by Scott Woods
It is the rare artist that creates for no one, so it should come as no surprise that just about every poet wants to be published at some point in their lives. One of the most common questions from poets is whether or not to publish a chapbook. Below are some things to consider in your decision.
What’s a chapbook?
A chapbook is a small booklet of writing. For poets, this is typically a short collection of poetry, hitting at around 40 pages or less (including non-poetry pages). Most of the ones you’ll come across are just 8.5 x 11 inch paper booklets folded in half and stapled with a cardstock cover.
Should I publish a chapbook?
It depends on why you want to. Do you want people to read your poetry? Do you want thousands of people to read your poetry? Do you want people to give you money for poetry? Do you want people to give you a lot of money for poetry? Have you published any poems in journals/magazines/anthologies? Do you just want something that you can hold that has your name printed on it? Or that your mother can pass around the dinner table to her friends? Will you be crushed if no one buys it? Do you just want to do it so you can say you did it?
There are no absolute answers to any of these questions (so save it, trolls), but no matter what your answers are, whether or not you should publish a chapbook depends largely on what you want to get out of it. You have to be honest about your goals (with yourself, at least). Your decision will be aided by information like the stuff on this page, but ultimately, it comes down to what you want out of your poetry. Some people want money and fame. Some people want to impress people. Some people just want to make a cool Christmas gift.
What kind of poetry should I put in a chapbook?
The stuff people like. Most poets just want a collection that reflects who they are as artists at that point in time, so they put together stuff they like and that people they’ve shared work with thought highly of. Other poets come up with themes (or discover that they’ve been writing under a theme all along) and put together a chap that captures that.
How many poems should be in a chapbook?
It depends on the length of your poems and the layout. Most poems will hit at 2 chapbook pages apiece. So out of a 40-page book, minus 4-6 pages for title, publishing info and what-not, you’re looking at around 34 pages of poetry. Divide that by 2 and you’re looking at around 15-17 poems. If you’re like me – long-winded – that’s more like 8-10 poems.
How do I distribute it?
At readings. You might be able to get a bookstore or coffeehouse to carry it, but it is unlikely to sell in that environment. Most people need to see and hear your poetry to get interested in it. Unless your poetry is somewhere you aren’t, you’re probably going to have the best luck keeping them on you and selling them at gigs or open mics. If you have a website you should be selling them there.
Should I make a chapbook or go for a full-length collection?
If you’ve never published anything the answer is almost always “chapbook.”
If you’ve published a little but nobody’s come knocking to publish more, the answer is probably still “chapbook.”
Do I have to self-publish it?
The market for publishers seeking out poetry chapbooks is – and I say this generously – miniscule. It’s not worth most publishers’ time or money unless you’re already a big time poet, and even then you’d be better off taking the lion’s share of whatever money you might generate by doing it yourself.
How much should I charge for my chapbook?
The going rate is around $5 or $7. I think this is too small anymore and recommend anybody with an inkling of audience interest charge at least $8 or $10. If you don’t know if you have any audience or other interest in your work, you don’t, and you should charge what will sell.
Can I make any money off of chapbooks?
Define “make money.” If you mean, “Can I sell them to people and make more money than I spent to make them,” absolutely. The average chapbook cost between $2.00 – 4.00 to make. Print fifty of them ($100-200) and you only need sell 20-40 copies to cover costs. If, however, you mean “Can I pay my rent with chapbook money?” know that you would have to sell an inordinate amount of chapbooks. By “inordinate” I mean, “Don’t stop delivering those pizzas just yet.”
Where should I start?
By developing an audience with good poems and engagement with your local scene. Who do you think is going to buy your book? People at open mics and featured readings. So get your name out there by doing good poetry (not by hustling organizers, please) and score some featured readings. You should have your work available to sell wherever you perform.