What is a Chapbook?

What’s so special about chapbooks, and why are they so hard to sell? They’re slender and lean, taking up less space than a magazine, but because of their seemingly diminutive size, under 40 pages long, they pack in a concentration of a poet’s best with the arc and uniting theme of a full-length manuscript.

Some poets take the “set list” of a reading and saddle staple it into a chapbook to sell that day only. Others bind their own to share with their peers, trading them like baseball cards.

While many fiction writers begin by publishing short stories in journals as they work their way up to a full-length collection or a novel, poets have chapbooks as a middle step between magazine and manuscript. They’re great for those of us who write slowly and take a lot of time to revise, thinking just as much about how a poem is made as what it “says.” For me, it would take decades to cumulate enough “finished” poems for a book.

Elizabeth Bishop published a very slender book about every ten years. Today, those little tomes would have been chapbooks.

Why are they so hard to sell? All of the above, seen from the perspective of a company making a profit. Such a short collection is not a good financial bet for a publisher. They’re a labor of love, and love isn’t very sexy anymore.

Introvert Kearns

I won’t receive any royalties for my chapbook. There’s basically no commercial gain in it for me at all. But really, poets, do we care? How to Love an Introvert, is out now for preorder from Finishing Line Press. If you like what you read on this blog, and you support upcoming poets, I’d be so grateful if you’d order a copy. I’d also love to support you in return; we are a community, after all.

Click here to read a couple of poems from the collection and see the reviews. The number of copies sold in preorder will determine how many they print for the pressrun, so don’t wait.

The book will be printed in February. When the holidays have died down, you’re ready for some alone time to recover from all the social gatherings, and you’ve completely forgotten about it, my twenty poems will be in your mailbox waiting for you.

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