The Poetry Publishing Conundrum: Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing – Insights from The Broken Spine’s Editor in Chief


In the ever-evolving landscape of publishing, poets find themselves at a crossroads, pondering the path that best suits their unique aspirations. As the Editor in Chief of The Broken Spine, I’ve had the privilege of witnessing both self-publishing and traditional publishing journeys, each with its own set of pros and cons. In this exploration, we delve into the heart of this conundrum, striving to provide poets with the insight they need to make an informed decision.


In a world where self-expression is championed, poets grapple with a fundamental question: What is the best way to share their verses with the world? As we venture into this debate, let’s consider that self-published books now account for over 30% of all book sales in the United States, a statistic that reflects the growing prominence of self-publishing in the literary world. A compelling story to highlight this shift is that of Amanda Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet in American history, who self-published her first book of poetry, “The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough,” when she was just 16 years old.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of whether self-publishing or traditional publishing is better for poets. The best publishing option for you will depend on your individual circumstances and goals.

Self-Publishing for Poets


One of the most enticing aspects of self-publishing is the unparalleled creative control it offers. As a self-published poet, you have the final say in all aspects of your book, from the cover design, which is the first visual connection with your readers, to the intricate details of the interior layout.

Financially speaking, self-published poets stand to gain a more substantial share of the pie, with royalties typically ranging between 50-70% compared to the 5-20% offered by traditional publishers. Moreover, self-publishing allows for faster publication, ensuring that your words reach eager readers as soon as your manuscript is ready.


However, self-publishing is not without its challenges. Poets must be prepared to shoulder upfront costs, covering expenses such as editing, proofreading, cover design, and formatting. The onus of marketing and distribution falls squarely on the author’s shoulders, a demanding and often costly endeavor. Most notably, self-published poets will navigate this journey without the professional support of a publishing team.

A prime example of successful self-publishing is Amanda Gorman’s journey, where she took charge of her destiny, financed her book’s editing and formatting, designed the cover, and tirelessly marketed and distributed her work until she gained the attention of a traditional publisher.

Traditional Publishing for Poets


For poets seeking the embrace of a professional publishing team, traditional publishing is the gateway to expert support. This includes the guidance of experienced editors, designers, and marketers who refine and elevate your work.

The prestige attached to traditional publishing cannot be understated. It offers poets a stamp of approval, recognizing their talent and dedication. Additionally, traditional publishers often provide authors with an advance on their royalties, which can be a significant financial boost.


Yet, traditional publishing comes with its own set of trade-offs. Authors relinquish a degree of creative control as publishers exert their influence on cover design, interior layout, and other aspects of the book. The financial return in the form of royalties is typically lower than what self-published poets enjoy. Moreover, the road to publication through traditional means can be long and filled with waiting periods, taking months or even years.

Services Offered by Book Publishers

Developmental Editing

At the heart of traditional publishing lies a comprehensive suite of services, beginning with developmental editing. This meticulous process hones the manuscript’s structure and content, ensuring a cohesive and engaging narrative.

Line Editing and Copy Editing

Following developmental editing, line and copy editors fine-tune the text, addressing grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and formatting to guarantee clarity and consistency.


Proofreaders serve as the final guardians, eliminating any lingering errors and ensuring the book’s readiness for print.

Cover and Interior Design

In-house designers craft captivating covers that make a memorable first impression and ensure an appealing and readable interior layout.

Marketing and Distribution

The marketing and distribution team employs strategic expertise to promote the book through established channels, increasing its visibility and accessibility.

Benefits of Traditional Publishing

Traditional publishing offers distinct advantages, including professional editing and design services that enhance the book’s quality. The marketing and distribution prowess of traditional publishers can significantly boost a book’s chances of success. Moreover, the prestige associated with traditional publishing can be a valuable asset for poets.


As poets, the path to publication presents a complex and deeply personal decision. The choice between self-publishing and traditional publishing hinges on your individual goals and circumstances. If you crave creative control and higher royalties, self-publishing may be your ideal route. Alternatively, if you seek the support of a professional publishing team and the prestige of traditional publishing, the traditional path may better align with your aspirations.

At The Broken Spine, we’ve had the privilege of collaborating with a diverse array of talented poets, each with their unique journey. The world of poetry remains vibrant and ever-evolving, and we are excited to continue discovering and celebrating the voices of poets, whether they choose to self-publish or embark on the traditional publishing path.

Authors We Have Worked With

Our publishing house, The Broken Spine, has had the privilege of collaborating with a diverse and talented group of authors, including:

  • Elisabeth Horan (Author of “The Mask”)
  • Jay Rafferty (Author of “Holy Thing”)
  • Casey Bailey (Author of “From This Soil”)
  • Matthew M. C. Smith (Author of “The Keeper of Aeons”)
  • Elizabeth Kemball, Sally Filer, Lucy Aur, and Bethany Lewis (Authors of “Four Forked Tongues”)
  • Ellie Rees (Author of “Modest Raptures”)
  • Kyla Houbolt (Author of “Surviving Death”)

We are excited about the outstanding works we have in the pipeline for the upcoming year and look forward to continuing our journey with poets who share our passion for the written word.

Related Blog Posts