Tuesday, July 11, 2006

I’m Still a Virgin…

When it Comes to Publishing a Chapbook or a “Full Length” Collection of Poetry.

By the way what the hell is a “full length” collection anyway? Are we talking poems or pages here? Does one really long poem (100+ pages) constitute a “full length” collection or not? How about 300 haikus? What about the term “chapbook”? The term always sounded kind of uncomfortable if you ask me. It sounds as if I should be applying some kind of balm to it; or take the poor thing to see a dermatologist. Never mind…. In any case, I now have enough published poems to put together a manuscript for a “chapbook”.

Thing is I’ve only been at this “PoBiz” for about five years. Furthermore, I never thought when I started out that I’d ever even be published in poetry journals, let alone entertain the prospect that my work might appear in a book of poetry or an anthology. For me it has always been about the poetry. I never really was in a hurry to publish a chapbook or collection, just for the sake of publishing! I mean – yeah… I’d like the look of my moniker imprinted in bold letters on several hundred copies of an expertly bound, exquisitely presented chapbook. But then again who wouldn’t?

This has been an interesting journey. On my return from Italy in 2000, I started out posting & critiquing poetry on-line. The venues I frequented are too many to name here. But it wasn’t until I started posting at the Gazebo that I really got a kick in the proverbial poetic shins. The experience kick-started my enduring interest in poetry. During the 3 odd years that I participated there I published quite a few poems. I am not a prolific writer, by any stretch of the imagination, but I was fortunate enough to have most of my poems find a home as it were.

Now 35+ published poems later, I feel like I have enough material for a chapbook. Problem is - & I’m serious about this – I really need some help with putting together a manuscript. The poems only span five years of writing but I believe that my writing style & voice really changed over that short period of time. Therefore, I’m not really sure if & how to incorporate these varied stages of development into a marketable manuscript. So, if you’re interested in a challenge, boy have I got one for you!


Addendum: For readers requiring further explication of the marketing of the Chapbook - the following article from Pudding House Press might be of interest: Chapbooks — Flying Like Hummingbirds Exciting the Air Around Them (MARKETING YOUR CHAPS WITH LIMITED IF ANY HELP FROM THE PUBLISHER) can be found in the main directory under the heading: "Chapbook Marketing a How-To"!


Collin said...

A chapbook usually consists of 25 pages or less. My chapbook has 25 pages but only 20 poems. Most contests require you to have at least 45 pages for a "full length" manuscript.

If you're going to do a chapbook, I would find a common theme to tie them together. All the poems in the chapbook don't have to be previously published...throw in a few new ones, too. You don't necessarily have to include poems from the last five years...my chapbook has work mostly written in 2004 and early 2005. Find what fits together and go for it!

Nick said...


Thank you for your detailed response. I must say that you make it sound very simple. It's nice to know that a chapbook only requires about 20 poems or so. That's good news to a procrastinator like me. I'm trying to think of a theme that runs through my work. I'll have to give this more thought.

The major problem that I have is in selecting the right publisher(s) to send off my manuscript to. Do different publishing houses prefer specific poetic styles? I suppose that I need to do some research on each and every publisher that might interest me. Seems like a daunting process, but I suppose that the payoff is worth the trouble.

Collin said...

Most publishing houses don't do chapbooks...not in the US anyway. I happen to luck out because MetroMania only does chapbooks. Most chapbooks are either self-published or contest winners. In the US, you might want to Pudding House Press or Finishing Line Press, both of which accept chapbook submissions.

Justin Evans said...

The concept for a chapbook is easy. Colin is right, though. Finding a place to publish one, and then getting a chapbook accepted is the difficult thing.

I spent 4 years working and re-working my chapbook before it saw the light of day. It was being held hostage for 18 months by one editor before I withdrew it, and when it got accepted by another, it came out 8 months late.

I like the chapbook format, and have written two more chapbooks I am just now beginning to send around as manuscripts and one of which I am sending around the individual poems now. I doubt either will see publication, but there it is.

After all that, I am really loyal to the chapbook format. I love how the narrative arc of the poems is visible inside of a chapbook. I love the idea of a short collection and the limited editions of a chapbook.

Don't get me wrong. I am prepping a full length book, but that consists of two of my chapbook manuscripts as well as as-of-yet unwritten poems and other auxillary poems which fit the overall mood of the book.

Suzanne said...

Collin pretty much covered it--chapbooks have a long history, I love them and have quite a collection from a wide ranging group of poets. Foothills makes lovely chapbooks, so does Bright Hills Press.

Nick said...

Gee, you guys are the best!


Thanks for coming back to my post and pointing me in the right direction.


I kinda like the concise nature of the chapbook myself. I've been playing around with an idea for a chapbook using "Classic Rock Song Titles" as headings for the different parts of an elongated poem. By the way, good luck with your subs!


