It was Don Marquis who likened the publication of a volume of verse to dropping rose petals down the Grand Canyon and waiting on an echo.
A chapbook is a small assemblage of poems, usually no more than 40 pages. It often centers on a precise theme, such as travel adventures, religious outbursts, child abuse or PMB. It’s typically written in a format tailored for smaller print-runs.
A number of reasons exist for the publication of poetry chapbooks. It is inexpensive to make. In a world where selling fiction to a publisher is hard, selling poetry is even harder. Many poets take the DIY route and self-publish it. This enables them to give their audience an excellent taste of their writings. A successful chapbook increases the marketability of any subsequent full-length poetry book and helps the author identify his target audience.
In the event that it takes off and sell healthily, that’s one more proof to publishers that there’s a market for your poetry. What cheaper way to get their attention than that?
WHAT A CHAPBOOK ISN’T
It is not a collection of your best poems:
I bet you shuddered reading that and you were about to stop reading it. It’s okay. You have to stick to one theme. One voice. One constant yarn. They should be your best poems but not in the random sense. You don’t patch words together and call it a day. What is your poem about? A seed? What’s the style of your narration? Do you adopt the mother-centric narrative style or the lovelorn narrator’s? Are the images interwoven enough that the word lamp appears in more than five places? What does a reader take away after reading through in one fell swoop? When you view it from a critical angle, does it have a unified narrative arc? Step aside and let a third eye see it. Does he feel the same? Another eye won’t hurt. Are they satisfied? Does it read and taste complete?
It’s not a platform for fillers.
There’s no hiding place for your golden fish. Take out your darlings and shoot each of them. It’s a chapbook. Every weak poem will be rooted out by your readers. If it shouldn’t be there, it must remain in the trash can. Workshop every line, every verse. Let each poem sing on its own and let them breathe, they’d earn their own attention eventually.
It’s not haphazard
There are n number of ways to order a chapbook or a full length. Where n is a number between 2 and 5000. Essays and talks abound in their largesse on ways to make a proper chronology. The order must make sense to you as the writer. Why does the first poem begin the way it does and why does the other end it? Why is that poem in the middle? You don’t know? Oh, you expect the reader will help you figure that out? He won’t. He’ll get lost. Many chaps try to do too much to the point that they lose me. Your theme should be tight and closely knit. Every poem should build off each other like layers in a photoshop composition. Are they each laying sure tracks toward the conclusion? It’s not that hard, don’t give up. It’s a marathon. The baton at this point is no longer on exchange. You have to see it through.
Ever heard that cliché, fell in love at first sight? Make us fall hard. Make us pick the book up. Make it scare us. Make us long for it. Make us dread what’s in it. Take us on a ride that leaves us satisfied. You don’t want to write a collection of powerful verses and realize people don’t read them because the title doesn’t resonate. Make your title work for you. Is it the title of one of the poems in the book? A fragment from another? Write 20 titles and go with the strongest.
Form and final proofing matter.
Proofing is the part where people dread most. Hire a proofreader. If you can and I strongly advise, use the help of an editor. You don’t have to adopt his corrections wholesomely, but it helps. Been immersed in your work for long can bring bias. You need a fresh set of eyes. Someone versed in the nuances of grammar. Versed in copyediting.
If you’re self-publishing, the form you use is entirely up to you.
If you are writing for a publisher, endeavor to write according to their style guide and instruction. Want a publisher to give your work the same scrutiny it gives to professional writers? Put in the work.
We can’t wait to read them.