Shadow Poetry Logo
Home Poetry Types Japanese Poetry Handbook Poetry Guide Resources Bookstore
Introduction   |   1   |   2   |   3   |   4   |   5   |   6   |   7   |   8   |   9   |   10   |   11   |   12   |   13   |   14   |   15   |   16   |   17   |   18   |   19   |   20   |   21

Chapter #21 - How to Make a Chapbook

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 back cover.

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 another copy.

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 added poems.

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 spine.

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 software.

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 button.

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.

Article written by Don J. Carlson. All Rights Reserved

For more information, please contact: Don J. Carlson

  Back to Top

Introduction   |   1   |   2   |   3   |   4   |   5   |   6   |   7   |   8   |   9   |   10   |   11   |   12   |   13   |   14   |   15   |   16   |   17   |   18   |   19   |   20   |   21
Home Poetry Types Japanese Poetry Handbook Poetry Guide Resources Bookstore
Copyright © 2000-2013 Shadow Poetry | Privacy Policy | Contact Us