Sometimes called pamphlets, poetry chapbooks are short collections of poems, inexpensively and usually independently published. They are typically in ebook or paperback format—though indies are now producing print-on-demand hardbacks and audiobooks of their own readings, too.
ALLi Director Orna Ross publishes chapbooks regularly, whenever she has ten publishable poems, for her “Poems to Inspire” series.
In this session, Orna and Dalma Szentpály will explore the delights and challenges of chapbook publishing, including some upcoming chapbook publishing competitions.
Here are some highlights:
Orna on Her Poetry Editing Process
The way I go through the editing process for my poetry is I have a few very trusted readers who know what I'm trying to do, and who really challenge me—two of them are poets themselves, the other is a rabid, poetry reader.”
Dalma on Ebook Distribution
I work for an ebook distribution aggregator, PublishDrive, and what I would recommend to do is not to be exclusive on Amazon, but especially go to libraries, go to reader subscription services, like Scribd. I cannot recommend Scribd highly enough in that regard.
- To find out more about submitting poetry to the podcast, see: OrnaRoss.com/IndiePoetryPlease
- To see our competitions, go to: OrnaRoss.com/
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About the Hosts
Orna’s work for ALLi has seen her repeatedly named one of The Bookseller’s “Top 100 people in publishing.” She launched at the 2012 London Book Fair, after taking her rights back from Penguin in 2011 and republishing her books herself, with the titles and treatment she’d originally wanted. Orna writes award-winning poetry and fiction, runs a Patreon page for poets and poetry lovers as well as an active author website. She is on a mission to help eradicate creative poverty through digital publishing and enterprise. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram: @ornaross.
Dalma Szentpály co-hosts the Self-Publishing Poetry salon. She works at PublishDrive as a self-publishing professional and has been a lifelong lover of poetry. A native Hungarian, she started learning about lyricism from poetry giants like Attila József and János Pilinszky but also recited brooding lines of verse from international poets like Pablo Neruda or Anna Ahmatova. In university, she fell in love with W.B. Yeats and Emily Dickinson and wrote her thesis about the “villanelle” form in Sylvia Plath’s poetry. As a university lecturer and an event manager at an independent bookstore in Budapest Dalma encouraged readers to re-engage with poetry. Check out her blog post about contemporary poetry trends here: https://publishdrive.com/publishing-poetry-2018/. Find Dalma on Twitter and LinkedIn.
Read the Transcript
Orna Ross: Hello, and good evening from London. I'm Orna Ross. And I'm here with the wonderful Dalma from PublishDrive. Hi, Dalma.
Dalma: Hi, Orna. I'm here from Budapest, Hungary.
Orna Ross: And London, England. That's the Alliance of Independent Authors for you, all over the place. We are delighted to be back with you with our second ever Self Publishing Poetry Salon. And we're winding into this new stream of podcasts and Facebook Live videos for ALLi.
We didn't have a dedicated poetry stream, we touched on poetry occasionally in the other streams before about this season, we're dedicating an entire stream to poetry because we know lots of you are self publishing poetry, or you're wondering, should you, can you, you know, how is it different? How is it the same as publishing fiction and nonfiction, and you know, where are the similarities, where are the differences, and so on?
And today, we're going to, each month we take particular theme, and today we're going to be talking about self publishing chapbook, as they're called in the poetry world, pamphlets as the rest of the world knows them. And some people, I think, chapbook is a term more popular in the UK maybe and pamphlets in the US, I'm not sure. But anyway, they both mean the same thing.
Little small books, sometimes just 20 pages or so. And I think a full poetry collection is considered to be 50 pages plus, so anything short of that is, in other words, the 50 pages is the shortest a collection can be Is that right? Is that your understanding too?
Dalma: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I would say, say that they have quite a history. So they haven't popped up, you know, only in the 20th century, or the 21st century. They've been around ever since publishing itself.
But one of the first things about it is that it's definitely one of the most connected to self publishing, because it's quite cheap to do yourself. And it's good for emerging writers to get their, you know, feel of how to publish their own work. So it's something to talk about.
Orna Ross: I think so. I think poets always did this kind of self publishing, when fiction writers and nonfiction writers didn't, you know, any poetry event you would ever go to, would have the poet going around selling the little book for a pound or two pounds or three pounds or giving it away sometimes.
