Turn your poetry into a book Poetry has long been a medium of expression and thought, which has evolved into a written reflection of reality and modern culture. The compact yet emotionally significant form of creative writing can drive home an idea or message through metaphors and symbolism while being therapeutic to the writer. Yet, poetry has long been dominated by the literary gatekeepers of the world: the press, editors, magazines, and journals who decide whose voices are heard and whose remain unheard, or unknown rather. While mainstream publishers dismissed poetry as being a genre with little commercial appeal, retailers have always given preferential treatment to acknowledged classics, academic anthologies, and collections by poets in the league of Keats, Poe, and Tennyson. Few poets could dream of ever reaching this level. While we are currently experiencing a golden age of publishing thanks to the self-publishing movement, poetry remains a niche market. There are still quite a few barriers for poets who want to distribute their work in the world and make sure it gets discovered by the masses. Niche or not, the takeaway is that there is a market that your poetry collection can be an influential part of, provided you get a few things right. Today, being successful as a poet is far more achievable than it was a few years back, and you can certainly navigate this maze and emerge victorious from the other side of it even without a publisher’s backing. What matters is that you spend some time and effort understanding the following two aspects before you dream of making it big in this sphere: who you are as a poet and who you are writing for. Keeping that in mind, we’ve put together five key steps to turning your poetry collection into a published book. We’ll start by exploring the two aspects mentioned above and then move into some of the more publishing oriented details like formatting, editing, design, etc. If you’ve been looking for some insights into creating a chapbook, or poetry pamphlet, we’ll be covering those as well. Read on! I. Finding your “poetic pulse” This is a crucial first step, so do give it considerable attention. When you start writing poetry, you may struggle with finding a poetic form that suits your writing style. From haiku to sonnet to free verse, there are various poetic forms, and it can get overwhelming to put a finger on one that you have a flair for. One way to start is by identifying the main themes in your poetry and your poetic goals. Give yourself the freedom to experiment with poetic devices, play with rhythm and forms, and explore your craft. As is the case with any form of writing, it’s imperative to find a unique way to communicate your poetry or voice through one or more distinct poetic forms. Once you’ve determined this and written enough verses to take to the public domain, make sure you attempt one or more of these steps:

  1. Submit individual poems to publications, literary review magazines or websites and journals like the Thrush Poetry Journal, The American Poetry Review, Epoch, The New Yorker, etc. Understanding what most of them accept versus what gets rejected can be great to validate your knack for specific forms of poetry.
  2. Showcase your poems on social media and create a blog or website to maintain a complete record of your written work. Take some measures to develop an enigmatic online presence that complements your abilities as a poet. “Instapoets” like Rupi Kaur, Lang Leav and Ocean Vuong have gained tremendous popularity by bringing about a power shift in contemporary poetry and democratizing a genre that has had its fair share of impediments. Another reason for targeting social media is the opportunity to find and engage with an audience that is tech-savvy, time-poor and prefers reading microfiction and shorter literary works like spoken-word poetry.
  3. Consider aligning your poetry with a time-bound theme to enhance its appeal among specific communities, big or small. Releasing love poems around the time of national or international pride months or writing a piece in reaction to particular events can cause many more people to resonate with it as they’re experiencing similar moments at the time. American poet Amanda Gorman, who often wrote poems centred around historical occasions, became the youngest inaugural poet when she delivered her original composition The Hill We Climb at the 59th presidential inauguration, in front of the entire nation. Similarly, the pandemic caused many writers to pause, reflect and convert into verse associated things like quarantine, loneliness, fear, etc. Needless to say, most of these works found fame and virality through the power of digital publishing and could reach a broad audience in no time.

