It wasn’t so long ago when publishing poetry books wasn’t a huge hit—but thanks to Lang Leave, Michael Faudet, and Rupi Kaur—people became fond of poetry and artistic words all over again. Maybe you are into the works of these magnificent poets that you want their books so bad. Or maybe you want to publish a poetry book just like what they did. If you are the latter, then you have come to the right place.
Writing and publishing a poetry book is not an easy feat. This step-by-step guide will help you from drafting your poems to making it a book.
Writing Your First Draft
This is probably the most fun part of being an author—formulating your first draft. In this stage of writing, you’ll do the outlining, and decide on what type of poetry book you are going to produce. Here are some pointers to get you started on the draft:
The Overall Theme of Your Poetry Book
Believe it or not, poetry books are not created equal. While most poetry books you know nowadays contain love and romance (Love Poems, Pablo Neruda), there are also poetry books that talk about sadness and grief (Home Body, Rupi Kaur) and poetry books that contain both (Every Moment Was You, Ha Taewan). Since you are the author, you have the full control on what is the message that your book is going to convey. Just make sure that all of the poems in your collection are gearing to your overall theme.
The Type of Poetry You Want to Write
First, decide on which type of poetry you want to write, or the type you are most comfortable writing. Below are the types of poetry you can choose from:
- Haiku. Also called hokku, is an ancient form of Japanese poetry and has easily become known all over the world. It is a tercet (three-line poem) and known for its 5-7-5 structure, meaning the first and third line contain of 5 syllables while the second line has 7 syllables. Haikus do not need to rhyme, making it the most convenient, and probably the most fun to write.
- Sonnet. This is the type of poem William Shakespeare is famous for. Sonnets are made of 14 lines conveying a message of love and follow a certain pattern of rhyme—ABBA ABBA CDE CDE for Italian sonnets and ABAB CDCD EFEF GG for Shakespearean sonnets. There’s no need to fret though, because these rhyme rules can be broken and you can definitely make your own.
- Acrostic. Acrostic poems are also fun to write, just like haikus. The first letters of its lines spell out words—could be a name, a word, or a phrase that conveys a certain message. It doesn’t necessarily have to rhyme, and you can just think of any topic to write a poem about.
- Limerick. This is probably the poem counterpart of comedy in plays, as these poems are supposed to be funny, with its last line as the usual punchline.
- Ballad. Ballads are old and traditional form of poetry that usually tell an emotional story. They usually follow a rhyme scheme and the stanzas normally consist of 4 lines. The pop songs you listen to these days are examples of ballads.
- Ode. An ode is also one of the oldest poetry forms and is believed to be originated from Greece. It is usually written to express an extreme appreciation for a person, a place, an event, or a thing.
- Elegy. This form of poetry does not necessarily have rules, although it only talks about one thing—death. While elegies usually talk about people who have passed away, it also talks about hope, and not despair.
- Villanelle. A type of poetry that originated from France, villanelles follow so many rules that it is sometimes a challenge to write one. That’s probably where the fun comes from. Here are the rules that a villanelle follows:
- It has a total of 19 lines, five stanzas containing 3 lines, and the final stanza containing 5 lines.
- It only has two rhyming sounds, the pattern being ABA ABA ABA ABA ABA ABAA.
- The first line shall be repeated in lines 6, 12, and 18.
- The third line shall be repeated in lines 9, 15, and 19.
The repeating lines are challenging because you have to make a new meaning out of those lines.
- Free verse. A free verse does not have any specific topic, rules, or rhyme, which makes it seem like the easiest form of poetry to write. However, the absence of rules make it seem complicated and even tricky to master.
You do not necessarily have to write just one form of poetry in your book—it can be a mix of different forms of poems. Again, it is you who will decide on what your book should look like.
The Number of Poems You Need to Write
The number of poems in your poetry book is also up to you. Normally, a print poetry book requires an average of 30 to 100 poems. Thus, you have to work consistently so that you can produce the number of poems that you target to include in your collection.
Editing Your Poems
Now that you’re done writing your poems, it’s time to edit. You must have heard of poetic license (a freedom to ignore the conventional rules of language to produce a creative effect). While this is widely used (and pretty much abused) by ballad writers, it is not the same case for your poetry collection. It is highly recommended to edit your draft before submitting it to your publisher, or print it as a self-published book. Here are some pointers on how you can easily edit your poems.
- Put away your draft and “forget” about it for a few days or weeks. Writing a poetry book is as tiring as writing any other kind of book (e.g. fiction novels, short stories, memoirs, etc.) It’s challenging and drains your energy. Which is why you need a few days or even weeks to take a break from it. Hide your draft or put it away and forget about it for a few days, or even weeks. This process allows you to have a fresh set of eyes and mind to objectively edit your work.
- Read each poem and check their technical aspects. Typographical and grammatical errors are common in many first drafts. Grammarly, while it is not dependable when checking poetry, is pretty reliable in catching misspelled words and typos. Correct subject-verb agreement and verb tenses are also important so that your readers would easily make sense of your work and they will not be confused because of your mixture of tenses.
- Inspect your choice of words. Poetry requires only a few words, and therefore you need to make sure to use these words very well. Make sure that they fit into your overall theme, structure, rhyme, and rhythm. If you are unsure if the word sounds right for your poem, use a thesaurus and look for synonymous word that fits the criteria.
- Read each poem aloud. Poems are meant to be read aloud—the rhyme, rhythm and the smooth flow of words are what makes them beautiful. Read each one of your poems aloud and see if they sound just right—meaning you hear and feel the message that you, as an author, wants to convey through them. Check if there are enough imagery, something that your readers would get to imagine as they read your poems.
