All writing is art, as is the work done to shape it into a finished, marketable product. Poetry, however, is unique in its delivery, which is a form of art unto itself.
From a poem’s meter to its construction on the page, much thought and effort goes into creating, shaping, and polishing poems. Then, more work goes into publishing them, especially for those who seek to publish a chapbook or an entire collection of poetry.
Poetry can also be published online via blogs, some of which can be placed behind a paywall. However, if you’re wanting something more substantial and professional, you’ll want to publish a printed poetry book.
There are two primary methods of publishing a poetry book. You can either find a traditional publisher who accepts chapbooks and longer collections of poetry, or you can self-publish. Some authors even self-publish (or at least go through the motions to produce a quality finished product) first so they can send a more substantial offering to agents and publishers as a proof of concept.
With traditional publishing, you’ll have to query agents and/or publishers. Contests may also be an option, as some are run by chapbook publishers that promise to give the winning entry a print run. Writer’s Market is a vetted guide listing hundreds of publishers, agents, contests, and more. The last edition of Writer’s Market was published in 2021, so some listings may be outdated now. It can still provide a good starting point for further research.
Remember that legitimate publishers won’t ever request that you pay them money to publish your work. Always read the fine print. In the case of some contests, you may have to pay an entrance fee, which generally helps cover the cost of running the contest. Be very careful when submitting your work to contests. In this previous article, we describe the pros and cons of entering contests, as well as what to watch out for.
If you’d prefer to go the self-publishing route, you will have to invest money upfront to produce and publish your book, but the upside is that when you truly self-publish (rather than go through a “hybrid” publisher), you receive all royalties and you keep all rights to your work.
The caveat is that you’re responsible for everything—from production to distribution and marketing. On the other hand, this means you have full control of the entire process. If you hire an author services company like 1106 Design, we’ll do the heavy lifting. You can have the best of both worlds—the quality of traditional publishing with the freedom and control of self-publishing.
It may still seem daunting at first, and it’s true that self-publishing isn’t for the faint of heart. But with the right knowledge, creating and publishing a book of poetry is within your grasp. Whether you’re publishing a quality product, however, will depend on you. Before your book is ready to be published, be sure to follow the tips below.
Write and Compile Your Poetry
For those who dream of publishing a poetry book but haven’t yet drafted any poems, it’s time to start writing. Some people prefer to just let their emotions flow onto the page, others plan out the structure and message of their poem beforehand.
While drafting your poems, consider whether there are common themes, imagery, or messages you’d like your poems to convey. If your book covers multiple themes, it may be best to group the poems accordingly.
When compiling your poetry, keep these questions and your goal in mind:
- How are your poems related?
- Does each poem strengthen the work as a whole?
- Are some poems better left out because their themes are too different?
- What order allows them to flow best as you read it from start to finish?
Edit Your Poems
Of course, it’s important for you to revise your poems and edit them on your own. If you’re planning to publish your work, you should also consider hiring a professional editor to polish it beforehand. Even if you’re planning to traditionally publish your work, it should be well-edited before you submit it anywhere.
Due to the expressive nature of poetry, it may be acceptable to deliberately defy certain rules regarding grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Just remember that you should understand the rules before you break them.
Even if your poetry doesn’t adhere to these rules, you should let an editor look your work over to ensure you didn’t make any unintentional errors. Editors may also improve the flow and structure of your poetry where needed. Read our article, “What Does a Book Editor Do and Do I Need One,” to determine which editors you need for your project and when.
Check Your Page Count
Regardless of whether they’re traditionally or independently published, poetry chapbooks are generally between 20 and 40 pages long. They can be longer or shorter depending on the number of poems and any extras included. We would advise against making them shorter than 20 pages for two reasons: value for your readers and page count requirements at printers.
Depending on where and how you plan to print and distribute your book, it will need to fall within the minimum and maximum page count specified by the printer, and your book should have an even number of total pages (including front and back matter).
At IngramSpark, books need to be at least 18 pages long. At Amazon KDP, books need to be at least 24 pages long. The maximum page count will depend on your trim size, binding, ink type, and paper type.
Also, keep in mind that readers may not find sufficient value in a book if it’s too short, especially if it’s priced as high as full-length books. Adding a Forward, an About the Author section, or even illustrations can help provide more value if you don’t have enough poetry to make the page count requirements.
Format Your Poetry
Poetry typically has a unique form, and it’s important that your poems render the way you intend once printed. Ensuring your poems are professionally typeset is imperative to reader comprehension and enjoyment.
Our suggestion, of course, is to hire a professional interior designer to ensure your files render properly in print and digital format. An interior designer will also be able to add images you’d like to include, if any. Beforehand, decide whether you want a print book, eBook, or both.
Note that creative alignments of text often seen in poetry are difficult to replicate in eBooks, which are designed to adapt to various sized screens. For example, if each line in a stanza is indented by a greater amount than the previous line, creating a diagonal pattern, it’s almost impossible to ensure this will be reproduced accurately in an eBook.
Once your poetry is formatted, remember to allow a proofreader to give it a pass over to weed out any errors introduced during typesetting. After typesetting, also double-check the page count to ensure you’re still within the required range after changes have been made.
Don’t Forget Cover Design
A cover is one of the most important parts of a book. For poetry books, the cover art is usually abstract or minimalist. You should research bestselling poetry books in your niche to see what works.
Below are links to blog posts to help you know what elements should be included on the front, back, and spine, and how they should work together:
In traditional publishing, the publisher will handle all aspects of production, and the author may have minimal creative control. With self-publishing, the author has full creative control and must tend to all the steps in this post.
Indie authors are often tempted to go the DIY route when it comes to design. We will always recommend hiring experts who have the training and experience to create designs that upload properly and sell, not just look good to the author.
ISBNs and Printing
For indie authors, once your book is produced and you have the final files, it’ll be time to upload them to your desired printer and distribute them.
You should have already purchased an ISBN for your book (one for each version of your book). In the US, the only place to purchase ISBNs is at Bowker. Learn more about ISBNs with this blog post. Be sure that it’s YOUR name on the ISBNs. If it isn’t, you’re not the publisher.
Your printing decisions will depend on where you want your book to be sold, what format(s) you’d like it to be available in, etc. You may just want to create an eBook, or you may want to offer a print book or an audiobook. Some people publish all three to reach a wider audience.
If you’d like print versions of your book, you’ll have to decide whether you’d like to utilize print on demand (POD) or another method. With POD, your books won’t be printed until a customer makes a purchase, which is usually the preferred method for those who don’t have a place to store overstock.
Just make sure your page count, trim size, and binding are supported by your printing selection. Services such as IngramSpark and Amazon KDP are the only two distributors who will print your book on demand and distribute it to online and physical retailers. Authors can order any quantity of books delivered to themselves from these platforms.
Last but not least, you’ll need to market your book. In fact, you should start marketing your book well before you publish it. Build hype around it. Get people interested. The market for poetry is much smaller than it used to be, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to sell.
For those who need handholding and who understand the importance of creating a quality product, full-service firms like 1106 Design are here to help you every step of the way. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help bring your work to life.