What Are Chapbooks and Is It Worth Publishing One?
Many have never heard of a chapbook, but these booklets are experiencing a renaissance in today’s literary world. What began in the 16th century as a way to publish works inexpensively is now becoming an art form and a means of introducing an author or advancing their career.
Are you working on a chapbook or pursuing publication in another way? Team up with a professional editor to get your book ready. Our professional editing services are available to authors of all sorts of chapbooks.
Definition of a chapbook
Chapbooks (usually called “pamphlets” in the U.K.) are small books that contain poems or stories. Typically between 20 and 40 pages long, they can often be read in one sitting. Their shortness makes them appealing to readers who don’t yet know if they want to commit to a larger book of poems. Chapbooks allow readers to get a sense of your writing style, and if people like what they read, they may become interested in purchasing an actual book of your poems.
Chapbooks usually contain poetry and deal with a specific theme or experience favored by the author. The shorter length is achieved by limiting the content to one theme or form. Chapbooks are focused, and the poems often connect to one another in a meaningful way.
In addition, authors will usually put their best and most favorite poems at the beginning and end of the book. This ensures that the reader will be pulled in at first read and then left with a feeling of fondness as they close the booklet. Make no mistake, though: Everything in between should relate to the theme and have a purpose as well. Since chapbooks are so small, every poem should be able to stand on its own. You will have to be highly selective when you compile your chapbook. If a poem doesn’t fit with your theme or relate to the others, you should leave it out for the time being. You can always revisit it when you start working on a full-length book. Chapbooks are meant to help you get your foot through the publishing industry door, so once you learn how to compile one, you will be able to create more in the future.
You won’t often see chapbooks in bookstores. They are more commonly found online or at author readings or events, where fans or followers can purchase them. You will thus want an online presence so that you can market your chapbooks to the right audience.
Since chapbooks are considered a form of art, authors frequently use high-quality paper, have them saddle- or hand-stitched, and choose expressive spines and covers (which our professional cover designers can create for you!). The books are smaller than a standard piece of paper, which is 8.5” by 11”. They can be self-made as well—check out all the different types of chapbooks on Etsy.
Today, chapbooks can also be found online and downloaded as PDFs or eBooks, and if that’s your plan, you’ll need professional eBook formatting services to ensure a maximally attractive product. However, because of the charm of chapbooks as art, most authors prefer to publish hard copies.
Pros and cons of publishing a chapbook
You do need to keep in mind the pros and cons of chapbooks. While they may not be for everyone, they can be a fun way to experiment and be artistic in presenting your poetry.
Chapbooks are an excellent way to introduce yourself as a poet to readers, literary agents, and publishers. You can give them a taste of what you have to offer without a huge commitment and enter the literary arena. If you do get noticed, that can help you eventually publish a longer book of poems.
Because chapbooks focus on something in detail in a shortened version, many people like to read them. In our busy world, book lovers can’t always find the time to read collections of works, but since chapbooks can be devoured in one sitting, readers find them pleasurable. Chapbooks can tell a story as all the poems relate to a common theme or idea. This makes them more marketable because readers are generally interested in particular subjects or topics. People who are dealing with grief, for instance, may want to read poems that focus on the healing process. Thus, with a chapbook, you can appeal to a certain demographic, which helps with your marketing.
Another benefit for you as an author is that chapbooks can be produced relatively cheaply. Many authors choose the do-it-yourself route, and copies can be printed for mere cents, depending on your design and construction. It is a bonus to be able to get your work out to people cheaply (and often quickly)!
The biggest drawback to publishing a chapbook is that you won’t make a lot of money from it. The benefit of being inexpensive to produce is reflected in the low price of the book. In addition, chapbooks aren’t usually found in bookstores, so the number printed is much lower than that for a normal book. For this reason, many authors publish chapbooks to help them get noticed or advance their careers, not to get rich.
Chapbooks can be a great vehicle for attracting attention or getting published, and if yours is successful, publishing houses may look to you for further work. In case you decide to compile and print a chapbook, have fun with it and enjoy the process. Before publishing, make sure the interior design of your chapbook is as pleasing as the poems themselves. Our typesetting and interior book design services are perfect for this.