Orna Ross: So in a sense, that was, you know, before we had digital publishing, and they were the first into print, if you like, and there are amazing here in the British Library, to your point about the history of pamphlets, poetry pamphlet publishing, there is an amazing collection in the British Library and in the poetry library in the Southbank Centre of chapbooks and pamphlets by poets who went on to become very eminent and very well known, but began with their little poetry pamphlet.
Dalma: Yeah, I think the most famous one is Allen Ginsberg's “Howl”, which started off beat poetry in the ‘50s. In the ‘60s, a lot of times when you were a poet, and you couldn't publish your own work, because it was not publishable by the traditional standards, because it contains some kind of content that you couldn't talk about, then you turn to this particular genre or form of publishing.
Orna Ross: Yeah, exactly. Fantastic. So this is going to be quite a practical session, we're going to talk about how you put a chapbook together, essentially. So a quick whiz through the seven processes of publishing. I, just a little bit of personal history, my very first self published book was a poetry pamphlet, one of these little fellows.
Yeah, so what I'd do, can you see it, I'm not make it easy for you to say, yes, that's one, there is another one there, they come in all colors, red, green, purple, blah, blah, blah. So what I do is, when I have 10, new poems, basically, I put the chapbook together, and I put it out there, and they get a flurry of sales when they're first published.
And unless I promote them, then they just kind of dive back down. But there's another one on the way. And then when I have a few of them, that's when I begin to dig in, and pull the poems together into a more substantial collection. So also to say that they are very good for themed and, you know, small themed collections.
And so this is my Christmas book, which does really well every year as a stocking filler 12, just 12 poems, and the thing about poetry is, particularly some kinds of poetry, and is that it's very intense reading experience. And the words are dense, and, you know, well laid out on the page and bears reading and rereading and rereading.
So, actually, 10, or 12 poems, is a very manageable and nice kind of reading experience for a reader. And it's a great way for them to get to know your work in the first place, see do they want more, but it's a great reading experience in and of itself. And, and, you know, readers do like this format, also.
So, so just quickly, then talking about there are seven processes to publishing, which those of you who have published in other genre nonfiction, or fiction will be, you know, very aware of, and there are slight differences for poetry in some of these, so just moving kind of briskly through them.
First of all, there is the editing stage. So poetry editing is a little bit different, in the sense that there's kind of two schools of thought. So like, everybody, poets need an editorial process. So that may be giving your poem to a poetry editor. And that is even more tricky, I think for poetry than it is for fiction or nonfiction. So finding-
Orna Ross: Finding a good editor is hard at any time but for poetry, it can be difficult to find somebody who matches your style, gets what you're about, you know, and poets can be very, we can be very, very attached to our words, and our word formations on our, you know, our word choices, our sentence structure, stanza structures and so on. You're nodding furiously there, yes.
Dalma: Absolutely. What was the most difficult for you? Do you think that? Have you worked with an editor yourself?
Orna Ross: Well, this is where I'm going to fess up. The other school for poetry is you need an editorial process, but it's not necessarily an editor. So, the way I go through the editing process for my poetry is I have a few very trusted readers who know what I'm trying to do, and who really challenge me—two of them are poets themselves, the other is a rabid, poetry reader, just reads poetry every day knows everything about poetry, every form, everything, you know, is just a fantastic critic.
So that's my process, I actually work with the three of them, and they come back always with something interesting. I don't put every poem through them. That's the other thing. And this is kind of controversial for somebody who completely believes in the importance of editors for fiction, nonfiction, sometimes poems do arrive complete. And you can't touch them, you know, to touch them is to ruin them.
Yeah, so I don't pass those ones on, they tend to be short, they're a dream when they come, they don't come very often. And if they come that way, you just get this kind of feeling. And you can't touch it yourself nevermind, give it to someone else to kind of comment on. Have you seen anything around the editing process you'd like to discuss?
Dalma: I would say what you said before that it's quite good to work with a collection of poets, you know, group of poets together to review each other's work, because you understand that thought process, if someone is from the outside, you don't necessarily, as even sometimes as a reader, you would say that “I understand what you're trying to say here. But I would, I don't know, something is missing.”
