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Prepping Poetry for Self-Publication

Today’s guest post from Kallie Falandays shares her tips on prepping poetry for self-publication. As Kallie writes, “If you wanted to self-publish 15 years ago, you would have been hard pressed to find the right resources. But now, you can come up with a book idea today and have it printed next week.”

Kallie Falandays is the founder of Tell Tell Poetry, a poetry editing service dedicated to helping first-time authors self-publish beautiful poetry collections. If you want more help with your first poetry collection, send an e-mail to hello@telltellpoetry.com.

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Prepping Poetry for Self-Publication

If you wanted to self-publish 15 years ago, you would have been hard pressed to find the right resources. But now, you can come up with a book idea today and have it printed next week. There are some advantages to taking it slow and preparing properly--namely, your friends won’t find typos in your first page, everyone will take your work seriously, and you’ll be on your way to the Pulitzer. Before you scramble to get your book into the hands of readers, follow these steps to make sure your manuscript is prepped for publication.

Decide on Size and Arrange Poems

 Kallie Falandays

Kallie Falandays

Narrow down your options by honing in on one type of book. If you want to publish a chapbook, make sure you have 12-45 poems ready to work with. If you want to publish a full-length collection, gather at least 45 poems. Most traditional publishers want full-length books to have at least 55 poems, but since you’re self-publishing, you can bend the rules a bit.

Once you have your poems in order, you’ll want to arrange them.

  1. Arrange based on theme - for some authors, this “theme” is something subtle like repetition, a specific type of image, or a feeling evoked by the speaker. Some authors have concrete themes, and they can arrange their poems based on stages.
  2. Random arrangement - arranging your poems randomly allow for new connections and ideas to form between your poems. While it’s not a traditional way to work, it can be effective, especially if you’re writing abstract or surrealist poems.
  3. Arrange chronologically - if your poems follow a timeline, you may want to organize them chronologically.
  4. Progression Arrangement - if all the poems fit inside a narrative, you can arrange them based on logical progression. An action in “Poem A” led to a result in “Poem B” and so on.

There are many right ways to arrange a collection. I suggest you try a few of these out and see what feels best. Many authors like to work through a variety of different arrangement methods before hitting one that makes the most sense for them.

Edit Your Poems Like an Editor

Editing is probably the most important step to self-publishing. If you work with an editor, you’ll receive careful critiques and steps on how to improve. If you’re doing it yourself, you’ll need to act as the reader, critic, and editor. Here are some tips on how to edit your poems like an editor.

  1. Have no mercy - the biggest reason authors fail at editing their own work is because they’re too tender. Sometimes, you have to cut the first stanza of 12 poems. Other times, you have to take entire poems out of the manuscript. Some distance will allow you to approach each poem as if you were looking at a stranger’s work. Try to let your manuscript sit for a month or two after writing. When you come back to it, you can try to edit each poem without mercy.
  2. Watch the “you” - many writers use the second-person pronoun as a way to talk to themselves, to address someone the speaker knows, or to create an air of mystery. This “you” can work well, but if it’s not done properly, it can lead to a lot of confusion. Highlight every instance of “you” in the manuscript. Are they all referring to the same person? If so, that could work for an arrangement idea. If not, reconsider whether each instance is absolutely necessary. Would “she,” “he” or a person’s name be more appropriate in these instances? Sometimes the best option is to cut and revise as aggressively as possible.
  3. Format your titles properly - Chicago Manual of Style, the style guide used by the publishing industry, suggests headline-style capitalizations, along with the following notes. See Chicago Manual of Style 8.15: "Capitalize nouns and pronouns; lowercase articles, unless they start a title; lowercase prepositions, unless they act as adverbs; lowercase coordinating conjunctions."
  4. Fix any lie vs. lay errors - Lie vs lay confuses so many authors, so here’s a way to get it right.
    1. Lay means to put something down, and it always includes a direct object. Someone or something has to do the laying.
    2. Lie means to rest or recline, and it does not need a direct object.
    3. Lay is also the past tense of lie.

Copyright is not required for publication, but if you register your work with the Copyright office, you’ll be more protected in a court of law.

  1. Go to the copyright website
  2. Click on “Register a Copyright”
  3. Click on “Literary Works”
  4. Click of “Register a Literary Work”
  5. Fill out registration form
  6. Submit payment (around $55)
  7. Upload manuscript
  8. Wait for certificate

Once you submit, you’re legally able to put the copyright symbol on your copyright page and, you can seek lost-sale damages if someone infringes upon your copyright.

Choose a Platform

There are many self-publishing platforms out there, and choosing the right one means finding the one that meets your needs.

Blurb — a self-publishing platform for art books

  • Supports fixed-layout eBooks
  • Supports distribution through Amazon
  • Expensive manufacturing
  • Royalties are list price - (base unit cost + listing fee + 15% of List Price)

BookBaby — art book publisher

  • Offers 100% money back guarantee
  • Hefty distribution fee
  • Pays authors via PayPal
  • 10%-30% royalty payments

Lulu — self-publishing platform with easy-to-use interface

  • Provides paid author services
  • Allows immediate eBook publication
  • Does not charge a distribution fee
  • Royalties: Book List Price - Base Price - Lulu Share

Createspace — Amazon’s self-publishing platform

  • Does not support hard cover books
  • Provides free cover and interior design tools
  • Has easy-to-reach support services
  • Royalties are calculated based on List Price - Amazon Fee and Base Price

Note that there are many platforms to choose from, and these are just a sample of some of the most popular ones.

Format the Interior and Manage Exterior Details

Once you choose a platform, get all of the following in order:

  • Download your platform’s formatting guide and format the interior based on their specifications
  • Develop cover and back cover materials according to the platform’s guidelines

Once you have the design elements in place, you can go ahead and upload the material on the platform!

Upload Your Manuscript

Upload your manuscript on the platform of your choice and add in the following details:

  1. Marketing paragraph - develop a 1-paragraph marketing material to help get readers interested in your work. Some examples of powerful marketing statements can be found here and here. If you have blurbs from other authors, you can use them in your marketing statement.
  2. Choose keywords that relate to your manuscript - develop a list of keywords that readers can use to find your work.
  3. Review the draft and make sure there are no new errors
  4. Order a physical copy to verify that you’re pleased with the collection
  5. Make it live - now celebrate, tell your friends, and get a launch party going.

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If you’d like to share your voice on any poetry-related topic at Poetic Asides, please send an e-mail to robert.brewer@fwmedia.com with the subject line “Poetic Asides Guest Post” with a brief idea of what you’d like to cover or send along a 300-500 word post on spec. And be sure to include your preferred bio (50-100 words) and head shot. If I like what you send, I’ll include it as a future guest post on the blog.

Learn more about independent and self-publishing—and the business of being a writer—at indieLAB, an all-new event from Writer's Digest.

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