Publishing a Chapbook: Quick-Start Guide

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For the bards among us, having a portfolio is important. A chapbook is a short amuse-bouche to acquaint people with your poetry before you publish a full-fledged collection. Best of all, a chapbook isn’t that hard to create. Therefore, before you try to publish everything you have ever written, it’s a good idea to start with a chapbook. The process will force you to pick out your strongest poems and view your work as objectively as possible.

If you have a head full of ideas but find the technical details to be tedious, consider getting some professional help with aspects like formatting or cover design.

Step 1: Perfect your poems

Let your inner critic be a brawler! Chapbooks are 20-40 pages long, so they are just a fragment of your work. Take your best poems and make them better. Read them as an artist and an editor. Share them with honest friends, Instagram buddies, or your writing group. These people will tell you objectively what works and what doesn’t, giving you a better idea of what should be included in—and excluded from—your chapbook. You are too close to your own work to be impartial, so it is crucial to get other people’s opinions. You can even consult a professional editor

Step 2: Get organized 

You need to arrange your poems in a way that feels right to you. Your poetry might have connected themes and moods, or maybe you wrote on particular subjects at certain times. Read some poetry books to get ideas. Think of your favorite albums. What’s the flow to David Bowie’s Hunky Dory or Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours? Poems that connect to each other will present better to an audience. Also, by focusing on a specific theme, you will be able to narrow down the selection of poems that will make up your chapbook. This will result in a more coherent collection, which could boost your chances of getting published.

Step 3: Format your book

As chapbooks are short, they can seem deceptively simple to design. Less is more! Stick to one poem per page and simple serif fonts like Garamond. Make sure you have some basic information: title page, acknowledgments page, table of contents, author’s bio, and copyright information. 

For your chapbook to look extra sharp, you can consult a typesetting specialist

Step 4: Select a publishing option

You have different options in self-publishing and traditional publishing. It depends on your goals, needs, and capabilities. Make sure you understand the pros and cons of each before you commit to one of them.


In ye olden days, chapbooks were self-published. These days, if you have a flock of Instagram fans and some published poems, you already have an audience, so self-publishing isn’t a poor option. It’s also less expensive for chapbooks because they are short. The question is whether you want to go for a homemade, one-man show and have a very limited run. You’d mostly be selling chapbooks on Etsy, local markets, and social media.


If saddle stitching and trips to Hobby Lobby aren’t your thing, plenty of print-on-demand services will give your poetry corporeal form. You design the chapbook, then every time someone orders it from you, the print service sends them a copy. You’ll save time as there are no arts and crafts involved. Also, print-on-demand chapbooks are more professional looking than DIY ones, which may hold more visual appeal. 

Writing contests

Your name in lights! In traditional publishing, chapbook contests are a dream come true for the winners, who get cash prizes, publishing assurances, and prestige. However, if you’re craving a competition, watch out for these pitfalls:

The fine print can trick even the sharpest wordsmith. Some competitions award prize money, while others view it as an advance on your chapbook’s release. Make sure you’ve read and understood the contest rules. 

Beware of scams. Contests commonly have reading or entry fees, so scammers can take advantage. Do your research and make sure that the contest you’re looking to enter is legitimate. You also have to consider how many contests you can take part in because entry fees can add up. 

Direct submission

Big publishers rarely work with chapbooks. Certain small presses, however, have a niche for them, usually during specific reading periods. As always, examine the guidelines carefully. You want to make sure you are adhering to the specific submission guidelines so that you can optimize your chances of being published. You don’t want to lose out on the deal of a lifetime because of a technicality.

If you want to share your poetry with the world, a chapbook is a good way to do it. If you need a hand, there are skilled professionals to help bring your poems out of the hard drive into the real world. 

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