And you, as a poet, would say, “But this is what I felt at the moment. And you know, this is an impression of the moment, this is how I can write it down.” And as you said before, sometimes it ruins it completely. So I would say it's better to work with a group of poets and throughout history that's what worked the best whenever poets were around. It was a group of poets working together, influencing each other.
Orna Ross: Yeah, I think I am. I'm putting together a long, I agree with that and as you say, if you read the history of poetry, and certainly in English, that's what you see. And they are severe and most interesting editors of each other's work. I think there is an exception for me, working on a long poem, a long kind of epic thing. And I think I will actually need a formal editor for that.
Finding that person is not going to be easy, maybe. But I think if you know that it's moving into the territory of its narrative. And it's moving into the territory, more like a short story or something, which I think would benefit from more formal editing process.
Orna Ross: So after editorials, and we have design, we have a question from Joyce. So we've talked about the fonts and things as Joyce has asked. She said, Do you know what the best font for poetry is? Do you have any thoughts on that Dalma?
Dalma: Interesting, I think in print, it's different than digital publishing. What do you think about that, because in print, I would say, design works a little differently than in when you digitally publish something. I would say the most simple is the most effective because the words themselves are speaking for themselves. And if you are writing in a very elaborate font, it might draw attention from the meaning of the words, but what do you think about that?
Orna Ross: Completely agree. Yeah. One of the classic, most boringest fonts you can get your hands on is, you know, I think I think what's desirable, I work in Palatino but you know, any of the standard fonts are fine.
It's exactly as Dalma said, you want the meaning of the words to be what people are taking notice of, an exception might be on Instagram or the visual platforms. If you're putting your palms up there, you might want something that catches the eye more, you might work with an illustrator as well, you might do a handwritten font if you wanted.
And the other thing is that font does depend on the genre. So if you're doing say romantic, lyrical poetry, you might choose a different kind of font. And if you're doing, you know-
Dalma: Inspirational, or chalk, chalk stuff, yeah,
Orna Ross: Exactly. So play around with it, I think it should be a font that you like. And I think it should be a font of fits. Well, this is the other thing you have to think about in terms of interior design, the fit and flow of the lines. So you don't want to find that takes you into line breaks more than another one would, if you know what I mean. And that's to do with the size of the font on the page as well as it different in ebook because obviously sizes go up and down. The reader controls the size, in that instance, and reading poetry in ebook, it can lose some of what the poet intended in terms of line breaks. And sometimes, particularly if people put it up to read at a very high resolution. Sometimes the lines are breaking kind of all over the place or in the wrong place. So yeah,-
Dalma: And I would add one more thing, especially in regards to chapbooks, you should use the same font. So be consistent. I think nothing upsets the reader more than if you're using different types of fonts and different, you know, formats in that it can be disturbing in a way when you're reading. So I think you should go for as simple as possible and as consistent as possible.
Orna Ross: Excellent point on the consistency I have seen chapbooks where it's a different font on every page and different size headings and things. You actually put it down, don't you? You can't, when something makes you go, “Ugh!” It does not work for poetry. So yeah, that's a really good point.
Julie has a question here. “I like to put photographs with poems and have a theme and that's quite usual. Ingram Spark will not do colour content, which is not at all cost effective, just a tiny little color in the tree, the whole thing is color. Any suggestions?” Alas, not from me.
I don't know, Dalma might have a solution to your problem but to my knowledge, every single printer does the same. It's either black and white, or if it’s got a speck of red in it it becomes color. I don't think there's anything can be done about that, Julie, which is why you will actually see a lot of poets working with black and white.
Very often, it's surprising how many things in formats of literature are down to cost over the years. And this is certainly one of them so sorry, not to be able to give you better news there. Yeah.
Dalma: So, you know, just adding to black and white. I think it works really well with poetry. Actually, the chapbook that I wrote, this is a Hungarian one, but it has quite pretty black and white, very dramatic. The contrast gives an emotional background, which goes really well with the poems themselves. Since you're putting your words black and white to the paper, then you know, it goes well hand in hand. So it might be, it might work out.
Orna Ross: Yeah, I think so. And that's a lovely, lovely book. And I know you've more books to show us because the other thing we need to think about when we're thinking about design, obviously, is cover. So do you want to show us some of the covers that you brought to have a look at?
