Five Steps To Turn Your Poetry Collection Into A Book

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!

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