i. If You Are Interested, You Are Ready
If you have been writing and publishing in a number
of magazines and e-zines, or otherwise had positive
responses to your writing, you may decide it is time to
produce a small, bound volume of your poems. This is
called a Chapbook.
If you think you are ready, go ahead and assemble
your book. It will be a valuable learning process, and will
cost you very little. You may even be able to find a
chapbook publisher who will pay for the project.
ii. Don't Worry, Enjoy the Act of Creating Your Chapbook
Don't worry about the cost of the chapbook. The first
step is to do the work of selecting poems and working with
your computer to produce what is called Camera-Ready Copy.
I started with Microsoft Works 3.0. You may have a
more advanced word processing program or even a desktop
publishing program. Whatever your system, you can do it.
If you already have a body of work from which to pick,
go through the poems and select some for your chapbook.
iii. Give a Little Thought to Your Format
You will need to decide on the size and number of
pages and size of type font. A good size for the chapbook is
a standard eight-and-a-half by eleven page folded once
across the middle and once down the center. This gives you
eight pages of 4.25 by 5.5 inches. Chapbooks are usually
most economically produced in multiples of these eight
pages. You should therefore plan a chapbook of eight,
sixteen, twenty-four or thirty-two pages.
If you choose twenty-four pages as I did, you will
have twenty-eight blank surfaces on which you could print
something. This of course includes the inside and outside of
the front and back cover. It is good to leave the inside front
cover blank in case someone wants you to autograph their
copy. You could conceivably print poems on the inside and
outside of the back cover. I left the back cover blank inside
and out except for the printer's mark on the outside lower
iv. A Sample Format
You will need to format your computer document to
stay within the dimensions of the page size you have
chosen. Set your margin for 1" at top and 3" at both sides.
The bottom margin should be 6.5".
A good font size for your book is ten point. I used an
Ariel font. Put some of your poems into such a formatted
page and see how they fit. You can adjust the margins if you
need more or less space.
With these margins I got 21 lines per page. You could
take it a few lines closer to the page numbers at the bottom
of the page, but I like a little more white space.
v. Will You Have Illustrations?
Next you need to decide whether to use illustrations
or spot designs and how much space to allow for them. They
can illustrate the poems or exist as separate works of art on
their own merit. I chose to use drawings I had done that
were not related to the content of the poems.
Put your poems all into the chosen font and size, and
make sure they fit within the margins. Count the number of
lines on a full page and determine the order of the poems
and which poems and illustrations will appear on facing
pages. Odd numbered pages are always on the right and
even numbered pages on the left.
vi. Look at Some Books to See Their Format
Start your first poem on page 1. Pages 2 and 3 will be
facing pages as will 4 and 5 etc. If you need to adjust a page
by one or two lines you can look for a poem with the right
number of lines or rewrite a poem to fit. Rewriting for this
purpose can sometimes improve a poem. If the poem is a
line or two too short, you can just allow the extra white
space. If it is eight or ten lines too short you can center it in
the page or use a half page illustration with it. If it is too long
you may want to carry it over to the next page. If you have
only two or three lines to carry over to the next page you
may prefer to divide the poem in halves and put half on each
of the two pages rather than having a short bit carried over.
You also have the option of rewriting it or combining two
short lines as one line. Look at some sample chapbooks for
ideas for your book.
vii. You Can Start With an Unnumbered Page or Two
Although your poems start on page 1 you may
choose to insert a few unnumbered pages before page 1. A
title page, acknowledgments, introduction and contents
page are sometimes used in one or more combinations. I
chose to have the first right page be a combination title page
and contents page. The back of this page was an illustration
and the following right page was the first numbered page:
page 1. This left 22 numbered pages to work with. Page 1
should be a right page. It is also customary to substitute
roman numerals for the initial pages before page 1.
viii. Enlarge or Reduce Drawings
If you have drawings that are too big or too small for
the space where you need them, enlarge or reduce them
with a copy machine or scanner. On a copy machine,
experiment with the manual darkness setting. You will want
all your lines to print clearly without any of the white areas
darkening in spotty patches. You can be more exact than
the default or automatic setting. You may waste a little paper
but be very careful with your best printouts. Remember you
can reduce a picture by 50% and then reduce that copy
another 50% if you need a 25% copy. If you check for
quality at every reduction (or enlargement) you can go
through several reductions and still get clear prints. If you
have a scanner or desktop publishing program, learn to use
them. They can produce very good results.
