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How to Write a Chapbook of Poetry: Tips From a Professional Author

Introduction

Congratulations! You’ve set the goal of writing a poetry chapbook. This is a super exciting endeavour which could totally change the course of your career.

If you’re anything like me, the process can seem intimidating. I know that when I set out to write my first chapbook, I felt pretty lost. I wasn’t really sure where to start, so I did some research online.

Personally, I found this PDF of Jeannine Hall Gailey’s “Why Publishing a Chapbook Makes Sense” extremely useful. It breaks down the basics of what a chapbook is, and why/how you can write one.

And, by consulting this online info, I was able to put together my first manuscript. After assembling the poems, I spent months editing them. Once I was finished, I submitted it to several small presses, and it was picked up by my now-publisher—Grey Borders Books.

So let’s look at my personal tips for writing a chapbook:

1. First things first: get into the habit of regularly writing new poetry

Obviously, you can’t assemble a manuscript without individual poems. So you’ll need to get into the rhythm of creating new work.

The creative process is different for everyone, but here are some potential motivators:

  • Set aside a designated amount of time each day to write new poetry (even if the poems aren’t very good!). 
  • Take a poetry writing course at your local college or library. (This is my personal favourite! While I was in university, I took two different creative writing workshop courses, and in both classes, I ended up writing entire manuscripts.)
  • Go to an open mic night for poets, and share new work. The act of attending these events will give you the incentive to write.


Once you feel like you have a solid chunk of poems to work with, then you can start trying to assemble them into a cohesive publication. This could take months or even years, depending on how much time you want to take.

2. Sort through your poems and ask yourself these important questions.

Upon reading over your work, ask:

  • Are there any central themes that come up over and over again in my poetry? What are they? (For example, when I looked over my own work, I found that many of my poems centred around experiences of mental illness and hospitalization.)
  • Are there any recurring images that come up in my work? What are they?

The basic idea is that, for a chapbook, you want to find a pretty specific theme. 

Since chapbooks are generally quite short (approx. 15-35 poems long), you don’t really have the liberty of jumping around from random topic to random topic. (I mean, you technically could do that, but it wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying to read.)

In full-length manuscripts, you generally have more freedom to play around with different themes and images. But chapbooks tend to be a bit less forgiving, in that sense.

Once you’ve recognized a few central themes and images, pick out some poems that are all connected to those same basic concepts. This won’t be your final list—just collect them.

You could put them all in a single Word doc, or make a folder with various documents—whatever organization system is easiest for you. I’d say a group of at least 20-40 poems would be a good place to start.

3. Go through your group of poems, and get a bit more selective.

Now that you have some poems to choose from, go through them and see which ones are the strongest. Have any of these poems been previously published or won awards? If so, start there.

Narrow the group of poems down to your best work. This might end up being 15 poems, or it could be much longer. Just see what feels best.

Once you have narrowed down which poems you’ll include, start playing around with the order. This will be very time-consuming. Experiment with different poems coming first or last. 

If you want to get creative, print out all of the poems, and manually move the pieces of paper around on a floor or large table. Try out different placements.

Once you’ve got a decent draft, move on to copyediting.

4. Edit, edit, and then edit some more.

I’m a bit partial to thorough copyediting, because I also work as a professional editor. And when I was a new writer, I spent 7 months personally revising my poetry manuscript. By the time I submitted it to my now-editor, he didn’t need to change a thing; the book went straight to printing.

The point is that you should edit your work so thoroughly that it will impress any editor who reads it over. When you’re sending out your manuscript, you want the collection to be as polished as possible, so that it gets picked up by a publisher.

Spend at least a few weeks (possibly even months) reading over your poems. Edit them for clarity and correctness. Have some friends read them over. Ask a creative writing teacher/mentor for their thoughts. Get as much feedback as possible—and then decide which advice to implement.

By the end of it, you should have a collection of cohesive, effective poems. 

5. Submit it to publishers. (Or self-publish.)

The next step is to research some small presses in your area (big publishers don’t usually put out chapbooks). If you’re Canadian, Kitty Lewis has compiled a great list here

Then, submit your manuscript—either by mail or online (depending on the guidelines). Send it to several presses in order to keep your options open. And hopefully, all that hard work will pay off!

If you’re planning on self-publishing, this is the point where you’d start printing your chapbook (or hiring an outside editor to copy-edit it for you). 

Conclusion

Writing a chapbook is a great option for new writers. It can help you establish yourself as a published author and seriously advance your career. I hope you found these tips helpful!

How to Deal With Rejection as a Creative Writer (Even If You’re a Sensitive Person)

Introduction

I’m not going to lie to you: getting rejected sucks. Even when you’ve been doing this for over ten years, it still stings. But you don’t have to let this inevitable part of the creative process get you down. Here are my top tips for coping with rejection (even if you’re a sensitive person):

1. Always have options. 

You should never put yourself in a position where all your eggs are in one basket, so to speak. Don’t pick a single magazine or journal and only submit there. 

It doesn’t make sense to zero in on a single publication—getting published is a numbers game. Find several publications that you’re interested in, and send out multiple submissions.

Important note: Make sure to check if the publications accept simultaneous submissions or not. Only submit the same piece to multiple publications if their guidelines allow it.

2. Never linger too long on a single rejection.

I know—this is a hard one. When you get excited at the idea of being published in a certain magazine or journal, it can feel crushing when they reject your work. But there is no point in obsessing over a single rejection.

What to do instead? Put in the legwork to get published in the future. If the editors gave you feedback on your submission, then read it carefully. If not, re-read your submission and see what you could have improved. 

When that publication has another call for submissions, take that into consideration: What kind of work did they reject? How can I improve my submissions in the future?