Orna Ross: So I mean, there's so much variety in chapbook publishing, that's one of the things that's so exciting about it. And you can do your own standalone or a series. I'm talking about series in a moment. But Dalma has loads of lovely standalone pamphlets here she’s been collecting all over the world.
Dalma: Yeah, so this is from my hometown, Budapest. So you can see, this is quite simple, but very abstract. And it certainly shows that the poems are going to be abstract themselves. But as you said, cost effective. So it's black and white. But I think it's very lovely in any way. This is more, as I've shown before, black and white, but it has a great consistency with the design itself. So it's very emotional, the whole thing actually is cover itself. So you can you can pull it down. I think it's a little bit more expensive than the one I showed before. This is the most simple one. I think you can do it yourself actually. So if you just go to a simple standalone printer, you can do it yourself. It's black and white, but it works wellas well. So yeah.
And this is something different. This is actually when you have a photo and it's also very emotional. And it works with with only two colors. It's monochrome. This is a little bit more complicated and a little bit more expensive, I would say so I think these are the ones that I collected from, these last two ones for from the US this and those before, they are European, so yeah.
Orna Ross: Lovely. And so what I do with mine is very simple because I don't do or haven’t done as yet is any kind of picture book, you know, with pictures inside and Julie has come back to say, okay, Julie has come back to say that traditional publishers have been okay with the color thing, but it's the pod process of IngramSpark that is the problem.
And yeah, I guess I was talking about IngramSpark and Kindle and sorry, KDP Print, because we do tend to work with and pod as poets generally speaking, you don't want or need a big consignment of poetry pamphlets in your garage because they're quite, unless you know, you have an outlet for them, if course, in which case, you'd be well, you know, placed to go with a consignment printer and get a decent consignment then you will have more flexibility around your design if you do that.
But when we're looking at print on demand, we're looking at a more constrained, we get a lot of advantages. We don't have to store the books, we can just pay as we go and all mostly and all of that as you with your ALLi discount. But yes, you do have these constraints and it is more expensive per copy.
And so I'm so sorry, Julie. Yes, I should have made that distinction. And thank you for highlighting it. Kim is saying, Dalma, if when we're showing the books, we need to hold them up higher, we have them aimed at and we the name badge that actually you can’t see from that. We will do that going forward. Sorry.
So yeah, what I do I think is the simplest form of pamphlet publishing. So essentially I work with Vellum and so which you can only use if you have, if you work on Mac. So if you’re PC users it doesn't work though I think there is a workaround. But anyway, there are lots of of good formatting software out there and Scrivener I used to work with before I started working with Vellum.
Vellum makes formatting an absolute treat. They have a verse, very simple, keep verse very, you know the structure of the of the poetry very, very simple. But that's fine, because I work within the limits. And it works out just fine.
So create then a PDF file. And then I work with Jane Dixon Smith, and Design for Writers, those two designers on different lines that I'm doing, so yeah, these just get a PDF file of the, where am I going?Which direction? There, hope you can see that. Front and back it just comes as an A4. And it's a wraparound cover, and you just essentially send the files off then to IngramSpark or KDP print.
The book is up on Amazon, you do both, you print, you use Ingram spark for the extended distribution and for the possibility of bookstores wanted to order your book or anybody else, they can do that through IngramSpark and you do KDP Print for the Amazon ecosystem. And with Ingram you can sell your books on your own website and they will do the fulfillment for you as well.
So it means that as opposed, very often people are put off doing pamphlets because they think they will end up with this consignment printer, this garage full of books they’re not able to ship. But actually, you can, you know, with POD you don't have that problem.
Sasha has a question, “What makes a chap book a chap book as opposed to a normal book? Is it just page length?” Yes, it is. Anything under 48-50 pages is considered a chapbook. And a poetry book is 50 pages, something between 50 and 100 pages usually, but of course can be any length.
Corinne has a comment as well, “I print mine locally 150 or 200 a time, it's full color, high quality, and the cost price is three euro. I sell online and locally, I'm in total control. I may create ebooks as well. I live in Portugal.” Fantastic Corinne, and thank you for your contribution, I definitely think you should do ebooks as well.
If you are selling well in print, you are likely to also sell and if you have your print files, converting them into a digital ebook file is not difficult, and something we'll be covering on another show. So yeah, I think you should.