You will need to think through what you will have on
the front cover, inside front cover and right and left pages all
the way through. Check these details and think about how
unexpected juxtapositions of poems or illustrations may
enhance or defeat your purposes.
ix. Make a Primary Dummy Book to Visualize Your Chapbook
You can make a dummy book to help you visualize
your finished book. Hold three pages of computer paper in
the portrait position. Fold them along a horizontal center so
you have three pages with a horizontal fold across the top.
Fold each of these again along their vertical axis. Nest the
three packets so that their vertical creases are stacked to
allow staples placed in the center. (Don't try to staple them.)
It requires a stapler that printers have, but you probably
don't. These will represent your inside pages. Find a heavier
sheet of paper and cut it so you have a cover that is 8.5" by
5.5". Fold it over the nested pages to represent the cover.
This is how your printer will produce your chapbooks. The
fold across the top of the pages will be trimmed off so the
pages will open. Each of these packets will have four pages
printed on front and four pages on back. Some of the pages
will be printed upside-down so that they will be right when
folded and trimmed.
x. Study Your Dummy Book to Help Plan Your Book
Take your packet of folded pages with its cover. Write
front cover at the bottom of the cover sheet and sketch in a
rough image of any illustration and title. Use a pencil for this
so you can erase and make revisions in your dummy book.
Go through the rest of the dummy book and label each page
with the contents expected. If the attached page tops bother
you, make another book on which you can cut the pages
apart along the top seam and staple the packet along the
fold. Use your ordinary stapler. The printer will have what is
called a saddle stapler and a folder that will make your book
lie well folded when stapled and still open completely for
each page. Your unstapled Dummy Book will show you how
the pages will be laid out by the printer to photograph them
to make plates.
xi. Count Lines
Count the lines in each poem and determine how
many pages it will take. A very short poem may take a page
by itself or with a small art clip. You cannot get very many
long poems in a small book like this, but if your poems are
long, you may want to select a few that take three or four
pages each. Your book could even be one long poem.
Design it to fit your talent. Don't feel compelled to copy
someone else's book.
xii. Notice Page Breaks
Notice where page breaks will fall on each page. In
making my word processor document, I put in blank pages
where I planned to have art work. I numbered the pages with
a centered footer. I had 8 pages of just drawings, 7 pages of
drawings and print, including the cover and 10 pages of just
print, including the contents page. Since it was primarily a
poetry book I had no sets of facing pages that did not have
at least some words of poetry. There were three sets of
facing pages that had only poems with no illustrations.
Generally I interspersed poetry and art throughout. I enjoyed
doing this, as drawing and writing are two of my talents. If a
writer does not draw, he or she will need to choose another
format or find art work that has a special meaning.
xiii. Use Your Scanner or Do Manual Pasteup
I like the flexibility of hard copy pasteup, so it was my
preferred work method. I reduced or enlarged drawings on a
photocopying machine to suit each page. I cut out the final
copies and taped them to formatted numbered pages. Use
transparent tape that can be removed and replaced. Use a
good quality paper that will not separate if the tape is pulled
off. When you attach the art with tape, do not let the tape
extend over any lines in the art or print. If you work this way,
the tape will not interfere with the reproduction process.
xiv. Some Pages are Unnumbered
Make your cover and contents page last, on a
separate document with unnumbered pages. Print out your
cover and unnumbered pages and your numbered pages.
Use a very good quality of paper for the camera ready copy
you take to the printer. You will want the very finest detail
you can get. You may want to save the documents on disk
and take them to someone who has a fine laser printer for
the most perfection. Get two copies if you do this. You may
find you need a backup copy of some of the pages if one
gets damaged while you are working with it. If you are
printing from your own computer you can always make
xv. Put Your Illustrations on the Numbered Pages of Camera-Ready Copy
Paste your illustrations on the pages designated for
them. You will need to keep your illustrations at least .25"
away from the edges of the pages. I prefer .5" or more. Most
likely you will want the same margins for drawings that you
have for type.
xvi. Get an Estimate From Several Print Shops
Take your pasted up camera ready copy to local print
shops for an estimate. Get estimates from several printers,
and talk to them in detail about what they will be doing and
how. You will want to take notes and know what exactly
each printer is promising. Do not pit the printers against
each other, just go to learn what you need to know about
how each printer plans to treat your baby. You don't want to
be distracted by bargaining at this stage, just information
gathering. Ask each printer for an estimated price for 250
and for 1000 copies. You may prefer a lower number
although it will cost more per book. Ask the printer to
consider printing the imprint of his shop on your book on the
back cover along with the year.
