As a poet, I write and submit my poems, much as I do my short stories. I write a batch of scifaiku, submit it to various magazines and hopefully, see most of it published. As an artist, I take the second step of illustrating my poems and turning them into blog posts, illustrated poems to publish in magazines or to sell as art prints at science fiction conventions. I have a dream to one day create a collection of my poetry to sell as a poetry chapbook.
Whether you submit your collection to a traditional publisher or plan to self-publish your manuscript, there are certain elements your manuscript will need to be ready.
Title You will need to decide on a title for your collection of poems. Think about the theme of your work and what poems you are going to include in the collection. This will help you determine a good title for your chapbook. I often suggest to make a list of possible titles, pick out three or four favorites from the list and then double check the names on Amazon. See how many other books have the same title as your book. If there are none or only one or two, you have made a good choice. Be unique.
Author Name Do you use your real name or a pen name for your work? Today, this is not an obvious choice. I know of authors that have different pen names based on the genre or type of writing that they do. Sometimes I wonder if I’m the last author on Earth who uses her real name on everything! Be aware that potential readers are more likely to purchase your book if they recognize your name. Branding yourself as a poet is important. It helps to have published your poetry in magazines for a few years or even to have won an award before you publish your first poetry collection.
ISBN As with a regular book, owning your ISBN number is an advantage. If you traditionally publish via a small press, they will handle this for you by placing their own ISBN on the collection. If you self-publish, purchasing the ISBN is a good idea. This means that your own imprint is listed as the publisher of record of your chapbook. It gives you more control over the product in the long haul. It is possible to use Amazon’s free ASIN number on your book and if this is your first volume, that might be a good option. You can reassign an ISBN at a later date to your book if need be.
Acknowledgments This is not a mandatory page in your chapbook, but it is a nice touch to have. It is where you might credit literary journals that first published your poems or a mentor that helped you find your way as a poet.
Table Of Contents A linkable (in the case of an ebook) table of contents is important in a chapbook. The order in which the poetry is read is part of the overall experience of a chapbook. Unlike a novel, poems could be read out of order and still hold meaning to the reader. Do you want to move the reader in a steady emotional progression? Do your poems tell a story and need to be read in a certain sequence? If some of the poems are related, do you group them together? As you go over your body of work and make decisions which poems you will include in the collection, these ideas need to be decided upon and then reflected in a cohesive index that the reader can follow.
Biography At the end of your chapbook, include a short Biography of yourself as a poet. Most books have only a paragraph or two. If you have a website, make sure you include its URL. If you have a mailing list, include the link where a reader could join it. In the ebook, the link will be clickable. However, I like to include a QR image of the links here as well. In a print version of your chapbook, these can be accessed by the reader’s phone and take them to the link more easily.
Book Cover and Blurb A picture says a thousand words, or can possibly sell a thousand books. Put time and energy into your chapbook’s cover. Find a compelling licensed image that speaks to the theme of your presented poetry to use, or hire an artist to create one for you. On the back of the book, you will also need an image, but there you will include a blurb about your chapbook. Tell the reader what they can expect to find inside in a way that would intrigue them to open your book and take a peek. This is a good place to include your poet photo if you wish. I usually do not include photos of myself as an author or poet on my books, but it is an option for you to consider. Many poets do.
Publishing a chapbook of poetry is similar to publishing a book, although a poetry book is usually a slim volume. In some ways, it is more difficult to create than a fictional book because of all the tiny components that come together that may or may not be related to one another. Putting together a book of poetry is an art in itself in addition to writing the poems in the first place. But overall, the advent of modern Print-on-Demand publishing has made the act of creating a chapbook and selling your poetry much easier than it was back in the days of vanity presses. As a poet, you have little to lose and much to gain if you think carefully about the components of your poetry chapbook and publish your poetry to the world.
Wendy Van Camp writes science fiction, regency romance, and poetry. Her writing blog No Wasted Ink features essays about the craft of writing, poetry, flash fiction, and author interviews. Wendy’s short stories and poems have appeared in science fiction magazines such as “Quantum Visions”, “Altered Reality Magazine”, “Scifaikuest”, and “Far Horizons”. She has won Honorable Mention at the Writers of the Future Contest and is a graduate of the James Gunn Speculative Fiction Workshop.