How I Published a Poetry Chapbook
As you may or may not know, I published a poetry chapbook, Mistakes Were Made, in 2017. If you follow along on Twitter, you know I was pretty darn excited. In this post, I’m taking you behind the scenes of creating the collection and how I published my first book (after lots of Googling “how to publish poetry”).
(For those who don’t know, a chapbook is, in it’s most basic sense, a tiny book. You can read more here!)
Since self-publishing my first Poetry book, I’ve got a total of six to my name! Grab your copies from my bookshop.
First, a confession: I’d never been a fan of self-publishing, for an array of reasons. But, for this project, Amazon CreateSpace was ideal! I’m not trying to pay off college or become the next Emily Dickinson with Mistakes Were Made; this was entirely for me.
Amazon later merged Createspace with Kindle direct publishing (kdp). however, most of the process remains the same!
Publishing a chapbook was a chance for me to accomplish something, however small, in the field I’ve fallen in love with. This was a way to share some of my writing, which I’ve done surprisingly little when it comes to my personal stuff. The process was cathartic, to say the least.
I’ve written poems for what seems like forever. I stopped almost entirely between finishing high school and heading off to college, focusing on prose and journalistic pieces. Then, late freshman year, a friend of mine, a fellow writer, asked about my taste in poetry.
“I love to read it, but I don’t write it much.” I went on to list some of my favourite poets. In my mind? “I’m not as good at poetry as I am at ‘normal’ writing. I’ll stick to that.”
Not long after, I read that same friend’s poems. While you go pick up Mistakes Were Made, grab The Stick Soldiers and thank Hugh for me—that simple question launched an entire creative career! As I read, I remembered why I loved poetry so much. So, I started writing again. I revamped some old pieces and wrote some new ones.
What to write about?
Almost exclusively, I found myself writing about mistakes—the Poe fan in me has always stuck to the Gothic when possible. Friends turned their lives upside-down as I watched. I liked guys I shouldn’t have. People did things that were utterly stupid, myself included. And it all fueled my writing.
Until recently, I kept these exclusively to myself. Despite being told otherwise, I wasn’t confident in them. Some of them were really personal. Some of them were pretty obviously about certain people.
Then, only a few short weeks ago, I sat down to transfer some pieces from the notes of my phone to my writing notebook and stopped. I wondered, “Why not publish some of these?” I have so, so many, and they’re not doing much of anything locked away in this notebook. In a brief surge of confidence, I did some Googling (“how to publish poetry?”) and came across CreateSpace (now KDP).
The site had stellar reviews and, most importantly for me (being a poor college student is fun!), consists of completely free software. So, I went for it.
After years of writing poems (literally) behind locked doors, I typed them up and created my very first manuscript. I got in touch with some writing friends and shared my excitement and got a few of them to look over the final drafts. I got a free trial of Photoshop specifically to work out the cover image that was taking over my brain. Then, I submitted the finished product.
Within a day, CreateSpace had approved my file, and the book was almost immediately ready to be ordered. I shared it all over social media (again, going completely out of my comfort zone!) and got an incredible response.
Friends and family from all over sent me screenshots of their Amazon tracking page, telling me how excited they were to get their copy and requesting I sign it (which led to another Google trail: how do you sign a book like a real author?). I couldn’t believe that so many of my loved ones were so quick to jump on board with my fledgeling writing career.
I’ve had my share of doubtful moments. It’s not a real book. It’s self-published, it doesn’t really count. What if people get it and don’t like it? And through it all, I’ve had the most supportive people behind me saying “No, it’s great! I’m proud of you!” The book may be about mistakes, but it proves that the people I’ve surrounded myself with are anything but.
That same friend who asked me about poetry way back when once asked me what the people back home would say if I told them “I’m a poet.” I laughed at the absurdity of it all. And yet, here I am today:
“I’m a poet.”
To date, I’ve published more than 200 poems, as well as stories, essays, reviews, photographs, and articles. I founded Nightingale & Sparrow, where I get to publish poetry and other work by amazing creators from around the world. And it all started with this tiny, DIY chapbook, and a question—how the heck do I publish poetry?
If you’re interested, you can get your own copy of Mistakes Were Made in paperback or Kindle here or follow along on Goodreads and my writing website! Or, browse all my books in my bookshop!