Following this flow can help you cultivate a poetry collection and build a personality around it, both of which a section of people are now exposed to and are appreciative of. These can be truly helpful in getting your book some attention early on when you eventually release it! II. Putting together a poetry anthology While creating a poetry collection, it’s necessary to organize them by choosing the closely related ones and not merely throwing in an assortment of your best poems. Ensure that they’re in harmony with one another and are unified by theme, style, length, or choice of poetic form. For example, you may read through your pile and realize that many of your strongest poems discuss queerness and the role played by society in your acceptance of who you’ve been all your life. You may then use that as the theme and make sure that each poem ties back to this theme. Alternatively, you might pick the ones that belong to the same poetic form, i.e. put all the sonnets into one collection, free verses into another, etc. Whatever be the ordering pattern of your poems, make sure they are arranged logically by aligning them with a narrative arc. The collection should feel like it has a beginning, middle, end and must form a cohesive whole that ultimately takes the reader on an emotional journey. Create a chronology and interlink each verse to give your manuscript a sense of structure, one that warrants a pleasant experience for your potential readers. III. Editing, designing and formatting your work Once you’ve got your collection in place, read through the entire manuscript, review, revise, and proofread your poems. Poetry is less restrictive, much more personal and has lesser rules than other forms of writing. However, this doesn’t rule out the importance of editing. Editing and proofreading your work is essential in all types of writing, of course, but doubly so in poetry, where the textual matter is limited, and every word counts. That’s where poetry editors can do an incredible job of carrying out your vision and making sure your poems sing! They can improve and edit everything from stanza length to tonality to structure and enhance your collection’s overall emotional quotient and artistic quality. The challenging part is to find someone who can make your work stand out without suppressing your voice or compromising your vision. Working with author-centric self-publishing platforms like Pencil can be pretty helpful in this regard. It helps authors connect with poetry editors familiar with the nuances of this delicate art form and capable of striking the perfect balance between supportive and suggestive. Next, design the perfect cover art that is a visual representation of the content inside. Seek inspiration from beautifully designed covers of other books, especially successful ones, in this genre. Book cover design is a complex balance of images, text, and aesthetics, and you need someone who understands how each of these elements interact with the others. Expert cover designers are not only adept at weaving magic through visual elements, but they also have a good understanding of current trends and know how to give your book a competitive edge through great design. Most importantly, they can create something that will communicate the right message with your cover. So it can be beneficial when platforms like Pencil give you the option of collaborating with a seasoned designer and help you pick the right one for your genre and requirements. In addition to this, interior design and formatting play a huge role in getting your work ready for publishing. For a list of standard formatting practices and guidelines, take a look at this. Here are some poetry specific ones that you can research:

  • Poems should be single-spaced, with double spaces between stanzas
  • Each poem should be on a separate page
  • Adding decorative elements as horizontal lines under the poem’s title
  • Consider adding illustrative elements around the sides of the page to make it come alive
  • Another option is to veer away from the left-align and go for shape poetry by using the lines in your stanza to create a shape or design
  • Addition of images between poems

