When you first start writing poems, a book might seem a far-fetched idea.
Though soon enough, you’re going to have a repertoire of poems you’re most proud of and which deserve to be showcased.
Not to mention, publishing a poetry book might even become a passive income stream for you. This is highly possible these days, with the far-reaching hands of the internet. But more about that later.
You might think that a poetry collection is just all the poems a writer has ever created sandwiched under a single book cover.
But that is far from the truth.
There is a process to creating a poetry book that is presentable, readable, and, of course, sellable.
What elements do you need to write a poetry book?
Once you know what you need to do, it’s actually quite simple.
Whether you already have a collection of poems and wish to turn them into a book. Or you’re still in the writing process, with the book goal in mind as your final destination.
The first thing you need is -- poems.
Nowadays, anything written to be published, whether it’s a novel, nonfiction, memoir, or poetry gets put into a manuscript first (translation: draft form before publication).
It might seem like an obvious step but many people rush to publish before they’re finished perfecting their manuscript.
No matter if you’re submitting your poetry book to a publication or magazine, or you’ve chosen to self-publish, here are 5 steps to creating and finalizing your manuscript.
A collection of poems in a book format is able to reach a wider audience. It can also showcase your craft. But mainly, it can paint a bigger picture, a larger story through your individual poems.
Be ruthless, choose your strongest poems.
Choose the poems that flow well together. Poems that don’t need any more revisions, so that your book starts to take on a shape and doesn’t become just a collection of random poems thrown together.
Pro tip: One poem per page. Give your poetry some breathing room on each page, unless, of course, your poem is longer than one page.
A well-cultivated range of poems is united under one umbrella.
For example, Linda Pastan separated her poems into five chapters, to represent the five stages of grief. Kevin Young took the readers on a journey from reckoning to recovery to illustrate the pain and heartbreak of mourning.
All you need is a connecting thread. Your connection can be the theme of your poetry: love, death, social justice, the pursuit of happiness…
But you can also connect your poems through style, such as confessional, lyrical, comical. Or poetic form, like Shakespearean sonnets, prose, or haikus.
As long as it is clear to your audience what exactly unites all your poems so that they can pull at that thread and let the story unfold as they read.
Pro tip: Continue to evaluate what poems deserve a place in this particular book of poetry. The poems you don’t use can be used for the promotion of your book or even for the next collection.
Think of a story structure. There is always a narrative.
Where do you usually encounter the main character at the start of a book or a movie? What challenges do they face along their journey? What revelation or culmination does everything lead to?
Make sure each poem builds on the next, adding to the reading experience. If you can explain why one poem proceeds to the next then your job is done.
Pro tip: Be selective. Take a breather from your first arrangement of poems, then come back to it and see how they have settled in. You might do some reshuffling more than once. Remember, it’s ok to change your mind.
Now this question gets a little trickier depending on what route you wish to publish your book.
If you’re self-publishing you have the creative freedom for cover, size, layout, everything.
You can add images or illustrations to complement each poem. You can hire someone to format the book and design a book cover for you (hello Upwork and Fiverr). You can choose the text style you want.
Once everything is ready, you simply upload your final book to your chosen selling platform. For example, book retailers like Amazon or iBooks.
But with magazines and traditional publishing, you must adhere to their guidelines. Which you should carefully read before submission.
Typically, you can be safe if you make sure you have a single space between individual lines and double-spacing between new stanzas (translation: verses).
Use a readable serif font like Garamond or Times New Roman. And don’t forget to include a contents page and a title page.
Then you just send off your manuscript. If it gets accepted, the images, cover pages, and edits will most likely be done by the publishing house.
Pro tip: Check out MLA Style guidelines for submitting to traditional publishing. For self-publishing, don’t let your creative decisions make you miss out on marketing opportunities.
This is the fun part. You can choose the name of the best poem in the book or even a phrase or a sentence from a poem included.
It can even be something that encapsulates the essence of the whole journey from the first poem to the last.
A title might present itself during your arranging and formatting process. Or you might want to take on the reader’s role and read from start to finish to see what comes up for you.
Pro tip: Don’t forget to proofread. Better yet, get someone else to do it.
Poems from Rupi Kaur, Cleo Wade, Lang Leav have left the pages of Instagram and now circulate outside the internet, in print form.
Luckily, you don’t have to be a bestselling author to publish your first full-length collection of poems.
Modern poets are the embodiment of change in the publishing industry.
With more and more people craving digital content, getting your words in front of a diverse audience is becoming easier, day by day.
There are many ways to publish nowadays. The changing trends are in the hands of indie writers.
You might be concerned about how many poems your poetry book needs to hold.
Luckily, there is no limit on the number of poems, as long as the final book is 48 pages or longer. Although, less is more when it comes to poetry.
The main question you should answer for yourself is -- Does the book feel finished?
So what are your options for releasing your work of art in the world?
Self-publishing is on the rise. There are undeniable benefits and many options for self-publishing.
Here, the question of promotion can be difficult. But if you have a following on Instagram, Tumblr, Youtube, all the socials, you can always lean into them as promotion platforms.
But self-publishing can be a breeze with some other options.
Amazon with Kindle Direct Publishing is the easiest route for many, although you don’t get to keep all your profits.
Book retailers like Google Books, iBooks, and Barnes and Noble can also house your poetry book quite comfortably.
If you have some money to spend, you can seek out services from aggregator companies like PublishDrive, Lulu, Reedsy, Draft2Digital. They can format, market, and send out your book to different book retailers, digital or otherwise. They even offer print-on-demand services.
And websites, like PublishDrive even let you keep 100% of your royalties.
To test the waters and get a taste for the world of published poetry you might want to try publishing a chapbook first or entering a poetry competition.
A chapbook is a shorter collection of poems, it is somewhat a sample of a poet’s work. Chapbooks are under 48 pages. They also serve as a foot in the door to traditional publishing.
Make sure to read the submission guidelines of poetry magazines and literary journals.
Palette Poetry, Rattle, Frontier Poetry, and other magazines often hold online competitions that are free and open for anyone to enter. They even give out monetary prizes for the best poems.
Pro tip: Check out Submittable for a list of all current competitions and submission requests in various genres of prose and poetry.
Traditional publishing always remains an option. But household names, like Penguin Random House or Simon and Schuster, aren’t short on gatekeepers to their elite club.
Poetry book publishers bring with them: status and remove the need for the author to deal with all the nitty-gritty of marketing, editing, book covers, etc.
But it is much harder to get a traditional publisher to notice your work if you don’t already have author credentials towering behind you.
It is worth submitting to Small Press publishers, as they will be more likely to accept.
The question of reaching readers is no longer a competition between traditional and indie publishing routes. You can go traditional and not get any readers, or you can become a self-published sensation overnight.
Nowadays, whatever publishing means you use, anything is possible.
Whichever route you choose, you should be proud that you have a whole collection of your own creative work.
All that matters is -- putting together and publishing your work of poetry is a one-of-a-kind personal experience.
One for the bucket list, don’t you think?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Adventurous by nature, Valery has been a world wanderer for many years.
Her journey started in Russia, transitioned to the UK, and now she discovers a sense of home in nations all around the world.
She moves beyond borders - learning, participating, finding inspiration and familiarity in diverse cultures she’s had the joy of living in.
When not chasing adventures and out-of-the-comfort zone experiences, she explores the wonders of language and its impact on the self, the world, and interpersonal communication.
She never ceases to seek opportunities for self-development and to contribute to a brighter future for the world around her.
You can discover some of her experiences on https://medium.com/@valeryvoyager