Archive of Articles about Writing

Chapbook Publishing

What is a chapbook?

A chapbook is a book that created by folding standard 8 1/2 x 11 (The size varies outside of the United States) paper in half so that you create a shape close to that of a common paperback book. By doing this, a single sheet of paper yields four pages of a book. You then bind the multiple pages together by stapling along the crease of the sheets of paper. A mere eight sheets of paper can create a 32 page chapbook. Because of the limitations of the stapling and folding process, chapbooks tend to run about 32 pages and rarely more than 64 pages. In addition to standard sheets of paper, you may wish to create a cover using thicker (and perhaps glossy) cover-stock paper.

What are the advantages of a chapbook?

The primary advantage of a chapbook is that it can be created cheaply using a computer, a word processing or desktop publishing program, and a printer. This means that you can produce as many or as few books as you need. Poetry chapbooks are accepted in the poetry community and many poetry competitions accept chapbooks as entries.

What are the disadvantages of a chapbook?

The primary disadvantage of a chapbook is that most retail bookstores will not sell it. Because chapbooks do not have spine wide enough to print a title on, they cannot easily be found on the bookshelf. Also, if you wish to produce a chapbook yourself, that means you will have to write, edit, design, print, and bind the book yourself. Many people lack the skill or the motivation to do these things themselves. It is possible to have a professional print shop produce the chapbook for you, but that will add to the expense and you will have to order a set run of books. There are also online services such as Lulu who will publish one for you, but again, if your goal is cheap this may not get you what you want.

Once I create a chapbook, what can I do with it?

You can sell it through your web site. You can bring it to sell at poetry readings (even open mike nights). You can enter it in poetry contests and you can produce it so cheaply that you can even give it away if you want to.

Don’t include any word with a single “A” in it, but do include at least one word with two “A”s in it

All Good Things

Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.
Groucho Marx

I want to thank everyone who has participated in this project. The Facebook group has been phenomenally active, and a lot of great poetry got written. I definitely want to do this again sometime, if I can manage 30 or so more posts about poetry.

The people who have chosen to write their poems and to comment on the poems of others have demonstrated my final lesson, the value of collaboration. Working with other poets is a good thing. Creating a community is a good thing. As I said, this would have been a much more difficult and longer month without the contributions of others. Reading other poet’s work has been invigorating. Reading other poet’s comments has been instructive. Having an audience of peers to discuss poetry with has helped me improve as a poet, and I hope it has helped others.

If you have the chance to work with, or just make friends with other poets. Take that chance. They will help keep your focus on poetry and on writing, which over the long haul can be more valuable than any criticism or praise.

Today’s Poetry Assignment

I feel like ending with something technical but random. Don’t include any word with a single “A” in it, but do include at least one word with two “A”s in it.

Four Ways to Publish Your Poetry

There are four general options for publishing a collection of poetry:

  1. Web Publishing
  2. Subsidized Publishing
  3. Self Publishing
  4. Traditional Publishing

Each method has its own shortcomings and benefits. For example, web publishing is the least pricey and has the lowest reputation, but surprisingly it is capable or reaching a much wider audience than most other methods. My site, such as it is, reaches over 30,000 unique visitors a month.

Option 1: Web Publishing

Web publishing is, quite simply, setting up web pages to display your work. This is an easy process, even for someone with limited knowledge of web page creation. You can make use of a service such as www.blogger.com (free) to create your own site and you simply need to paste in your poems. It is hardly more work than e-mailing.

Because web sites are inexpensive and easy to create, there are many people out there doing it. This means that it carries less prestige than any of the other methods, yet web pages are easier to promote than books and because they are free, will often attract more readers than a book if you do a little marketing and publicity work.

Option 2: Subsidized Publishing

Subsidized publishing is when you pay someone to publish a book for you. There are many options of varying expense. Print-on-demand services are the cheapest, and www.lulu.com has been gaining in reputation among those services lately. www.xlibris.com and www.iuniverse.com are two other established services. Print-on-demand publishers only print books when they are ordered. This means that you do not have to pay for a set run of books and therefore have little (sometimes no) upfront fees.

The downside of these services is that there is often very little variation in the printing process. In other words, you have limited control over how the book looks. You may also have to create the formatting for the book on your own, which many people do not know how to do. If you can’t do it, you’ll have to pay someone who can. This publishing segment is still relatively new (only five years old by my count) and much like the Internet, you have to be careful to make sure what a service offers is what they provide.