xvii. Printing Gives You Quality and Economy
It will be less expensive to print 250 books by
lithographic process, staple bound, at a print shop, than to
have them photocopied and bound at a copy service. It will
also likely be much more professionally done. The degree of
perfection in your book represents you as well as do the
poems and choice of illustrations. Make a great effort to put
your best foot forward in your first chapbook, whether you
end up paying for it or prepare it for a contest. After you
have assembled it, work to improve it, by redoing parts if
necessary. When your final choices have been made, make
your table of contents with poem titles and their page
numbers. I changed my table of contents several times as I
moved pieces around, to improve the look, and dropped and
xviii. Make a Secondary Dummy
After you have pasted up the book for the printer you
may want to make photocopies of all the pages and cut out
a set to paste into a more complete dummy book so you will
have a better idea how the finished book will look. You could
make two copies like this and take one to the printers,
leaving one with the selected printer when you drop off your
final camera ready copy. Your final camera ready copy
should be on the full 8.5" by 11" pages with the margins
given earlier. If all your documents are digital, your printer
may want them on disk.
xix. Consider Publishers and Contests
After you have camera ready copy, you may want to
consider sending it to publishers instead of printers. If a
publisher is interested, he will not only print your book but
will pay you for the privilege and help you market it. Poet's
Market gives the names, addresses and requirements of
publishers who consider chapbooks. Some of them require a
reading fee to look at your book but the more reputable
publishers will consider your manuscript at their own
expense except the postage to and from which you must
pay. After you have done all this work, a good publisher can
help you a lot by publishing your chapbook if it has real
merit. If you try publishers and have no luck you can always
keep the camera ready copy and go back to the print shops
and pay to have it published. There are vanity publishers
who would gladly publish your book at exorbitant prices,
higher than you would pay at the print shop. If you want to
learn more about vanity publishers try "vanity press" on a
search engine and get the lowdown on their schemes. The
services they provide can be provided at print shops at a
fraction of the price and often with much greater quality.
xx. Enter a Chapbook Contest Before or After You Print
Sending your project to publishers or contests is very
time consuming. If you have a few hundred dollars to spend
and want quick results you can go ahead and get the best
printer to do your book. Then you can enter it in contests
after it is printed.
xxi. Decide About Printing After You Have Assembled a Camera-Ready Chapbook Manuscript
After you assemble your book you have a better
understanding of the process of publishing and could, if you
choose, replace some of the poems or illustrations and
continue to improve on your project to perfect it. You will
have learned a lot by talking with printers and looking at
their printing equipment and the projects they had in process
in their shops. As you proceed you will feel the exhiliration
of waiting for the proofs and finished project. Proofread all
your poems and have a cold reader take a final look before
dropping off your camera ready copy at the printer's shop.
xxii. Chapbook Terms Dictionary
Camera Ready Copy: Pages printed (usually on a laser
printer) and ready to be photographed by the printer to make
plates for a quality printing process.
Chapbook: A low cost book of poems usually stapled at the
Cold Reader: A person with good grammatical skills who is
not familiar with your manuscript but reads it for typos and
other errors after it has already been carefully examined for
mistakes and the writer can find no more.
Dummy Book: A sample book made to help the writer
visualize the finished work.
Estimate: An estimated price for the printing of your book.
A printer should give you an estimate at no charge.
Illustrations: Pictures or designs included as art work to
enhance your book.
Pasteup: The process of laying out and taping down the art
work onto the pages of print. Transparent tape can be used,
or pasteup can be done electronically if you have adequate
Publisher: A publisher is a person or company who edits,
prints and distributes books and normally pays a royalty or a
number of free copies of the book to the poet. Reputable
publishers do not charge the poet for the privilege of printing
a book, but will only handle a book that they feel will make
them a profit also.
Search Engine: A computer program provided on the
Internet which enables you to locate web sites by entering
keywords into a box on the screen and hitting a search
Self-Publishing: Publishing a book at a printshop by your
own design and at your own expense.
Subsidy Publisher: A subsidy publisher is like a vanity
publisher in charging to print a book, but will sometimes
negotiate for a small run partly at the poet's expense. Prices
should be compared with self publishing, but an outright
mainstream publisher is preferable if your work is of
sufficient quality and you have established a publishing
history in small presses or literary magazines.
Vanity Publishing: Paying a publisher to layout, print and
distribute your book. There are very much higher charges
for vanity publishing than for self publishing.