Do you have a bunch of poems but don't know what to do with them? Have you ever thought about turning your poems into a cohesive poetry collection, or poem book? It's easier than you think!
In this post, I will cover how to turn your loose poems into a well-organized, published poetry collection. We'll also discuss self-publishing versus how to find a publisher.
Whether you're just starting out or have been writing for years, this post has something for you. Let's get started!
Love Writing Poetry? Collect Your Poems into a Book!
If you've been writing poems for a while now, it's likely you have dozens(+) of complete poems waiting to go live in a poetry book of your very own.
Or maybe you've just had your first few poems published in literary magazines and now want to publish a poetry book.
But you may be asking...er, how do I go about the publishing process? Worry not, poet! I've put together a comprehensive guide for you!
Here's what I will cover in this post:
Common questions writers have when it comes to creating their own book of poetry.
Compare the traditional publishing world with the self-publishing route (with a focus on self-publishing)
Let's jump in.
9 Common Questions Poets Have About How to Write a Poetry Book
Contents of This Section:
1) What's the Difference Between a Chapbook and a Full-Length Collection?
A chapbook is shorter than a full-length collection and is usually published in the form of a pamphlet. It may have a stapled binding or handsewn binding. You may find chapbooks that look more like regular books these days, but traditionally, a chapbook does not have an ISBN and will look more like a zine than a book.
A full-length poetry collection is just that—a full-length book of poems. It will have sturdy binding, an ISBN number, and be returnable to bookstores (if they decide to carry it).
2) How Many Poems Do I Need for My Poetry Book?
A full-length poetry collection typically includes a minimum of 40 poems and may include up to 100 poems. The typical length of a poetry collection is around 40 to 80 poems.
A chapbook usually has around 15 to 30 poems. A micro chapbook may have less than 15.
Depending on what type of poetry book you want to write, you may already have enough or need to get to work writing more!
3) Should My Poems Have a Theme?
While you may be tempted to just gather all your best poems and publish them into a random collection for your first poetry book, a collection of poems should have a theme, or some kind of connecting thread running through it.
As one poem has a topic, theme, form, and literary devices—the elements of poetic language—your collection should also have one or more of these elements shared across all included poems.
A poetry book is like a music album
A musician doesn't release an album where one song is for classical piano, another song is electronic, and another is a bluesy ballad (exactly what my album would sound like if I were to release it, ha ha!). Instead, they have a collection of songs that fit a genre and sound like a cohesive work when listened to all the way through. Think of your poetry book like this.
You are, of course, free to make your own creative decisions about your poem book (especially if you're a poet choosing to self-publish). But if you don't have a large following, you'll have better success pitching your book to poetry book publishers or marketing it to your general audience if it is cohesive.
"What is this book about?"
Just like a fiction or non-fiction prose book, you should be able to answer the question "what is this book about"? Maybe the poems are all about different topics but they're all Shakespearean sonnets—that would offer more cohesion than a book of poetry that includes ten free verse poems about heartache, ten comedic limericks, ten villanelles about the environment, and ten concrete poems about urban life. How would you even go about selling that book if someone asks you what it's about? They'd be walking away in the middle of your pitch because you'd have to talk for too long to explain it.
Consider your book's audience
You'll better be able to market your book to its target audience if you decide on some sort of theme. If the poems in your poetry book are all about motherhood, mothers will be interested in your book. If your poetry book is about the environment, environmentalists will be interested in your book.
Go With What You Already Have Written
If you're not sure what theme to go with, start sorting your strongest poems into different piles. You might divide these piles by topic, by different forms, or by some other method. Whichever pile has the most poems may be the direction you want to go with.
Already have ten odes to nature? Start focusing your writing efforts toward writing more on that topic in that poetic form. Pretty soon, you'll be able to collect your individual poems into a poetry book!
4) What Should I Include in My Book Other Than Poems?
Pages that come before the main text such as the copyright page, title page, table of contents, dedication, epigraph, introduction, and foreword are referred to as "front matter" in publishing. Pages in back like acknowledgments and about the author—you got it—"back matter."
Other than the copyright, title page, and table of contents, the other pages are more or less optional. lip through some of your favorite books to see how these are arranged. There's no hard and fast rule on which order these should go in exactly (although your copyright and title page should always come first).
5) What Dimensions Should My Collection of Poems Be?
The dimensions of your book are referred to as "trim size" in the publishing world. A common trim size for a poetry book is 5.5"x8. 5", for example.
Of course, you'll find poetry books in all shapes and sizes, so go browse the shelves of your local indie bookstore (and maybe bring a ruler if you don't mind looking a little weird) and see what trim size other poets publish in who write in a similar style as you.
6) What About the Book Cover Design?
While you may care more about people reading your poetry than admiring the cover, people do, in fact, judge a book by its cover. You've done this yourself, surely.