Oh, and there's Sasha saying you can use Mac and Cloud with Vellum if you're a PC user. I can't recommend Vellum highly enough and it just, I used to hate formatting and it's not that I don't have that kind of left brain that's good at that kind of thing. But they make it fun. It really does. And so yeah, but you may, obviously people have their own favorite formatter.
So yeah, anything else before we leave design? We’re only on the second stage of the publishing process here and the program’s nearly over. Have you anything to say on design before we leave it?
Dalma: No, I think we should go on.
Orna Ross: Yeah, great. So and design, distribution actually we have kind of covered so except to say, except not on the ebook side which I will let you do the talking about but we've got print essentially. Use both Amazon and Ingram for POD and use your consignment printer if you want.
Corinne has also raised Blurb which is a good, a very good service provider, if you have photographs in particular. They're very good on anything photographic. Yeah. So ebook distribution for poetry chapbooks, Dalma.
Dalma: Yeah, so ebook distribution, as you know, I worked for an ebook distribution aggregator PublishDrive, and what I would recommend to do is not to be exclusive on Amazon, but especially go to libraries, go to reader subscription services, like Scribd. I cannot recommend Scribd highly enough in that regard.
Orna Ross: For poetry?
Dalma: You can find, yeah, for poetry, you can find most poets there, as you know, I would say that since poetry I’d spreading, but especially because you know, the format is short and concise, and you can read it on your phone whenever you go around.
And you might not get people to give, I don't know, five pounds, or three pounds per volume. But if you’re a reader subscriber and you have, you know, you just pay eight bucks per month, then and you have, you know, basically you can read as many books as you want, then you might check out a volume of poetry, and you don't feel that you're paying for it.
So that's why I recommend you to definitely use or get your books to reader subscription services or libraries, because a lot more people are going to check it out, than if you just put it on Amazon, I'm not saying you shouldn't put it on Amazon, you should. But I would say cover as many stores as possible.
And just to make it complete, what is an aggregator? If you are just starting out, basically an aggregator is, if you have your book, you upload it to our services, let's say PublishDrive, but there are other aggregators as well. And you can select, which are the stores that you want your books distributed to. And you can manage all of these stores on one platform.
And basically, the distribution is handled by us. And then in case of PublishDrive, you get your royalties 100%. And you pay a monthly fee. But it, you know, it works differently with every different, every single aggregator, it's different.
But you can access four hundred different stores. And, you know, it just covers a lot of ground, you can get international access. So these are all good things. But reader subscriptions, libraries, these are good for poetry, definitely.
Orna Ross: Fantastic. So yeah, the, I think that's about it on distribution, but of course, just having your book available, while it's really important, and as Dalma says, be in as many places as possible, we often get people saying, “Should I go with Amazon or Apple?”, for example, both is the answer.
Orna Ross: And more, you know, as many as possible, and the beauty of digital is that that's not hard these days. So but the book will sell itself, probably. You’re going to need to come up with a marketing strategy for your poetry. Poetry is slightly different. And we don't have time to go into marketing poetry books today, because we are going to give that a full show soon.
And we also have a question from Julie about audio and poetry. And we're going to go into that fully separately, Julie, another day, because we wouldn't be able to give you a meaningful answer just on the fly, it's a topic in and of itself. So that's our next two shows taken care of, obviously.
Yeah, you will, the thing to say here and for you to kind of take away is the poetry reader, what is the poetry reader looking for? You know, what is the question to which your poems are the answer.
So poetry is not a genre, it's a kind of a super genre. It's an umbrella of lots of different kinds of genres. People who read my poems are not going to read somebody else's, it's very individual. And it's very specific.
And people when they find the genre that they like, they’re thrilled with it. And often you find people saying, “I don't like poetry” until they actually find the genre-
Dalma: The one they do like.
Orna Ross: Exactly, and there is one for everyone. So until we get to talking about marketing poetry in our next session it would be great for you to think about what is the promise that's kind of inherent in your poetry, because that's what marketing is, it's a kind of a promise to the reader that says, “If you open this book, this is what you're going to get. So you know, you can kind of expect ABC and I will surprise you as well with XYZ.” But it will be within this kind of identifiable category.