Or, maybe, this just wasn’t the right publication for your style of writing. That’s OK, too! Research different journals and magazines that might be better-suited for your work. Submit to them, and most importantly: move on.

In my experience, there have been multiple well-known literary magazines that took me years to get published in. Those publications rejected me for years, but I kept re-submitting anyways. 

I took into account what kind of style they liked, and eventually, my work matched up with their preferences. I wouldn’t have those high-profile publishing credits if I’d given up the first time.

3. Practice mindfulness; there’s no use fighting the situation. 

One of the most effective tools for dealing with life’s hardships (in my experience), has been mindfulness. The practice of slowing down, doing some type of breathing exercise, and being still, is immensely useful.

As a writer, you can adopt this type of philosophy when getting rejected to help you cope with the unpleasant reality. You can do a meditation, practice some yoga, or simply remind yourself: 

This rejection is not the end of the world. It’s happened, and that’s OK. I can’t control the editorial decision that was made. It doesn’t make me a bad writer; it just means that this particular submission didn’t work out. I can accept this and move forward. 

Try to remember that there’s no use dwelling on the past. Mindfulness can help you realize that the only moment that matters is the present. 

Ask yourself: What can I do to further my career today? What can I do right now to move toward my goal of getting published? Can I work on a new piece of writing? Can I research new publications? 

The sooner you live in the present moment, the better off you’ll be.

4. Know that, with each rejection, you’re building resilience. 

Every time you get rejected, you get a little bit more comfortable with the experience. After you get used to the process, it will become easier. Yes, it will still be uncomfortable, but you’ll be able to move on quicker.

As somebody who deals with anxiety, I know this first-hand. When I started out as a creative writer, it was so nerve-wracking and upsetting to submit my work to a journal and get rejected. I’m sensitive, so the entire process felt overwhelming.

But now I’m at a point in my career where I’m comfortable with rejection. Obviously, it’s still a bit disappointing, but I don’t focus on it too much. I just move on, keep writing, and keep submitting my work to different publications.


Thanks for reading! Please share this blog post if you found it useful 🙂

And let me know in the comments: What has helped you deal with rejection in the past?

3 Free Ways to Get Published as a New Writer

Introduction

For many people, getting published as a creative writer can seem daunting. Between mailing out manuscripts and paying for contest entry fees, the costs of pursuing your passion can quickly add up.

Thankfully, you can build your creative writing career without any real up-front costs, if you’re savvy about it.

Although many publications and organizations require fees, you can still find legitimate, free options. It just takes a bit of extra legwork.

I won my first literary contest at the age of thirteen—and, obviously, I didn’t have much (if any) cash to invest in the process.

Still, I was able to cement my first professional writing award, got invited to perform at the prize ceremony, was published in the organization’s anthology, and even got interviewed by The Toronto Star.

Over ten years later, I’ve now been published in numerous magazines/journals, won multiple literary awards, and written two collections of poetry with my publisher.

And I’ve managed to accomplish all of those accolades without spending much (if any) money at all.

So, regardless of where you’re at in your creative writing career, you can find ways to get your work out there–for free. I write poetry and creative non-fiction, but many of the principles will apply to other genres.

Here are my tips:

1. Find reputable, local publications.

The first step to getting published is to find the type of publication you’d want to get accepted by. For a poet, this will likely be in the form of a local literary magazine.

A good place to start is with your nearest college/university. Many schools have high-calibre literary magazines run by students. Although some require you to be a student to submit your work, many do not.

I’ve found that student-run publications usually don’t require entry fees (at least where I’m from).

For example, I studied at the University of Toronto, where I was published in several student journals—many of which I still submit to (even though I’m no longer enrolled there).

If you look hard enough, there are many reputable publications that charge no fees for submissions/contest entries. Here are some great examples, for Canadian writers:

A simple Google search can help you locate calls for submissions in your area. Try using terms like “poetry contest” or “call for submissions” + the name of your city.

2. Prepare your submission.

Once you’ve found some solid publications to submit to, make sure that you read their guidelines. Thoroughly reading these instructions will save you—and the editor—a lot of time.

Be sure to find out the following:

  • Does this publication only accept submissions from local writers, or are they open to international work?
  • Do I need to be a student to qualify for publication here?
  • Is there a word limit for submissions?
  • Should I use a specific size/style of font?
  • What is the deadline to submit to this publication/contest?
  • Does this publication accept simultaneous submissions? (AKA: Am I allowed to send my entry to multiple journals at the same time?)

Find the important details, and follow them. There’s no use submitting to a publication you’re not eligible for.

It’s also a good idea to read samples/past issues of the publication you’re submitting to. Get a feel for their style, and figure out what kind of work they like.

Then, looking at your own work, strategically decide on which pieces you should send them.

Format everything according to their specifications, and be sure to note whether or not they accept simultaneous submissions (if they don’t, then make sure that you’re only sending that poem to one journal at a time).

3. Get ready for rejection.

I’m going to be totally honest: whether you’re a new writer or a seasoned pro, you’re going to get rejected at some point.

I often joke that 90% of being a writer is just getting rejected. There’s no use getting embarrassed about it, because every single writer has faced this reality.

Don’t expect to be published in every journal you submit to, because it’s not going to happen. The same thing goes for contests: you can’t possibly win every single one.

When you submit to a publication, go into it with the following mentality: It would be nice if I got accepted, but if I don’t, it’s not the end of the world.

And what to do when you get your inevitable first rejection letter? Shrug–and move on. So, you didn’t get in this time. You can always try again in their next call for submissions, or look into alternative journals.

Conclusion

You can build an entire literary career without ever spending a penny. All you need to do is spend some time researching local publications, and focus on the ones without any entry fees.

And as you submit to more journals, magazines, and contests, you’ll gradually find new avenues to publish your work.