Archives For Ordering Poems in a Manuscript

Chapbook Publishing

August 18, 2013 — 4 Comments


I’ve been working on a chapbook manuscript this month, since fall submission deadlines are approaching. I’ve found some online resources that are helpful and others that are confusing or out-of-date. Entry fees seem to run between $15 and $20, and length between 16 and 38 pages. It’s common for chapbooks to be published through contests, though there are publishers that will consider manuscripts outside of contests, such as Finishing Line Press. Check back each year because chapbook publishing seems to vary based on demand, the finances and staffing of the presses, etc. The publisher of my first chapbook, Main Street Rag, for example, is not currently holding chapbook contests.

There are three approaches to publishing a chapbook: contests, approaching a publisher on your own, or self-publishing. I don’t have experience with self-publishing, so these resources cover the first two options.

The most up-to-date sources for current contests are Poets & Writers Magazine and listings. Newpages has a scrollable listing, and for the Poets & Writers online site, I went to the grants and contests section and then entered “Chapbook” in the search box.

There are two main lists that show up in Google results for chapbook contests and publishers: Poetry Society of America chapbook contests and These two lists formed the basis for my research. These lists are not arranged by submission deadlines, and they have many links to sites that are not current. I added new information relevant to each list as I found it. It is worth checking back frequently to see if updates are available.

Poetry Society of America list of chapbook contests

  • Main Street Rag, suspended chapbook contest
  • Susan Blalock Chapbook Contest/Permafrost renamed Midnight Sun Contest
  • Slapering Hol Contest only accepts manuscripts if you have never published a book or a chapbook
  • Wick Poetry Center Contest is open to residents or writers associated with Ohio list of chapbook publishers*

  • Moon Pie Press is currently not considering submissions
  • Main Street Rag, suspended chapbook contest
  • Floating Bridge contest is open to residents or writers associated with Washington state
  • Slapering Hol Contest only accepts manuscripts if you have never published a book or a chapbook
  • Wild Honey Press is located in Ireland and isn’t currently considering manuscripts

*Several names on the list are not contests but publishers that you would have to approach yourself.

Finishing Line Press will let you submit manuscripts any time during the year, though they are not listed in either of these two resources.

New contests that have started:

  • Arcadia (August deadline just passed)
  • Tupelo Press Sunken Garden Chapbook Contest

Don’t forget the Poet’s Market book (from Writer’s Digest) as a resource. It also helps to attend bookfairs, such as at the AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) conference to see the types of chapbooks being made by publishers.

Things to keep in mind about chapbooks:

  • It isn’t necessary to have all of the poems published before submitting a manuscript, though it really helps to have at least a few listed on the acknowledgments page. My first chapbook had roughly 30% published poems.
  • Poems can be ordered in a variety of ways. Often in a short chapbook there is a unifying theme.
  • Length can vary. Put your strongest work in and don’t feel obligated to go to the maximum page length.
  • Read and follow the guidelines for each press. Some chapbooks are printed in a specific size and font that limit how long a line can be, and how many lines can fit on a page. Some manuscripts are read blind with no identifying information, and others are not.
  • Most contests allow electronic submissions, and almost all will have a reading fee. The reading fee supports the press, and often there is a perk in exchange for the fee such as a subscription to the literary journal or a copy of the winning chapbook.

An earlier blog post on putting together a manuscript references Jeffrey Levine’s (editor of Tupelo Press) page of tips, including ordering poems, proofreading, and submitting. Mr. Levine’s tips are available here. My blog post is below as well.

The chapbook publishing market is experiencing a resurgence, and some of the contests (The Diagram/New Michigan Press) had 500 entries last year. In many of the contests, you may be competing with poets who have already published a chapbook or book.

Poets & Writers has an article on how to make and bind your own chapbook here.

Putting together a poetry manuscript can be a challenge because there are so many options. Jeffrey Levine, Editor-in-Chief of Tupelo Press, has written an extensive list of 27 tips for creating a manuscript, and these apply to both chapbooks and full-length collections. He asserts that there is an art to making a manuscript. I’ll link to his full article and post just a few of his tips here. I’m in the process of creating a full-length manuscript having published one other collection. What surprised me the most is his assertion that you should put what speaks to you in the book, and pay no attention to which poems have been published (and where), and which poems not.

3)    When ordering poems in your manuscript, pay no attention to which poems have been published (and where), and which poems not.

5)    Make sure the poems that begin your collection establish the voice and credibility of the manuscript.

11) Less is more. Keep your manuscript in the area of 48-64 pages – show your reader that you’ve done the important work of weeding and pruning.

12)  Beware the frontispiece poem (that poem of yours that you might have elected to place before your numbered pages or before your table of contents). This practice draws far too much attention to a single poem and, in my experience, the selected poem more often than not (80% of the time?) wilts beneath the bright lights. Apply this same cautionary note to the first poem in your manuscript, whether or not you’ve isolated it as a frontispiece.

26) Be judicious about epigraphs—they’re just so much hardware unless a poem clearly addresses or plays off of the epigraph in some intrinsic and transformative way.

The comments section of the article is also worth reading for more responses from Mr. Levine.

For me, one of the most subtle aspects in this process is the arranging of poems so that they speak to one another. Like poems can be placed together or spread throughout the manuscript. Finding a way to maximize the energy and impact is key. I’ll finish with a summary from one of my writing professors, Nancy Eimers. “First or second or third person point of view, lyric or narrative, linear or nonlinear, autobiographical or historical, or a mingling of these within poems—these are things you can arrange so that they become not a cacophony but a conversation.”