How To Make a Poetry Chapbook

Sonia Akavan
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What Is a Poetry Chapbook?

A poetry chapbook is an anthology of poetry, usually containing three to eight poems.

It is usually single column, black and white recto and verso, and saddle-stapled. Chapbooks are usually 4– by 5– inches.

There is no set format for a poetry chapbook. You could go with a simple outline of just the poet’s name, contact information and book information on the front and back covers. Or you could go all out with illustrations on the cover.

Content for Your Chapbook

Give yourself plenty of time to work on each chapbook, but don’t wait until the last minute to print them.

Printing can be a time-suck, so plan in advance to do it during a time when you can focus instead of pulling multiple all-night print sessions.

Keep in mind that the publication deadline will come.

Do your work first, and then submit it.

Know your theme and keep it consistent throughout.

Keep to your word count.

Make your chapbook visually appealing.

Don’t use flimsy paper or bind with staples.

Personalizing copies with poetry on the inside is a great touch.

Editing a Poetry Chapbook

The first draft you write is never the final version. It’s just the beginning. It’s your raw material.

The act of editing and revising is considered as important as the process of writing.

It’s not uncommon to spend up to eighty percent of your time editing instead of writing.

Editing has a higher value than writing and further contributes to laying the foundation for a successful piece of work.

Even when you draft a piece of work, there’s the need to edit it as you go along.

You can implement the active reading process for editing, which includes:

Reading the work actively by identifying the “punch” (main idea) of each paragraph.

Reviewing the work by re-reading the main idea or punch line of the paragraphs and looking for flaws.

When the editing process is over, decide if you want to include your creative writing work on your blog, in your book or website, or as a standalone document. A good tip is to make a sidebar text with a clear indication on which website or page it will be placed.

Designing Your Book

You can use a word processor or a design software to layout your book. If you plan on publishing your chapbook to the web, then Word or Google Docs will be sufficient.

If you’re publishing your chapbook to print via CreateSpace or Lulu then you’ll need to use a PDF design program.

First, it’s easy to throw together a multi-page document of your poems.

Here’s an example. This is a mock-up of the table of contents.

After combining your poems you can add photographs, drawings or other images to provide visual interest.

Next you will work on the formatting and the layout of the book. This includes things like the margins, the line spacing, and page numbers. The margins can vary a bit depending on the type of printer you’re using.

CreateSpace and Lulu are usually printed on offset printers with wide margins. Be sure to access your printer’s website for details.

Finally, you can preview your book to see what it will look like as a book and to make sure that everything flows well. You can also add your cover on this screen as well.

Once you’re satisfied, you can save a PDF of the book.

Choosing the Chapbook Materials

Depending on your budget, you can base your choice on paper quality, type (text, photo, collage), cover quality, number of pages and overall look.

You can also work with a printer based on quality, cost, turnaround time, durability of your choice of materials, etc.

Before you place your order, design your chapbook on paper and then send it to your printer. That will give you an idea of the costs.

The smallest-sized book you can find will do.

The quality will be less than that of a hard-cover book, but you can even find some of those if you want a more formal book.

The small format will give you the opportunity to print more pages (around 100) for less money.

The variety of paper you can choose from consists of various combinations of paper, quality, thickness, weight and color. Above all, the number of choices based on the number of sides printed will make a remarkable difference in the price.

For the cover, you can even have more options, based on material (cardboard, paste paper, etc.) and number of pages. You can choose from a variety of finishes:

  • Matte
  • Photo

How to Print a Poetry Chapbook

(or Mini-Book)

A chapbook is a small book usually consisting of a collection of poems. Most chapbooks are made to be given away to others.

If you have any poems you would like to have printed, and would like it to look neat and professional to distribute to people you meet at readings, here’s how to make your own poetry chapbook:

Print the poetry chapbook on good quality, text weight paper that is cream or ivory in color. White paper is fine if you are just doing it for an artist’s printing.

If you want the pages to be plain white, omit the spine and dust jackets.

The text on the flyleaves (the opposite page of the cover) should be larger and more visible than the text of the poems on the interior pages.

Bind the chapbooks. One popular binding is the coptic binding, which uses a single signature (a folded sheet of paper) to bind all of the pages. This is nice if you are giving it away to use as a giveaway.

It’s also possible to wrap the chapbook with a cover. This optional step is nice because it makes it easier to protect the book in a pocket or a backpack.

Binding Your Chapbook

There are many ways you can bind your chapbook. In this tutorial we are going to discuss the half-bind binding. What you will need to do this is:

  • Rabbit hole punch
  • A pack of 3 inch, 1/8 inch, rounded corner staples
  • A pack of clear plastic bookbinding sheets (from Office Depot)
  • A pack of paper
  • A pack of 1/4 inch thick cardboard (from Office Depot)

Instructions:

Create your poems on your computer, or print them out if you handwrite your poems. Before you get started, you need to set your margins. For partial offset printing, you will want to use a top margin of 20 points and a right margin of 20 points. For full offset printing, your top margin will be 18 points and your right margin will be 18 points.

Promoting Your Chapbook

It’s important that you’re able to market your chapbook on your own since few publishers will manage things for you. So it’s important to do some work ahead of time to make sure you’re set up for success.

To begin with, I’d suggest posting a call for submissions on your blog. Even if you’ve already written and published and e-book, you should still have a blog. It’s not only a great way to build an audience but also a great place to post calls for submissions.

While I’m always suggesting that you should do things for free, I would respectfully suggest that this request for submissions be made for a fee or donation. Once again, it’s important to make a living as well as you can while you’re putting yourself out there.

When prospective contributors reach out to you, be sure to have a simple form that they can fill out in order to submit poetry to you. Then be sure to reach out to each contributor within a week to let them know whether or not their work is a fit for your collection.

Why Make a Poetry Chapbook?

As you edit and revise, you may reach a point where you feel ready to commit your poems to print. The natural choice is a chapbook, which can be an effective means of getting your work into the hands of readers. Here are some reasons to consider creating a chapbook:

You currently have little or no publication credits.

You want to get something out now, rather than wait to gather together a complete book.

You know readers who have done chapbooks, and they speak so highly of them that you’re just dying to do one too.

You want a book that looks and feels like your own.

You want to enhance your portfolio with what’s known as a “samples” book.

Your chapbook won’t replace a full-length publication, but it can serve as a handy first step in publishing. It won’t reap you money like a more inclusive book would, but it can plant the seeds of publication in new and wider soil. The world of a chapbook is a small, congenial one, and one that gives you a chance to “break the ice” with an audience.