We live in an age of information. Our days are saturated with words--marketing campaigns, advertisements, emails. Almost everything you could ever wish to know is at your fingertips, one google search away. It's here. It's now. It's fast...it never ends. Talk about information overload. Yet still, there are few words more enjoyable than the words of a poem.
Poetry has always responded to the times, so it's no wonder that art-forms like poetry have been condensed into bite-sized tidbits that are easily digestible, readable at a glance, and easy to share. Instapoets like Rupi Kaur amass massive amounts of followers with their diary-like, proverb-esque, pint-sized poems, and so naturally, many aspiring poets follow suit and share on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter.
I believe instapoetry is to poetry what six word stories are to fiction--wonderful, but just one small corner of the world. I love that instapoetry has got people interested in poetry again, but there's so much more out there. Don't get me wrong, instapoetry is perfectly suited to social media through it's brevity, but there are drawbacks--including limiting the quality of poetry through making it smaller than it should be in form and meaning, as well as limiting the possible avenues for publication.
Micro-poetry severely limits its word count, banking on expanding potential audience reach through social media engagement. But readerships come in all forms: sometimes it's eager friends and family, sometimes strangers on the internet, and sometimes, it's subscribers of the many literary magazines all over the world.
If you are only looking to share a poem or two with friends and family or a digital community, then go ahead and post to your social media! But if you are looking to get published by well-respected magazines, get paid for your poems, build up your reputation, and become apart of the writing community, you should reconsider posting your poems to social media.
So, why exactly shouldn't you post your poems to social media if you are looking to get published? Because literary magazines and publishing houses consider posting on social media a form of publication.
Literary Magazines and Previous Publication
Literary journals and magazines are wonders of the writing world. They are run by passionate, devoted volunteers, and they enliven a literary community! But as you browse the websites of well-established lit magazines, you will notice one thing: the criteria for submissions almost always specifies that you may only submit "previously unpublished" work. So, if you've posted a poem to your social media, usually it is no longer eligible for online or print publication.
Now this may make you want to protest and boycott lit magazines out of the unfairness of it all! But hear me out, it makes sense. When a literary magazine publishes your work in Canada, as a standard they buy the First North American Serial Rights (or First World Serial Rights) and First Digital Publication Rights. This means that they want to make sure that all the hard work they've put into editing and publishing your poem or story isn't wasted and that they aren't contending with other versions of your work. And after publication, copyright reverts back to you, the author--at which point you are free to share the poem you've published on your social media and celebrate your publication publicly.
Why send your work to Literary Magazines?
Literary magazines are magnificent because they provide opportunity for so many new and upcoming creative individuals! They give artists and photographers a home for their work with their beautiful covers, and in their pages they welcome writers of poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, book reviews, and interviews. They give writers an outlet. A voice.
And if that wasn't enough, usually, they are dedicated to paying their contributors! For example, most well-established literary magazines pay per page, or per piece. Examples of Canadian lit magazines that pay include Freefall Magazine, which pays $25 per poem or $10 per page, The Malahat Review, which pays $65 per page, and The Fiddlehead which pays $60 per published page.
Having publication credits to your name from literary magazines has more benefits than just bragging rights. Publications like this can allow you to submit to contests--like the annual Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers--or to apply for grants and funding that you wouldn't otherwise be able to.
Trust me, there is nothing better for writers than seeing our words in print.
Self publishing and exceptions to the rule
Many self-published people have gone another route--and this includes people I've found and followed for a long time through social media. These people have published their poems online, gained a large audience, then compiled those poems into a book to sell.
An example of someone I discovered and followed because of their social media presence is writer/poet and youtuber Savannah Brown, whose self-published book Graffiti (and other poems) includes many poems from her youtube channel. I remember watching "Hi, I'm a Slut" in 2015 and subscribing, then following her journey from there.
Curiously, many youtubers haven't had to wade into the waters of self-publishing. Instead, they've been given book deals--even if they aren't writers--because publishing houses know that their books will sell because of the sheer amount of followers that they have. It's a good business strategy, and it keeps publishing houses afloat and able to continue to support both well-known and unknown writers alike.
There are also exceptions to the rule. Sometimes, rarely, but sometimes, a writer will be discovered because of their blog or social media and be invited to submit a manuscript for publication. This is rare, and usually only happens when a poet's work fits the bill for something the publishing house was already looking for. Most times, as a writer, you can't rely on this kind of sheer luck.
While the instant gratification of posting your work on social media is tempting, waiting until your poems are accepted for publication, published, and then yours again to post and share on social media has many long-term benefits. But if you know a poem is just for you and you don't want to send it out to literary magazines or other publication entities, or if your intent is to build an audience or gain following, then go ahead and share online! There are many benefits to creating your own community.
And of course, taking your poem drafts to friends and family and sharing them in person--or even performing them at a private reading--in no way jeopardizes your chances at publication, and could never be a wrong choice!
At the end of the day, poetry is meant to be shared.