A more expensive, more established option is to go with a subsidized publishing company that will work with you individually to tailor the book to your vision. The publisher will then print a run of books (100 is usually the bare minimum and 1000 will generally get you a reasonable price-per-book). You pay upfront for the books and you sell them on your own through advertising, readings and whatever other means you can come up with. A new, inexpensive option is to go with a print-on-demand publisher such as lulu.com.

The benefit of subsidized publishing is that you get an actual book that you can hold, show and even sell. It doesn’t quite have the prestige of traditional publishing, but people do respect almost any book more than a web page.

Option 3: Self Publishing

Self publishing is a challenge. It means taking charge of every aspect of the publishing process from formatting the book to obtaining the ISBN number to printing the book to marketing the book. It is not a simple process, but it is a rewarding one. Every part of the process can be done by an individual working out their own home with the right equipment (computer, printer, desktop publishing program, telephone, personal resolve). On the other hand, any part of the process can be hired out, from designing the book to printing the book to hiring a publicist.

Many poets start with a chapbook. The definition of a chapbook is that it is stapled (like a magazine) rather than bound. Because of this, chapbooks are relatively easy to produce on a printer or through a copy shop. They aren’t quite as attractive as bound books and most book stores will not carry them because you can’t read the name on the binding, which is how book store patrons generally find books. You can, however, sell these books through Amazon or other online outlets as long as you have an ISBN number.

Option 4: Traditional Publishing

The “traditional” publishing world (in which the publisher assumes all expense and sometimes even pays the poet) is a tough nut to crack. Major publishers do not publish books of poetry, except when they see a clear profit in the activity or they are appeasing an otherwise profitable writer. This leaves most poetry publishing to university presses and other small presses. There are virtually no agents who work with poets and small presses. Most of these publishers struggle to break even, much less turn a profit. Because of this, small presses often exist to publish works or poets that the publisher loves, not just likes or appreciates, loves. Often, the publisher knows the poet on a personal basis or has discovered them through journals or recommendations from other poets. That is why it is important to become active in the poetry world. If you are sending your poetry to these publishers without getting to know who the publishers are and what they like, your chances of finding the right publisher for you are slim.

The best way to become a published poet through the traditional route is to become a part of the poetry community. How do you do that?

  1. Buy books of poetry, especially books by current writers working in the field.
  2. Subscribe to poetry journals.
  3. Go to poetry readings. Check your local arts publications. Almost any sizable town has readings every week or every other week. This is a great opportunity to meet poets and people who care about poetry.
    When you go to readings, donate money and buy books if you can. Support the community you belong to.
    Host a poetry event or organize a reading. This is a way or recognizing the poets you enjoy and a way of promoting yourself in the community.
  4. Publish your own poetry journal. Even a web page or a few sheets of paper stapled together gets the word out.
  5. Form a poetry circle or group. If you want to swap poetry and criticism with your peers, form your own group. Many local arts publications let you list your group for free.

Write the final line of your poem first, then figure out a way to get there

Six Quick Tips

We are almost to the end of our 31 day journey through the world of poetry. I still have several poems left to write and I am determined to do it, so I am not going to delve too deep tonight. Instead I am going to leave you with six quick tips to take forward with you.

  1. Nobody said writing poetry was easy. If they did, they probably weren’t very good at it. Accept the challenge. Embrace the challenge.
  2. Set aside time at least once a week to write poetry. It is easy to get out of the habit. I know.
  3. Poetry is therapeutic. Poetry can be a great way of dealing with anger or sadness. It is good to write your way through something, whether the poem itself is good or not.
  4. Buy at least one book of poetry a month. Try to support new poets and don’t be afraid to try someone you don’t like at first. You CAN learn from poets you don’t like.
  5. Look for ways to do something unexpected in your poetry. It is good sometimes to take a poem someplace that the reader did not see coming.
  6. Sometimes when you are stuck for something to write, it is because you are not doing enough things that are worth writing about. Take the time to live and embrace life, otherwise you may well run out of material.

Today’s Poetry Assignment

Write the final line of your poem first, then figure out a way to get there.

