I am hoping to do another post about submitting full length books, but first I wanted to talk about submitting chapbooks since I was looking for a place to send the one chapbook I still have pending.
What is a chapbook? I have always called it a short book of poems (or fiction/cross-genre) below 32 pages but some are longer than that. Mine tend to be between 15 and 25 pages which I think is a good length for a chapbook which you could potentially read in one sitting.
I don’t think I had any idea what a chapbook was before my gap in writing (2000-2005). I don’t recall anyone in my undergrad courses ever talking about them and I’m not sure how I learned about them. It may have been from the NCWN who used to hold a chapbook contest for NC writers. I’m not even sure what chapbook I read first, but I think I picked up one of Emma Bolden’s after I found her via other friends online. I think I only bought one after I started entering contests, which is where I was still naive even back in 2006 when I came back to writing.
The first chapbook I put together was in December of 2006. At this point I still didn’t know I was going to an MFA (even though I had applied, that is a story in itself) so I was putting together a chapbook of older pieces just to see where I was. I called it Snapdragon and it contained quite a few poems that are in my upcoming full length collection Paper House. I entered that NCWN contest but I didn’t even try with that chapbook again. I realized it wasn’t up to par.
I did try to create another one in June of 2007. I named that one Echolocation and I sent it to one contest. The poems in that group are a very small section in the 2nd manuscript I am working on (do you see a theme developing here?). I realized when it came back it was also not ready.
But, I tried again. I put together one called In Snug Harbor in August of 2007 and I sent it out once, but realized that the poems in that would most likely be in my thesis and that I had more to write so I didn’t send it around again either.
You know, I was still at it though. I just have this drive for organization. In November of 2007, I sent out my first copy of At the A & P Meridiem. This chapbook was different than the others I had attempted. It had a cohesive principle, the hours of the day. I placed 8th on my first attempt! I continued to send it out. It went out to 14 additional places from November 2007 until September 2008. It did not change much at all. I may have tweaked a few lines here and there, but nothing significant. I was also sending the individual poems around, trying to get them published before the chapbook. When Pudding House finally gave me the email that they wanted to publish it on 9/26/2008, I was ecstatic! I had to withdraw it from about 7 places because I did a lot of simul submits but it was done. Only one of the poems out of the 24 was ever published outside of the chapbook but I am going to reprint at least two in my full length manuscript.
Now, while I was sending A & P around, I also had another chapbook I had completed, Fat Girl. I started sending it out in February of 2008. I had written about 30 poems for the chapbook and then in revision realized I only had about 15 I really liked. I reworked it a few times as I was sending it around and ended up with 23 poems. I have no desire to write more for the chapbook and I really like where it is. The first time I sent it out, I received INK on it. I kept sending it. It became a semi-finalist. I then received a notice about being a finalist and a personal call about it!. Then another time I received ink but it is still waiting. Yes. Still waiting over a year later. It has gone out 22 times and is only under consideration by 1 place at this point. I am actually a little stumped about what to do next. I have a list of places where I’d like it considered but most have reading periods in the spring. I have considered sending it to the places I sent it in 2008 since I may have made a few changes since those contests, and they may have other readers/judges but I’m just not sure. I’m not in a rush for it to come out but I really want it to be published by the right place. I think I am shooting for new places. I have about 9 on my list and I’ll try them as their reading periods come open at the end of the year and into 2010. I may even self-publish it at some point but since I have other projects coming out, why hurry? (Never thought I’d be saying that!) I have several poems in it that are published but the individual pieces I am still sending around.
Then there is my final chapbook The Wait of Atom (see side bar or chapbook tab for more details) which started as a full length project but really ran its course at 19 poems. I started sending it out in June of 2009. First place I sent it I received INK. Then it was turned down a few times. I then woke up one night and realized it was the perfect theme to be published as an e-chapbook! I started researching places I could send it as an e-chapbook when a conversation resulted in my publisher wanting to put it out as one! Wow! It will be out in just a few short weeks. So it really only went out to three places and was withdrawn from 5 before it was published. A very different experience. I only had a few of the poems in it published.
What have I learned along the way?
- Research. Buy chapbooks and read them from different chapbook publishers. Make sure you are submitting work to a place where you’d want your chapbook to be published.
- If you think you might have a chapbook, put one together but also think about whether this same set of poems may be something you want in a full length in the future. You can, but it is not suggested, that you publish a whole chapbook as half of your full length book.
- Follow the guidelines of the contest/reading period you are submitting to. You’d hate to be turned down just because you didn’t follow the guidelines!
- Chapbooks don’t have to be themed but they seem to sell better and get more consideration if they are.
- The individual poems don’t have to be published but the more that are will really help you know how “successful” you might be in submitting the chapbook itself to a contest or publisher.
Hope my journey might help you guys as you are considering putting together chapbooks. I just love them and I have seen more fiction chapbooks as well. Feel free to post any additional questions you might have about chapbooks or anything else below and I’ll do my best to help.