IV. Creating a chapbook Writing and publishing chapbooks are great steps to follow if you’ve only been writing poetry for a short while and don’t necessarily have enough verses for a complete collection. A chapbook is a short (10–30 poems) collection of poems with a unifying principle, theme, question, or experience. First, gather together the most recent 20–30 poems you’ve written and read all of them in chronological order. Then take notes on repeated images, metaphors, characters, words, themes, etc. Finally, mix them up in a random order, keeping your best one right at the start. The ordering concept around a chapbook doesn’t have to be literal or strict. Emotion can theme a chapbook. Much like a poem itself, the chapbook should unfold as it is being composed. The editing, formatting and design of a chapbook can be kept relatively more straightforward than a full-fledged book of poems. Traditionally, chapbooks have been designed with high-quality paper, striking cover art and tasteful illustrations, and authors often choose to hand-make DIY chapbooks. On digital platforms like Pencil, you have the option to write one and create the design for it by choosing from four options, including getting a professional to make it. Entering poetry contests can be a great way to get recognition from a target audience. Sometimes, entrants also win trips to poetry festivals and get the opportunity to read aloud in front of renowned poets and publishing representatives. V. Getting your book self-published Finally, you’ve got yourself a comprehensive book of poems ready to hit the markets! Self-publishing your poetry collection can be a great way of putting your work out there, not just as a last resort after being rejected by mainstream publishers but as a way of avoiding the traditional route altogether. Self-publishing poetry is easier and more rewarding than the conventional route in the creative and financial sense. In this case, you have complete control of the publishing process, including the copyrights of your work and a greater part of the royalties that it earns. Self-publishing poetry involves many of the same steps one would follow to self-publish any book, like editing, designing, packaging it with essential keywords and author information, and finally distributing it worldwide. It’s recommended that you do your research while identifying the right platform to help you do everything from writing to designing to reaching a potential audience to monetizing your work. Pencil is a free self-publishing platform whose goal is to truly liberalize the publishing world by empowering writers and poets to become established authors and help their words get discovered by the global reading community. A discovery made possible thanks to our omni channel distribution network spanning 400 retailers and 16 regions including North America and China! With that, your vivid poetry collection is ready to be turned into a soulful volume that will enamour its readers! A parting note to you: if your words have the ability to capture the magic of this time-honoured craft, then gather your best works together, embrace self-authorship as your publishing approach and watch your verses enthral the world! Last year, some of the best-selling books in the world were poetry books, created by Instagram Poets like Rupi Kaur, Atticus, Nayyirah Waheed, and Nikita Gill. These poets, whose work appears in visual form all over social media and garners hundreds of thousands of followers, often found success in choosing to self-publish poetry. This way, they controlled the look and feel of the finished product, and they were able to get their book into the hands of their followers faster than with traditional publishing. Some of the most famous poetry books of all time were originally self-published and self-marketed, like Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman. There’s a long tradition of success with self-published poets, and this new generation is finding an audience dedicated to buying print. Success as a poet doesn’t depend on traditional publishing—now, less than ever. Have your own collection of poems? Here’s how to put your work in print, so it’s ready for the delight of your friends, fans, and followers:

1. Write a lot of poems

The average poetry collection is between 30 and 100 different poems. To create a unified collection of this size, you’re going to need a big body of work to pare down. So, get writing!

2. Choose your poems

Poetry collections aren’t just about putting all your poems together. They’re about creating a conversation between poems that are related and work together. Choose your poems around a particular theme, idea, style, subject—something with clear commonality to unify it. Roses are red

3. Decide on your poetry book format

Your book format, in part, determines your number of poems. If you’re planning on black-and-white pages of text, then you’ll only need a Trade Book, and probably the smallest size. If your poems correlate with visual work, like sketches, photographs, or paintings, then you may want to explore Photo Books, which offer a range of sizes to complement any kind of work.

4. Organize your poems

Put your poems in order, so that the reader experiences them in the order that lets the conversation unfold. Putting the poems together and in order should, itself, feel like you’re writing a poem of poems. Poetry book double page spread

5. Edit your collection

Just like poetry is about creating the deepest meaning with the most powerful, minimal language, you’ll need to ruthlessly edit your collection down to its most essential poems. Take out any poem that isn’t intimately connected to your theme and the others. Save the remaining poems for promoting your book, or for your next collection.

6. Design your page layouts

Poetry books are unique in that the white space around your text is as important as your text. Remember your poems need lots of room to breathe on the page, so people have space to think. Don’t put more than one poem per page, unless it’s a deliberate decision to link two poems that way. Let each one have its own page, and if its longer, as many pages as it needs to surround each part with plenty of white space. Poetry Book page spread

