Chapbooks have been around for centuries ever since broadside ballads were sold by traveling musicians for a halfpenny. They’re a great and cheap way to get your name out into the publishing world while building a foundation for a flourishing career as a poet! If you’re a poet at the start of your career, here are five reasons why you should publish a chapbook.
1. Your authority as a writer grows
To be able to say you’re a “published writer,” whether in your byline, cover letter, or query letter, is a great way to up your authority level. If you’re looking to be picked up by a publisher for a full length poetry book, or want to submit poems to magazines and journals, editors will be that much more assured to know that you’ve been published before and thus have some experience. If you plan to apply to writing residencies or mentorship programs, having a chapbook is also helpful, since some will ask for your sample writing, and having printed a chapbook will provide evidence that you are serious about your craft. All this can help you grow your byline and credentials, which will only boost the confidence that editors have in you, creating a wonderful circle that keeps feeding itself!
2. You become ‘discoverable’
Having a chapbook means you have a good and relatively diverse sample for literary agents to consider when they look at your query. They’ll be able to imagine what a collection of your poetry might look like and whether there might be interest in it from the side of readers. Literary agents are always considering the commercial viability of your poetry — will a full length collection sell? Your chapbook can demonstrate your sales potential. Plus, if you have a published chapbook, chances are that you have readers, which of course bodes well in the process of pitching yourself to agents and publishers.
3. You enter a long tradition in poetry
The history of printing books might not seem like the most exciting chapter of your history book, but chapbooks have long been a way for poets to distribute their work in a cheap and easy way. There’s a long tradition of counterculture poets, like Allen Ginsberg or Lawrence Ferlinghetti, popularizing their work even as it went against the rules of poetry at the time. These poets created new movements in literature all while utilizing chapbooks. You can take up that mantle with your own journey if you publish a chapbook — or at the very least, you get to be a part of that great literary tradition.
4. A chapbook asks for a smaller financial risk
If you were to self-publish a regular poetry collection, you’d be making yourself responsible for all the costs associated with publishing a full-length book. This would potentially include freelance editing, book cover design services, reprint costs, and the marketing strategy.
Chapbooks are smaller, limited collections that take less time to print. There’s no need to maintain a print run after the initial order, so you’re looking at a one-off investment. With a smaller collection and a shorter print run, you’re looking at a much smaller cost to bring your work to the page. It’s a good first step for self-publishing poets since you’ll get a glimpse of the book production process without the major financial stakes that comes with a full-length book.
5. You sow a seed for your poetic future
Finally, a chapbook is a great platform to set yourself up for future success. Not only do you get to practice your literary skills by writing all the poems that you’ll be putting into your chapbooks, publishing your work also means getting your name onto the scene.
Readers will start to find you through your chapbook and share your poetry with other bibliophiles. You get to interact with them and share your progress until you can confidently seek a literary agent and poetry publisher. Alternatively, you can continue to grow your poetry until you’re ready to self-publish a full-length poetry collection as part of a larger print run. This will be the beginning of your fan base, the people who will cheer you on and read your work through your publishing journey. Chapbooks can really be the seed to your future as a poet and, if you use them wisely, nurture a community.