Poetry anthologies are gratifying to publish. While the focus of our poetry program at Persea Books has always been books by individual poets, we have also published wonderful poetry anthologies including the recent We Call to the Eye & the Night: Love Poems by Writers of Arab Heritage, edited by Hala Alyan and Zeina Hashem Beck.
But poetry anthologies also present some particular editing and design challenges. Here are some things to keep in mind if you plan to propose one to publishers:
1. It is common to include a tentative contributor list, and to convey the enthusiasm of key contributors who are on board with the project. Keep in mind, though: Potential publishers may want some oversight into the book’s composition and arrangement, so try not to lock in the contents before submitting. If you’ve already solicited submissions or done an open call, it’s perhaps better to wait until your anthology is under contract before beginning to officially accept poems.
2. Poetry anthologies are feats of formatting and design; they endeavor to cohesively lay out poems by fifty, eighty, or even a hundred different poets within one book. Even one or two poems of unusual or sprawling layout can affect the size and production costs of the entire book. Have early conversations with potential publishers about how you may or may not be able to accommodate unusually laid-out poems.
3. Securing reprint rights to previously published poems is the bugaboo of many anthology projects. Make sure you, the anthologist, understand who is handling these permissions requests (Hint: It’s probably you!) Any poem that has previously appeared in a poet’s monograph probably needs formal permission from its publisher—even if the poet agreed to let you use their work.
4. Assembling ancillary text such as contributor biographies can take a surprising amount of time and thought. At Persea we like bios within the same anthology to be consistent in length, tone, and the sort of biographical information included. Gathering and formatting this sort of material to the publisher’s specifications is typically the anthologist’s job.
5. Proofreading poetry anthologies in galleys is labor-intensive. Small presses rely heavily on anthologists and contributors to ensure anthologies are as close to error-free as possible. (Hot take: No poetry anthology is 100% percent error-free, at least in its first printing! Be prepared to console a dismayed—or disgruntled—contributor or two.) Try to get an early understanding from your publisher of its proofreading process and make yourself as available to it as possible.
6. As with any book, especially a book of poetry, your participation in promotion is a key component to its success. Anthologies—particularly those consisting mostly of living authors—are grassroots publications, with the potential for lots of word-of-mouth promotion. Rally your contributors to hit the (virtual) bricks. Instagram is your publicity kingdom!
—Gabriel Fried, poetry editor, Persea Books