7. Create your poetry book

The best part of self-publishing a poetry book is getting to make all the creative decisions yourself. YOU decide on paper type, cover, layout, size—all of it. Just be mindful that your book creation decisions have a direct impact on your ability to sell your self-published poetry book. You’ll need to balance your creative vision with the cost of creation so that you can still have a profit margin AND sell it at a price your friends, fans, and followers will pay. To create a Trade Book, which is priced to sell, you’ll need to use Blurb’s flagship free tool, BookWright. Pile of books

8. Upload your book and order a proof

No matter how many times you edit your poetry book, how many times you and other people have read it on the screen, there will be inconsistencies and gaps you can’t catch until you’ve printed it. Order a single print copy and check every page and every margin. Read it backwards, give it to a friend or professional proofreader—whatever it takes—to find all the mistakes. Your book cannot be edited or changed once it goes into distribution, so you’ll need to catch all the mistakes up front.

9. Revise and proof your book again

Once you’ve made your edits, order another proof and double check. Sometimes making changes causes new errors, and again, once your poetry book goes into distribution, it’s not possible to make any changes.

10. Set your book up for sale

Blurb books can be sold through the Blurb Bookstore, or they can be put into distribution through Amazon and others. Blurb Photo Books and Trade Books take different selling paths to Amazon, but if you’re working with a digital audience, they can buy your book from any link. How you set your poetry book up for sale depends on the best fit for your profit goals and your audience. Paper aeroplane If you’re a poet, this is the time to shine. You have more opportunities than ever to build your audience, and more platforms for selling your self-published poetry book. The work you are doing to give language to the human experience and illuminate those human moments belongs in the hands of your readers. Put your poems in print and open new channels—not only for profit—but for getting your words into the world. You’ve worked hard to perfect your poems, and now you’re ready to turn your collection into a finished book. Exciting, we know, but can you go it alone, or should you hire a book designer? There are several things to consider when turning your manuscript into a work of art—but don’t worry. We’ll go over the eight most critical elements on the road to publishing your poems.

8 Things to Consider When Publishing a Poetry Book

  1. Do-It-Yourself or Hire a Professional?
  2. Edit Your Manuscript
  3. How Many Poems Should You Include?
  4. Choosing a Trim Size
  5. Poetry Justification
  6. Styling Poem Titles and Poem Text
  7. Designing Your Book Cover
  8. Submitting to a Book Designer

1. Do-It-Yourself or Hire a Professional?

It’s not just about appearances. There are technical elements involved with designing a book, which you may find confusing or difficult to achieve independently. More often than not, the best layouts are completed using professional design software. To create your own book, use IngramSpark’s book-building tool, free to those with an IngramSpark account. However, if design is beyond your skillset, a good designer will take your manuscript and turn it into a book that matches a traditional publication’s quality and standards. This can increase your sales potential since professionally presented work enhances readability. If anything, it will keep your audience’s focus where it should be—on your content—instead of layout and design errors.

2. Preparing Your Manuscript

Whether you choose to go it alone or work with a professional book designer, the first thing you want to do is prepare your manuscript. Some authors may have each poem in a separate document, meaning you have a collection of files gathered in a folder. Instead, compile all of your poems into a single document (ordered how you want them to appear in your book) and make sure each one begins on a new page using a page break. Your file should also include:

  • Interior title page (not to be confused with your book cover, which is a separate file)
  • A copyright page (including your copyright notice and ISBN)
  • A Table of Contents
  • Any introductory content you may wish to include

3. How Many Poems Should You Include?

This is really up to you, but a print collection for a complete book of poems rather than a chapbook (a small, staple–bound book) can contain between 30 to 100 poems, depending on poem length. An average book of poetry would be around 70 to 100. Some authors further divide these into sections, especially if their collection contains more than one theme.

4. Choosing a Trim Size

While 6×9″ (229 x 152mm) may be a common trim size for fiction and other literary works, a smaller size, such as 5.5×8.5″ (216 x 140mm), lends itself better to poetry’s unique layouts. Choosing paperback, in this case, is also more common than hardcover—unless you are planning to print a large anthology.

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