So, you know, my books, you've got this kind of flower thing going on, you got the fancy font. And all of these things. These are all signifiers of inspirational poetry. That's the genre that I write in. And that design gets carried over into the collections, which pick up on either the font or the picture, or the sense and the feelings so that there is a kind of a carryover between the chapbooks and the collections, so that people again, know what to expect.
So a lot of marketing is about making the reader comfortable. When the reader’s comfortable they’ll spend money, they will buy, when they're uncomfortable, they put their money back in their wallet, or whatever. So anything brief to say on marketing in two minutes, before we kind of, we’ll keep it for next time.
Dalma: I would say you covered all bases. So marketing is highly emotional, as you said. So if a person feels uncomfortable, then they're not going to buy, if they feel emotionally attached to the product. And in this sense, the volume of poetry, they're going to give it a chance. So that's it.
Orna Ross: Great. So they are essentially the processes that you have to follow, I'm not going to talk about rights sales and stuff like that, which is, you know, when it comes to poetry very much on the sideline, but just thinking about those various stages, and phases of publishing, it's quite easy.
And that is the thing that I would like to leave you with that it really is quite easy these days, to put a chapbook together, it's never been cheaper. And it's never been easier. And it's never been easier to take it to more and more people. Because, you know, in those old days that we were talking about was you turned up at your reading and you were lucky if there were 15, 20, 50, you know, 50 people at a poetry reading would be, you know, an absolute sellout in those days.
Orna Ross: Now you've got Rupi Kaur filling giant stadia with crowds of thousands of people. And so things are changing with poetry. And it's because of digital, it's because of ebooks and social media platforms and so on that are taking, you know, taking notes so that no matter what genre you write it, and no matter how niche you feel your genre is, there are enough people worldwide who are likely to be interested enough in your book for it to have an impact with them.
Dalma: Yeah, yeah. So. And one of the things that we also talked about before is how to get it going, you know, contests and how you go into chapbook contests. And I think you mentioned that you published quite a list of contests that you can enter your book into.
Orna Ross: Absolutely. Thank you for reminding me, I had completely forgotten after going to the trouble of putting that blog post together today. Yes, we said that we would have the ways to kind of get your chapbook noticed is to enter it for competitions.
And there are lots of competitions, for which publication is the prize and self publishing poets, that's not much use to us, because we can actually publish it for ourselves possibly, probably, as well as, you know, a secondary publisher can, especially when it comes to poetry unless they've got, you know, a significant reach or a really good marketing plan or whatever.
So we have isolated a number of competitions where there are cash prizes. So you find out on my own author website, ornaross.com/poetrypamphlet, or just go to the blog, it's the latest post on the blog, but it's poetry pamphlet competitions. And there are a number of them worldwide with different kind of closing dates, and they all have a cash prize. And it's, it can give you a deadline to work towards.
Competitions are very much part of the poetry world, in for individual poems, for chapbooks, and for full on collections. So it's a way to get eyeballs on your work and outside of the reader system, people who can kind of elevate it and pass it on and bring it to their readers and so on.
So, one final question, before we leave, it comes from Joyce, “Do you think it would be okay to use a pen name as opposed?” And the answer is actually, it's very desirable if you have other writing that you would separate out your poetry and your other writing.
So if you're publishing fiction or nonfiction, it will be good idea not to do what I did and stick everything there all together. Because I did that back in the days when I didn't realize that it confuses the algorithm. So your best to keep one author name for one kind of rising. So if you're, you know, if you're writing sort of crime thrillers and poetry, then the algorithms on the online retailers are very mixed up. They don't know what also boughts to put with you, and so on. So a pen name would actually be a desirable thing. Yeah. Especially if she wants to do children's stories also. Oh, yeah. Highly recommend to get one, yes.
Alright, folks, so that is it for this month. And the podcast will be out on Wednesday, which will include the highlights from this chat Dalma and I have had and also some readings, some of your readings, in the section that we call Indie Poetry, Please, if you would like to submit your poetry for that Indie Poetry, Please, you will find the instructions for that on ornaross.com/indiepoetryplease.
So it means submitting some audio poetry of you reading and the text and each month we will feature some indie poets doing their thing, which is really nice. Nice to be able to do that. Because poetry is this short we can. So that's it. Until next time, thank you very much for joining us, and we'll talk to you soon and in the meantime, may your life be filled with poetry.