Thanks for taking the time to respond to this post & offering your much valued opinion. I'm off to track down the two publishers that you mention. :-)

Billy Jones said...

This is a good discussion-- I wish I'd read it circa 1999 before I learned these things the hard way.

Collin pretty much covers all the basics. Almost all books of poetry are self-published-- especially virgins. At least half of the first time novelists are self-published as well.

It's rare for anyone other than college professors to find a publisher and many if not most college professors end up self-publishing the first time 'round. (I used to think they got all the breaks but now that I know several personally I realize differently.)

Be careful of the POD publishers, many charge a fortune for what others will do for free. While I've yet to use them, several friends are recommending Lulu.com. (Be sure to ask them what you need to do to get your book listed with Amazon and the wholesalers as it's not automatic.)

I could tell you of some of my bad experiences with some POD companies but they always send their attack dogs when I do so publicly. Send me an e-mail and keep it between friends.

I'm getting ready to do my 4th. and 5th. books and truth be told it seems harder than the first as I look around at all the companies out there whose primary business is not publishing, but taking advantage of authors.

Also, I now know that most POD Publishers don't actually own printing presses of any kind and thanks to a shipping mistake on the part of one of the POD companies I used I now know that the printer they use will provide all their services directly to anyone at the same price the POD companies pay. All you need is Adobie Software.

Again, send me an e-mail.

Collin said...

Yes, good discussion. Self-publishing a chapbook is almost de rigueur. I consider myself extremely lucky to have MetroMania publish my chapbook rather than going the self-pub route, but I wouldn't hesitate to self-pub a future chapbook.

Nick said...

"Poets should provide us with a mailing/e-mailing list of people we can send notices of publication to. "

After doing a little research on publishing houses - I note that the above quote is often included in submission guidelines. I assume that this is par for the course in the PoBiz. Sounds like the poet is the one left holding the bag or the box of chapbook copies if he/she is not able to move them. I suppose that readings are the way to go when it comes to selling copies of one's chapbook.

Thanks, Billy, for the heads up. I'll e-mail you for a list of POD's to steer clear of.

P.S.- Furthermore, from what Ive heard about many Chapbook Contests, I have a snowflake's chance in hell to get a fair shake.

Thanks, guys, for reading and commenting.

Collin said...

Many presses (of all sizes) are now practically forcing the author/poet to get involved in actively promoting the work. I think it's a good idea. Some poets believe they can just sit back and somehow the work will find its way into the world. Bull-honkery. You have to become a whore to market literature of any kind these days. So be ready to hustle, baby! :)

Nick said...

Some poets believe they can just sit back and somehow the work will find its way into the world.

That myth was dispelled quite some time ago. However, I was surprised to see how many publishing houses are right up front about it. This of course is better than having to read it in fine print much later.

January said...

This is a very good discussion. Thank you for letting me "listen in."

If I may, I'm curious why one would get a chapbook published instead of a full-lenght book. I know chapbooks are easier to publish, but they don't have a spine, so many bookstores, including the independents, don't carry them.

Also, I'm going to link to your post because I know poets who may benefit from this discussion.

Justin Evans said...


Believe it or not, a chapbook is easier to get published htan a full length collection.

The advantages include:

getting your name out there

convincing full length publishers you are worth a second look, perhaps

The chapbook, in all reality, has become a stepping stone to full length publication.

I have a friend who has published at least 4 single poems as four chapbooks, and each are art pieces, which helps both poetry and printing be more alive.

Help any?

Nick said...

And of course it has its advantages for a guy like me that probably doesn't have enough material for a full-length collection.

Justin, thanks for input. :-)

January, by all means "link away". This post was meant for both the poster & the reader's edification.

Anonymous said...

Hello, I surfed onto your blog, and though I've never been published except for a college publication, I hope to, one day.

All your comments are really informative. I shall be checking back here regularly.

Thank you for your posts!

January said...

Nick and Justin:

Yes, it's helpful but I still have my doubts about the power of the chapbook. How do you market your chapbook? Are publications (print/online) apt to reviewing them?

I do like the idea of creating a longer work specifically for a chapbook as a work of art.

Again, thanks. I'm enjoying the discussion.

Nick said...

January, I think that Collin is right. The onus is on the poet to hustle and peddle his/her wares anyway they can. To get the chapbook out there - you've got to get out there ... doing readings from the chapbook; trying to get local bookstores to keep your book in stock- etcetera... Hey whatever it takes!

In terms of getting a review of your chapbook - I don't believe that any publication/critic makes a dictinction between chapbooks and full-length colections when it comes to what they will choose to review. The quality of the work, however, might have something to do with it. The bottom line is accessibility.

I hope that I've been of some help.