Amy Sayre Batista, Primitivity (fiction), Judith Stanton, Deer Diaries (poetry), Ralph Earle, The Way the Rain Works (poetry), and Ruth Moose Tea (poetry) talked about chapbooks, saying that putting together their collections made the individual pieces and their work in general stronger.
- What is the history of chapbooks?
Chapbooks began popular in the 1600s as more people learned to read. Small and cheap to make, chapbooks got their name from peddlers known as chapmen who sold them. (‘Chap’ means ‘trade’ in Old English.) Early chapbooks contained jests and tales from folklore. They evolved to include sermons and stories of the day.
Modern-day chapbooks are mostly associated with poetry, though they are a growing publishing avenue for short fiction and creative nonfiction. Chapbooks becoming less formal and more diverse allowing for lots of ways to express yourself.
- Why chapbooks?
Chapbooks look manageable and fit with today’s shortened attention span. Sometimes booksellers are only looking for chapbooks.
- How do chapbooks differ from other books?
The short answer is a lot and not at all. Some consider that they aren’t quite books at all while others do, even considering them eligible for first book contests. And, outside the publishing community, they are thought of as books.
Chapbooks are short, running between twenty and forty pages. All work is of one writer and can contain work previously published. Sometimes they are handcrafted with special paper and typography.
- What did you learn?
In gathering work into a chapbook form, you can see connections between the pieces, learn what you are writing about, and learn how you can go deeper into the subject.
You can see your work in a larger context. The work as a whole can create breath and heartbeat, can tug and pull and create tension. Listening to how poems speak to each other can show the order in which they appear. When pieces speak to each other, they give the collection cohesion and can make each piece seem stronger.
Titles of work can come from the best line in a piece. Titles of a collection can come from in the best line in the best piece in the collection.
Finally, having a chapbook published can help you learn to work with editors—learn what kind of voice you have, how much you are willing to change your words.
- Who publishes chapbooks?
- What about contests?
Most published chapbooks are winners of contests. Contests can make your manuscript stronger and are a good way to get published. In choosing contests, research the press and judges to see if they like the type of work you do. Consider entrance fees as an investment in your craft but do check to see if entrance fees are used to support the press. Also, ask yourself if the fee is commensurate with the award: A $100 fee for a $6,000 prize and publication by a mid-size, large publisher may be worth the price; A $100 for publication by a small press not so much.
As always, follow the stated guidelines for submission.