Monday, November 26, 2007

Poetry chapbook publishers and contests

Publishing your poetry with Cherry Pie, or any other chapbook publisher, is fraught with the usual limitations. What if you don't fit the basic M.O. of the press? For Cherry Pie, you need to be a woman and have some link to the midwestern states. What if you write great poetry but I (no, say it's not true!) don't like it? Or what if I love it but (it happens) your style is simply not what I can produce and promote, given the synergy I'm trying to develop among the Cherry Pie publications? (For example, if you're a language poet or a visual poet, I can't do you justice.) What if your work isn't suited for a chapbook, but would work better as a traditional poetry book, and you just haven't figured that out yet? What if I simply can't publish everyone who's good? And I can't -- I only print about two chapbooks a year.

There are a hundred reasons to check out other poetry chapbook possibilities. Here are some starting points. lists quite a few chapbook publishers and their websites. Notice that many of these have a clear emphasis. Another list, with some overlap of course.

Some chapbook publishers of note:

Finishing Line Press has its long-standing New Womens Voices series at

Concrete Wolf produces astoundingly beautiful chapbooks. Like many chapbook publishers, they are looking for chapbooks cohering around some central theme; check their submission guidelines.

Kristy Bowen's Dancing Girl Press is definitely something to look at. Kristy does the production work herself, specializing in hand-crafted chapbooks, so you'll find beautiful and unique covers, nice layouts, but perhaps spotty stapling and trimming. The work she publishes is excellent, fresh, frequently amazing, and all of it is worth reading. Spend some time wandering through her websites -- she is innovative and energetic and has lots of stuff going on. She's recently set up a studio space (this is in Chicago) and is apparently using it for workshops and sessions on both writing and producing chapbooks. Definitely someone to watch.

If you compare these three chapbook publishers, and Cherry Pie, you'll note we have obvious and unique leanings toward certain types of poetry, certain audiences. We all differ in what kind of marketing support we provide to an author. Look for a publisher who fits what you want to do for and with your own work. Look also for what you are offering the publisher. (If that one's over your head, skip down and read Chris Hamilton-Emery's article from Salt.)

Think of a chapbook as one more way to get your poems out into the world. A chapbook is not instead of a book or other publication. A chapbook is something unique, offering a special format and different audience and marketing possibilities. The chapbook you publish today will follow you forever. I picked up Frannie Lindsay's recent book, Lamb, mostly because I had read an obscure chapbook she'd published with Pikestaff Press over 25 years ago. You've probably never heard of Pikestaff but the founders, Bob Sutherland and Jim Scrimgeour, are friends from far back and provided me with a vision and example of poetry as a moral and creative force, long before I could have imagined such a possibility on my own. ( So I tend to pay attention when I see a name that has passed their scrutiny. Evidently Perugia Press, who published Lamb, agrees, and I'm glad. I read many of Perugia's titles (always remarkable) but might not have tried Lamb if I hadn't remembered that older chapbook.

Here are some thoughts on how to pick a publisher, how to figure out if a chapbook is really what you want, and general good advice on writing and getting published: Happenstance is a Scottish chapbook publisher with a loaded website. (The graphics are simple and wonderful!) Follow the link above to the document called "Bluffer's Guide" for wise and helpful advice. Also well worth the read (but maybe not worth the download time -- you'll need to be patient if you want to see this one) is the DO's AND DONT'S guide.

Salt Publishing has a great article on publishing. This is an excerpt from Chris Hamilton-Emery's book, 101 Ways to Make Poems Sell: The Salt Guide to Getting and Staying Published. It's an excellent, witty and humbling article that any poet wanting to publish anywhere, in any format, needs to read. The language here is direct and blunt (and entertaining) about the truths of poetry in the marketplace, and what you as a writer can do to influence that. And it talks forthrightly about the importance of reading and reviewing. (How many new poetry books / chapbooks have you written reviews for lately? Even on Amazon? Come on, 'fess up...) Much to ponder here. The complete book is available through the website. (Keep in mind that due to our weak dollar, the price of 10.99 pounds will translate to a bit more than 10.99 U.S. dollars.)

For many writers, the do-it-yourself route is an excellent option. You control the production and the marketing. The chapbook can be elegant or simple. You have books in hand to give away or sell at poetry readings. You can market them through local bookstores too, or via a blog or website. (But poetry readings will always be the best and main place to sell or distribute your work.) Here's an entry point into the do-it-yourself and micropress world of blogs and website information:

Chapbooks are only one way to print and distribute your work -- don't forget broadsides, bookmarks, postcards. The possibilities are endless. A small item with a sample poem and contact information is inexpensive, useful, and generous to the reader.

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