As a poet, I write and submit my poems, much as I do my short stories. I write a batch of scifaiku, submit it to various magazines and hopefully, see most of it published. As an artist, I take the second step of illustrating my poems and turning them into blog posts, illustrated poems to publish in magazines or to sell as art prints at science fiction conventions. I have a dream to one day create a collection of my poetry to sell as a poetry chapbook.
Whether you submit your collection to a traditional publisher or plan to self-publish your manuscript, there are certain elements your manuscript will need to be ready.
You will need to decide on a title for your collection of poems. Think about the theme of your work and what poems you are going to include in the collection. This will help you determine a good title for your chapbook. I often suggest to make a list of possible titles, pick out three or four favorites from the list and then double check the names on Amazon. See how many other books have the same title as your book. If there are none or only one or two, you have made a good choice. Be unique.
Do you use your real name or a pen name for your work? Today, this is not an obvious choice. I know of authors that have different pen names based on the genre or type of writing that they do. Sometimes I wonder if I’m the last author on Earth who uses her real name on everything! Be aware that potential readers are more likely to purchase your book if they recognize your name. Branding yourself as a poet is important. It helps to have published your poetry in magazines for a few years or even to have won an award before you publish your first poetry collection.
As with a regular book, owning your ISBN number is an advantage. If you traditionally publish via a small press, they will handle this for you by placing their own ISBN on the collection. If you self-publish, purchasing the ISBN is a good idea. This means that your own imprint is listed as the publisher of record of your chapbook. It gives you more control over the product in the long haul. It is possible to use Amazon’s free ASIN number on your book and if this is your first volume, that might be a good option. You can reassign an ISBN at a later date to your book if need be.
This is not a mandatory page in your chapbook, but it is a nice touch to have. It is where you might credit literary journals that first published your poems or a mentor that helped you find your way as a poet.
Table Of Contents
A linkable (in the case of an ebook) table of contents is important in a chapbook. The order in which the poetry is read is part of the overall experience of a chapbook. Unlike a novel, poems could be read out of order and still hold meaning to the reader. Do you want to move the reader in a steady emotional progression? Do your poems tell a story and need to be read in a certain sequence? If some of the poems are related, do you group them together? As you go over your body of work and make decisions which poems you will include in the collection, these ideas need to be decided upon and then reflected in a cohesive index that the reader can follow.
At the end of your chapbook, include a short Biography of yourself as a poet. Most books have only a paragraph or two. If you have a website, make sure you include its URL. If you have a mailing list, include the link where a reader could join it. In the ebook, the link will be clickable. However, I like to include a QR image of the links here as well. In a print version of your chapbook, these can be accessed by the reader’s phone and take them to the link more easily.
Book Cover and Blurb
A picture says a thousand words, or can possibly sell a thousand books. Put time and energy into your chapbook’s cover. Find a compelling licensed image that speaks to the theme of your presented poetry to use, or hire an artist to create one for you. On the back of the book, you will also need an image, but there you will include a blurb about your chapbook. Tell the reader what they can expect to find inside in a way that would intrigue them to open your book and take a peek. This is a good place to include your poet photo if you wish. I usually do not include photos of myself as an author or poet on my books, but it is an option for you to consider. Many poets do.
Publishing a chapbook of poetry is similar to publishing a book, although a poetry book is usually a slim volume. In some ways, it is more difficult to create than a fictional book because of all the tiny components that come together that may or may not be related to one another. Putting together a book of poetry is an art in itself in addition to writing the poems in the first place. But overall, the advent of modern Print-on-Demand publishing has made the act of creating a chapbook and selling your poetry much easier than it was back in the days of vanity presses. As a poet, you have little to lose and much to gain if you think carefully about the components of your poetry chapbook and publish your poetry to the world.
Within each of us is a buried spark that drives the intuitive creative process, a deep place inside us that we are not aware of, but shapes our thoughts and feelings. As an author, it is a place that we must travel in order to create innovative ideas in our novels, short stories, and poetry. The writer of today struggles with the act of creation. He may set schedules for himself to write so many words a hour, peer at countless photographs on the Internet to find a concept to use, or search for a trend that will sell his books. All of this is logical and a conscious use of his mind to create, but is it the best way to invent the plot lines for your novels?
Ancient poets of Greece and Rome believed that creation was inspired by a muse, a god-like being who was the daughter of Zeus and Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory. In myth, there were originally three muses, but as time went on they became nine: Calliope, Clio, Euterpe, Erato, Terpsichore, Thalia, Melpomene, Polyhymnia, Urania. Each muse had a specialty art that they inspired. The muse would come to the poet as a companion, whisper in his ear and grant him three gifts: a laurel branch to use as a scepter, a beautiful voice with which to sing his verse, and knowledge of the future and the past to guide him in writing his poetry. This ancient poet believed that creativity was divine inspiration, coming from someplace outside themselves. The ancient poet felt that he was the conduit of the muse’s message. The muse dictated and the poet created. There was no need for hubris by the poet since he was not responsible for what he wrote and performed. All credit went to the divine muse. A sense of gratefulness to the gods and a release from the burden of performance was given to the poet. Throughout the height of the Greek and Roman eras, the companion muse speaking to the poet was the accepted norm.
Modern science has been learning more about how the human brain functions as to our thought processes, memory, and how we use the information in our brains on a day to day basis. Much of the viewpoints of the ancient poets and their muses can now be explained and better used in our efforts at creativity.
Each one of us has dual levels of identity, a conscious ego and an unconscious companion, known as the id. The ego is the conscious mind, the one who is in control of what you think, what you plan to do, and what you will focus on. Accompanying these rational thoughts are involuntary memories, images, feelings, that have influence over you, but are autonomous and beyond your control. This is the primal thought processes of the id. Our conscious mind has a more limited capacity of how much information that it can process. What it can’t handle goes down to our primal levels and stays there until needed. What the ancient poet termed to be a muse is your unconscious mind working to solve problems below the threshold of your awareness. It is the place where epiphanies happen, where short-cuts and indirect methods of thinking can create original connections in the mind of a writer.
When you follow the model of thinking of your id as a companion or muse, an entity separate from yourself, it gives you the writer the ability to hand your creative problems over and then later accept the heady insights of inspiration when they come. You must learn to work with the unconscious part of your mind, it is a wild spirit that works at its own pace and should not be forced. When your id is busy and offering ideas, you the writer must be ready to accept and work with it. When it is at rest, you must accept that and allow it time to work unseen in the back part of your mind. Do not begrudge the time, remember that your “muse” is a separate from yourself and works at its own pace. Do other tasks; keep your hands busy with something unrelated to the story problem, or do exercises to keep your writing skills honed. The use of morning pages or word prompts are good choices.
When you least expect it, your unconscious mind will deliver. Make sure you have a notebook or a tablet ready to scribble down the stories when they come. The idea may arrive as a character that speaks to you and refuses to depart until you write her down, or it may be a series of images that connect together in a new pattern. Often these answers are driven by hidden emotions or old memories put together in innovative ways. This is the natural expression of our dual thought processes within, the ego and the id working together to create inspiration for the stories that is at the heart of what makes us writers.