You wrote some poems. Nice. Now you need to do something with them: eek. Sending them out into the world can be scary, and finding someone you trust enough with your poetry babies can be even scarier. But never fear! We have some tips, details, and suggestions on how to find the best poetry editor for your poems, manuscript, or collection.
Step 1: Identify your goals
Before finding a poetry editor to work with, you want to figure out what your goals are. Do you want to get your work picked up by a major publishing house? Want to self-publish? Or do you want to have a second pair of eyes provide feedback on your work? A good editor will ask you a lot of questions to better understand your goals, but here are some that you may want to consider.
- Where are you in your writing journey?
- How many poems do you currently have?
- What sort of feedback are you looking for?
- What are you afraid of in the editing process?
- What are you most excited for in the editing process?
- What should any person who works with you be aware of?
If you go into your first chat with a poetry editor with these ideas in mind, it will be easier to make sure you find the right fit.
Types of Editing
There are many different types of editing, and you may have heard words like “developmental edits,” “critique,” “proofread,” and “line edits” thrown around. Any editor you work with should explain their process and what you can expect, but here are some definitions so you can be prepared.
A developmental edit (or a content edits) is a term you may have heard in the fiction world. A developmental edit is usually an early edit on the big-picture concepts in your collection. For poetry, a developmental edit might go by some other terms like a manuscript evaluation or critique. It can go by a million different names, but a developmental edit usually includes big-picture feedback on the following:
- Arrangement or structure
- Length of poetry collection
- Pacing of poetry collection
- Major strengths
- Major weaknesses
Whenever we partner up for a developmental edit, we usually call it a manuscript evaluation (which includes a detailed critique letter and a battle plan with ideas on what to do next).
We include notes on things like
- The arrangement (are the poems in your collection arranged in the best possible way? Is there another way to cluster or order your poems that might make more sense based on your goals?)
- Your line breaks (are your line breaks working to establish a consistent style and voice? Are you using contemporary line breaks and, if so, does this work for or against your goals? Are your poems lineated in the best possible way?)
- Your titles (are the titles of your poems working? If not, are there any places you may be able to adjust or take another look at the titles in your work?)
- Punctuation and capitalization (are you following sentence-style syntax and, if so, does your punctuation match? Is it necessary to have punctuation in every poem? Are you using punctuation in the best possible way based on your style?)
Line edits (or copyedits) are edits made at the line level. Line edits are great for poets who want detailed feedback on their poems. This is where your poem might discover a new direction, an editor might suggest places to cut or move stanzas, and you might discover the perfect line. When you have line edits on your poetry collection, it will include line-level feedback on the following:
- Word choice
- Images and metaphors
- Line breaks
- Stanza breaks
- Poetic movement
When we work with poets on line edits, we get super detailed. We explore things like
- Full arrangement suggestions (we’ll actually reorder the poems in your collection and provide an explanation on why this new order might make sense)
- The title of the collection (is your title working? Are there other potential collection titles you may want to consider?)
- Do the line lengths in each of your poems work?
- Is the voice in each poem working?
- Are any lines too abstract?
- Do you have a balance between specific and concrete images?
- Are your poems crafted in the best possible way? (Are there any ways to push the beginning of the poem or the end of the poem to support your intended meaning?)
- Are the images in each poem working together?
- Are there any places you can strengthen the word choice, images, syntax, line breaks, or voice in your poems?
- Are you relying too heavily on repetition in any of your poems?
- Do your poems feel well-balanced?
A proofread is usually the last stage before your work goes to print. A proofreader will usually check for stuff like
- Stylistic inconsistencies
- Formatting errors
When we proofread a collection, we look at the page numbers, table of contents, formatting of images, and all the content to ensure that there are no lingering errors.
Find a poetry editor who won’t change your voice
We can talk all day about word choice, editing, and stylistic decisions, but to make sure your poems are getting the best possible support, you’ll want to find an editor who won’t change your voice. We’ve heard horror stories (seriously, terrifying!!) about feedback editors have given poets, so you want to ask about the editor’s approach to editing.
Are they prescriptive? Are they casual? Are they harsh? Does their feedback style match what you want?Ask them if they have a general vision for how they approach work. Here’s an example of ours:
Poetry Editing Vision
At Tell Tell, we exist somewhere between a cheerleader and a critical eye. We will never tear your work apart, force you to change things, or provide unsubstantiated feedback. When we look at a poem, we try and find ways to make the poem better based on your strengths, not on our poetic tastes, so whenever we partner up, we seek to help you discover work that you can feel confident and excited about. Work that you can believe in.
Get a sample edit
To really know if someone is a good fit, you’ll have to see how they work. Will they call you if you have questions? Will they send ideas in a way you like? Will they help you understand their feedback? It’s always a good idea to see if you can get a sample edit on one poem so you can see what type of feedback and support you’ll get.
Read the agreement
Check out their agreement. Does it seem okay? Does it seem overly scary? Do you understand the terms and conditions?
How flexible are they?
Find someone who can meet your needs, and be clear up front about those needs. If you need to pay in chunks, find someone who can help with that; if you have a cap on how much you want to spend, find someone who can happily help; if you need feedback in a specific type of way (hand-delivered on archival paper), let them know! You are looking for someone who will read your collection and share feedback, so you need to find someone you trust.
Because if you don’t trust someone’s advice, you probably won’t trust their feedback, right?
How do you feel?
This isn’t really a technical suggestion, but it’s still important. How do you feel when you chat with the editor? Can you see yourself working well with this person? Do they make you feel supported? Do they help you see things in a new light? Or do they make you feel confused? Do they make things extra complicated?
Not everyone is going to be a perfect fit, but you’re not looking for everyone’s perfect editor; you’re looking for your editor for your poetry collection and gosh durn, you have every right to be as picky as you want.
So go on, give a bunch of editors a call, see who you vibe with! And if you have questions, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll help you out!