Chapbooks?

24 Jan

Hello again my friends (or strangers as the case may be). Sorry for the delay in this weeks post. Last week was the first week back in school, also extremely stressful and depressing week for me but I’m back on track. So I said in my last post I was going to talk about the business of being a poet and I think chapbooks have a lot to do with it. In the poetry world chapbooks are a certain sort of currency, though  the value is still a little unclear to me.

Lets get technical for a minute. Wikipedia describes Chapbooks as “pocket-sized booklet” and “term currently used to denote publications of up to about 40 pages, usually poetry bound with some form of saddle stitch, though many are perfect bound, folded, or wrapped. These publications range from low-cost productions to finely produced, hand-made editions that may sell to collectors for hundreds of dollars.”

As the second more wordy definition may make clear, chapbooks are short, usually feature poetry (though apparently prose writers are getting into the swing of it) and can be made as cheaply or expensively as you like. Last year I made a chapbook for the final project of a book arts project I did (I use the term loosely here. Mine had only 6 poems in it). The point being that chapbooks while still a book occupy a different space than one might imagine. For most people chapbook has a grassroots, independent connotation, after it’s a form of self-publishing and if you’re attempting to get into book stores, it will probably only be picked up by small independent stores (which is awesome but still not always what you’re really shooting for).

As far as I can tell these are the up sides of doing a chapbook. Remember this is just my opinion and I am ever so happy to hear yours.

  1. It can get your name out there. Chapbooks can be a great form of self promotion for many reasons. Not only does it get a snippet of some of your best work out into the world and can give publishers the idea of where a book might lead.
  2. It’s probably the most control you will ever get over the publication of your work. Obviously this depends on whether you are self publishing a lot or not but the great thing about chapbooks is that you get to decide 100% what it looks like, feels like and where it’s received (this last one is a little iffy but you get my point).  If you end up publishing a book with a known publisher you probably wont get too much control over how it looks. Some people are lucky enough to be able to put this sort of information into their contracts but if you’re just starting out and don’t have the clout to get it in writing that you make these decisions than for the most part just kiss creative direction over the book design goodbye. There are some publishers who are really great about getting feedback from the writer about the way a book looks but honestly, a chapbook is total freedom.
  3. Publishers want to publish your chapbook. There are so many great chapbook contests and Publishers who just want to publish chapbook materials. Like I said, it’s a cheap way for you and them to see how your work will be received.  If people are buying up your chapbook they may love the larger book that you’re working on in a similar vein.  A few awesome places that publish chapbooks Ugly Duckling PresseRain Taxi and Dancing Girl Press. If you just want a big list of presses and contests that publish chapbooks try Every Writers Resource
  4. It doesn’t count as a book. This may seem like a downside but in the arena of awards and contests its great. Most Book awards or contests which are for emerging writers exclude chapbooks in the “previously published” description. Take for instance the Walt Whitman Award which is for a first book of poetry published by an US poet. If you read the guidelines it says “Books on a smaller scale, such as chapbooks and limited editions, will not disqualify a poet.”  You get your work in the open with a chapbook but you aren’t penalized for it in the end. Good stuff right?
  5. It gives you an idea of all the hard work that goes into publishing. Chapbooks are a great way to see the world of publishing from the inside without having to commit too much money or time.  When you are the marketing team, distributor, editor, writer, bookkeeper and financier for this project you’ll begin to strategize about the way your larger projects will need to look,  the amount of time it will take to do the entire thing and also why everyone is just rolling off quick rejection letters if your work isn’t up to par. It really can help you to understand this industry and that is something that no amount of reading articles on the net can change.

A lot of great reasons to give chapbooks a try. And while that last point may make you feel a little scared, just remember that chapbooks are supposed to be easy and fun. There are a bunch of websites around that will show you how to make them, and what to do after you’ve made them.

I personally am thinking of doing a chapbook with some of my thesis materials. I’m still not 100% decided but it’s looking pretty good for me. Will you make a chapbook?

I’m going to try for a double post this week with a list of really interesting blogs that I’m following on Google reader.

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One Response to “Chapbooks?”

  1. mollyd March 14, 2011 at 5:40 PM #

    i support this effort!

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