Write a poem that includes one or more descriptions of sounds – 31p31d

Day 28 of 31 Poems in 31 Days

Choose Your Words

Some poets write what they feel and spend very little time thinking about which word to use. They rely on instinct. Other poets spend a considerable amount of time trying to choose exactly the right words. They analyze and consider every word. I’m not going to advocate one method over the other. In my opinion, it is up to the poet to determine their approach to word choice. I am certainly in the middle of the road with my approach. I care about word choice, and I will often consider the benefits of one word over another, but I would consider myself completely sidetracked if I spent more than a few minutes deciding on whether or not one word is more perfect over another.

There are six general ways to influence and analyze your choice of words. The type of poem you write can make a difference in your choices. A poem with a metered form is going to involve choices about rhythm. A visually structured poem will entail a greater emphasis on appearance. A persona poem will require an increased focus on style. Beyond form, there is the individual style of the poet, which leads to subconscious word choices. Below are the six methods that you can use to determine word choice.

Meaning: The meaning of a word can be important in several ways. Obviously you want a word with the correct definition, but there are other considerations. Sometimes you want to reflect on the alternate meanings of a word in addition to the contextual meaning of a word. For example, you can say “we were filming the movie” or “we were shooting the movie”. Both phrases are correct in context, but the word shooting brings in other images because it has alternate meanings. Filming is the more precise word, which may be what the poet wants, but shooting has connotations of both violence and achievement (shooting a gun, shooting for the stars) that filming does not. These differences can have an overall effect on the poem, especially if reinforced with other word choices elsewhere in the poem.

Style: Another consideration is style and usage. Some words are more formal than others. For example, “cannot” and “can’t” are essentially the same word, but cannot is the accepted formal usage and can’t, like all contractions, is considered informal. Even more informal usages, such as slang or colloquialisms like cain’t, create a much different effect.

Rhythm: The rhythm of a word is essentially its meter, which I have discussed in earlier posts. It is the general pattern of the word, stressed syllables versus unstressed syllables. Even if you aren’t attempting to write a poem with a formal meter, you may find that you want a particular rhythm, especially for words on the same line.

Sound: The way a word sounds is always a consideration in poetry. The following words all mean essentially (though not exactly) the same thing: apron, bib, smock, pinafore. Each of these words has a different sound. Apron and pinafore have softer and longer sounds compared with bib and smock. If the exact meaning of the word isn’t your primary concern, then you might choose one of the four because it fits your sound requirements. It may rhyme, be alliterative, be assonant or add any of a number of other qualities to your poem.

Length: The length of a word can have very definite effects on a poem. The eye and even the voice tend to move more quickly over short words than long, even if the total number of syllables per line is the same. Short words tend to present as more active than long words. Long words tend to present as more formal and intellectual than short words.

Appearance: The final consideration in word choice is how the word looks on the page. For some poets, especially those who work with visual structures, this can be important. The words “little” and “modest” have similar meanings, the same number of letters and the same stresses, but the letters of the word little are (overall) taller and narrower than the letters in modest. For a visually-oriented poet, this can determine which word gets used.

Today’s Poetry Assignment

Write a poem that includes one or more descriptions of sounds.

Use an inspiration tool

The Search for Inspiration

 

Sometimes I get stuck for ideas to write about. It is easy to get stuck in a rut as a poet. Staring at a blank page or a blank screen can be intimidating. Here are a few ways, presented in the tried and true list style, which can help you get started.

Call a friend and talk about old times
Collaborate with another poet
Exercise
Give yourself a deadline
Give yourself permission to write badly
Go someplace new
Interview yourself
Just start writing anything that comes to mind as fast as you can
Listen to your favorite music
Look at old photographs
Meditate
Read a magazine or a newspaper
Read someone else’s poetry
Read your own poetry
Review your old work
Start with a title
Take a swim, bath or a shower
Take a walk
Try another medium such as drawing or painting
Try something new

Today’s Poetry Assignment

Use one of the methods from the list above as inspiration for your poem. If you post your poem, be sure to write down which method you chose.

Today’s Poetry Assignment

If you truly want to get the poetry world all riled up, write a book of prose poems. If you don’t believe me, just read some of the reviews of Karen Volkman’s work. Better yet, go read the work yourself and see if YOU get riled up. What do you do to follow up your prose poems… sonnets!

Interview with Karen Volkman
Karen Volkman: Poetry’s Latest Punchline
Karen Volkman – Vacancy’s Ambassador

Books