- Let a beta reader take a look at your work too. It doesn’t hurt to have another pair of eyes to look into your work. Your beta reader can be one of your friends who is also interested in reading poetry. Their interest on the subject is imperative because it allows them to provide an objective insight about your work.
Designing and Laying Out Your Poetry Book
So you’re finished writing your poems and now they are all polished and ready to be read by the world. It’s time to decide how you book should look like.
Classifying and Merging Your Poems
While you’ve decided on the overall theme of your book, chances are there they need to be classified. For example, if your overall theme is love, it could be that your poems are about falling in love, being far from your loved one, unrequited love, and even self-love. In this case, you need to sort each poem into their respective categories and come up with a polished, properly defined collection.
Content Design and Layout
The content design and layout of poetry books are different compared to novels and other literary prose. They have plenty of white spaces, and most of the time they contain images (e.g. photographs, sketches, graphics, etc.) for that maximum effect. This is something that you and your publisher need to agree upon, because the size and the number of pages of your actual print book are also determined by these aspects.
White spaces in the pages of your books are just as important as the text. They allow your poem to breathe as if it is alive, and they give your readers a room to think, absorb, and feel what they just read. Therefore, publishers and layout artists highly recommend to allow one poem have its own page (sometimes, its own spread) in the book. It provides that much needed white space especially if you have images that go along with the text.
Your Poetry Book Cover
Do not judge the book by its cover is an adage all of us must have heard of. While this is absolutely true, there are readers who are too invested in finding a book with the perfect cover. Besides, you wouldn’t want to publish your book and use a cover that’s not well-thought of, right? Poetry book covers are typically minimal, but in general, you should consider the following recommendations:
- The title should have a bigger font so it’s easy to read. Remember, your book will be known for its title and the book cover should be able to tell that to your readers right away.
- Always consider what the cover looks like on a web thumbnail. Many people are buying digital books, and this means that the texts in your cover are still readable even in its thumbnail version.
- Use high resolution images for your cover. Yes, digital artists are kind of expensive, and paid stock photo means there could be a different book out there with the same cover as yours. However, nothing spells “amateur” more accurately than low resolution images or those images that come free with the layout programs you might be using.
- Fonts DO matter. Everyone should agree on this. Fonts can entirely change the meaning of words and can even be used against you. Think carefully of the font that you’ll be using.
The overall look and feel of your book are equally essential to its content. Do not take it lightly, and think carefully of how your book should look like that would ultimately appear to your readers.
Publishing Your Poetry Book
Finally, you get to publish your book.
There are two ways of publishing your book—traditional publishing and independent or slef-publishing.
The bitter truth about publishing a poetry book is that, poets do not get paid a lot. Publishers do not invest too much on poetry books unless you are a well-known poet or a social media giant. It is believed that the readership of poetry books isn’t as wide as those of fiction and non-fiction books, thus, most poetry books these days are self-published.
Still there is no harm in trying. You can still submit your poetry manuscript to traditional publishers and see if they’d be interested in printing your work. Before you do this though, make sure to look at the poetry titles they’ve printed in the past so that you can have an idea on what type of book they are looking for.
If you are geared towards indie publishing, it is much trickier since you need to do all the work but it ensures that no matter what happens, your book will be introduced to the public.
Digital Publishing. The beauty of digital publishing is that, it saves a lot of time, money, and effort for both you and your readers. Your readers can have access to your book in no time as they do not have to wait and pay for the physical copy in the courier, while you can save on printing and logistics expenses. You can do digital publishing via Amazon KDP or upload your manuscript on Wattpad Paid Stories.
Print Publishing. Print on demand is a service that Amazon KDP also provides, but you can also work on the print publication of your poetry book. There are print centers that offer book printing services where you have to pay in a per-book basis, and the cost depends on the number of pages and the kind of paper that you’d like to use.
Other Tips and Side Notes
Creating a book from scratch is never easy—from writing your first drafts and editing to laying out and publishing. You need to be determined and disciplined if you want to end up with an actual book in your hands under your name. Here are some more tips in making the process a little bit easier.
- Determine your timeline. If your end goal of writing poetry is to publish a book, you should set a deadline for yourself and make sure to stick to it. It ensures that work is being done and eventually you’ll be able to finish your project.
- Work at your own pace. While following your timeline is important, remember that there is no need to rush things. Producing art takes time—you need to be “properly” inspired to come up with what’s exactly on your mind. So, relax and chill a little bit and allow inspiration to come to you naturally.
- Do not do everything by yourself. Keep in mind that you do not have to do everything by yourself. Maybe you’ll be left alone in writing your content, but designing, laying out, publication, and marketing can be done by other people.
- Hire a professional for the tasks that you cannot perform. As an author, you might think that you are required to learn and know everything there is to know about writing and publishing. While this is true on so many levels, you cannot possibly do everything. In this case, it is best to leave them to the experts. For editing your texts, it is highly recommended to hire a professional editor for an objective and flawless output. You might also need to hire a designer and a layout artist for a more polished and sleeker look and feel of your book.
- Never take the fun out of it. There is no reason why creating an art is no fun at all. It is a product of an inspired mind, and while some people may say that it can also be a product of a broken heart, art is beautiful as it contains part of the artist’s soul.
The ideas you have in mind might touch a soul or two. They could make a difference and change lives. So, if you feel like you need to say them, please do so. In this case, through a poetry book.