How many poems in a poetry book should be unpublished?

Since I’m a poet AND poetry publisher, a fellow poet asked me how many poems in a chapbook or full-length book I thought should be unpublished, prior to the book being published.  As far as I’m concerned, all of the poems could have been previously published.  As long as they weren't all already published as one book, that wouldn’t bother me at all as a publisher.

As with many poetry oriented details, it’s up to the individual press and different presses are going to have different opinions, as they are entitled to.  But I don’t think there’s any sort of main standard opinion that sets the norm (and if there is, I think that’s a bit silly, because this is poetry land – so why should there be standardized normalcy to fit into?). I certainly don’t think poetry/poetry publishing/poetry submission and publication should be careless – but I also certainly don’t think it should have to fit into any clear cut norm.  It should just suit the specific details of a specific press – and if a writer does not agree with or enjoy those details, then fine, don’t submit to that press; submit to a different one.

Occasionally, a press will specify the details about how much of a book’s content should or should not have been previously published, but not usually.  Personally (from a poet level), most of my poems in my full-length (which is 70 some pages) are already published - and perhaps some presses might look down on that a bit, but if so, I don't understand WHY. The way I see it is that most poets who write a lot AND submit a lot are bound to have lots of individual poems published before they have a manuscript chosen for publication (IF they even do), unless they purposely choose to hold off on submitting a certain amount of their poems until they do have a manuscript accepted (IF they even do) - and that just doesn't make much good sense to me.  I mean what if your manuscript is NEVER accepted and so half of its poems always remain unpublished, because you were waiting to submit them. Also, thinking of a full-length or even a chapbook length manuscript, even if most of its poems WERE already published, it's not like they were all published in one place - and it's unlikely that a ton of people have read them all already. Now more people will have a chance to read you from a different source, which I think is a good thing.  For me, the only situation in which that would not be good is aside from book/chapbook publication, if individual poems were published in two different places at the same time, because that is careless on a variety of levels and disrespectful of individual literary magazines.

Speaking of individual literary magazines, on a semi-related note, one pet peeve I have is when presses don’t accept simultaneous submissions, but then take more than five months to respond to your submission. Frankly, to me, that also seems a bit disrespectful, of individual poets.

(Fellow poets/presses/publishers/editors, please feel free to share your opinions on these matters.)

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