
Founding Editor, Third Wednesday Magazine
Honorary Chancellor, Poetry Society of Michigan

Poem Noir

poemnoircoverA Celebration of Film Noir in Poetry. I love old film and I especially love film noir. In this collection I celebrate some of the characters, plots and familiar settings of film noir through poetry. Inside you’ll find dark cityscapes and blind alleys. There are private-eyes, taxi dancers, thugs, mugs, crime bosses, night club sirens, crooked cops, gun molls and a morgue full of bodies. The newsreels and the previews of coming attractions are done. The projectionist is nicely drunk. Settle back in your seat, claim the armrests on both sides and enjoy the feature.  Available from for $6.00