The cover art is as much a part of the creative aspect of your final book as it is a part of your marketing strategy. Because this is the case, you'll want to give some attention to the cover design.
Your poetry book cover should be designed with both art and marketing in mind. It's a good idea to have someone who is experienced in both areas take care of this for you. It's easy to find and hire professionals on freelancing platforms like Fiverr or Upwork. You can usually find competent freelancers that fit a range of budgets.
But if you're really on a tight budget, or would prefer to create the cover yourself, you can also find some decent templates online that you can work from, like from Canva. Or if you're a pro with design software, then you already know what you're doing. Just make sure to read up on cover design best practices.
7) What About the Interior Design?
If you are self-publishing, you have two options when it comes to the interior design of your poetry book: do it yourself or hire someone else to do it.
If you have a publisher, they should handle the interior design of your book. You might feel strongly about how you want your poems to appear, such as fonts and arrangement, so make your desires known.
DIY interior design
If you are self-publishing, depending on the company you go through, they may have design software included in the publishing package that you can use. If you're already handy with design software like Adobe InDesign, then, have at it. Just make sure you understand the parameters of the self-publishing company. Consider things like page size, margins, and bleed area.
Hiring a designer
If you have the budget to hire a designer to design the interior of your book, this is the best option if you want your book to look professional and marketable to bookstores. Make sure to hire someone who specifically has experience with interior book design.
If you're going to offer your book as an eBook, you need to format it (or have it formatted) as an EPUB file to make it compatible with eReaders.
8) Should I Go Through a Publisher?
Going through a publisher has its advantages. If you're reading this article, you likely will not be able to get your book published by a major publishing house, as they usually only accept established authors with agents. So you should aim for a small press.
Not all small presses are equal
Small presses vary in size from one-person operations working out of their home to teams of people that work out of an office. They also vary in quality.
Not all small presses are equal, so look into their reputations and see how many books they have published, which poets they are publishing, and see how many followers they have on social media.
Also, find out what kind of help they are going to provide for marketing and publicity. Some do quite a bit while others do next to nothing.
Do your research
Before you commit to signing a publishing agreement with a small press, it's essential that you order a book from that press to check the quality. Don't be like me and realize you've chosen a press that takes 5 months to deliver a book once ordered and the print quality and design are a C+.
Also, speak to other poets who have published with that press and find out what their experience has been. Don't be like me and later find out that you will not be able to reach your publisher to answer even one question.
Publishing with a small press through contests
In the indie publishing industry, one common way to publish a poetry book is to go through poetry contests. This almost always requires you to pay an entry fee. The winner(s) of the contest get their book published. This seems like a bit of a gamble to me...you might spend a lot of money submitting to contests, not knowing how many others are entering, and hoping you win.
Small presses and reading fees
In other cases, you can submit your work outside of a contest, but many times, the press will charge a reading fee. This may be less than a contest fee and more manageable if you are submitting to many presses.
There are presses that don't charge a fee to read your submission, as well. So depending on which press you have your hopes on and your budget, you may be paying money upfront just to have a chance at having your work published by an indie publishing press.
Because of the costs and long wait times involved in trying to find an indie publisher, many poets publishing their full-length creative work choose to publish their work without involving an outside publisher.
This option is becoming more popular, as it is easier than ever to accomplish. And social media allows poets to market their books themselves without a publisher. On the downside, you don't get the "prestige" or "credit" that comes with having a publisher accept your work. So consider what your goals are when deciding whether to self-publish or go through traditional publishing.
9) What Are the Best Services for Self-Publishing?
You will need to choose which company you will use to actually print and distribute your self-published book.
Some popular self-publishing services include IngramSpark, Kobo, Amazon KDP, BookBaby, Blurb. But there are many others.
Decide whether it makes more sense to go with a short-run printer or a print-on-demand (POD) service.
Short-run printing allows you to print a predetermined number of books in a batch. The more books in your batch, the cheaper it is. But you need to pay upfront before you sell any books. If you have no idea how many books you will sell, you may end up with extra stock. Also—where will you store this inventory?
Print-on-demand services do exactly that—print off a copy of your book once someone has ordered it. The cost of each book remains the same no matter how many you sell. You also don't need a place to store inventory. This model is very convenient but can cost more in the end.
Once you have your poetry book manuscript, the next crucial step is to decide whether to self-publish or go the traditional publishing route. If you're leaning toward self-publishing, stay tuned for my next blog post, "What Steps Do I Need to Take to Write a Poetry Book?"
I'll be covering the 14 steps you need to know to self-publish your poetry collection. Don't want to miss it? Subscribe to my blog by scrolling down and completing the form below. I publish a post on poetry or publishing every two weeks.
If you enjoyed this post and found it useful, I invite you to download my free e-book, Creating Your First Poetry Book: 14 Steps to Self-Publishing Your Collection. It even includes a checklist you can print and use as you go along in your self-publishing poetry journey!