Finance your own movie with credit cards and a loan from your parents and you’re hip and indie. Make a bunch of CDs yourself and sell them out of the trunk of your car and you’re passionate about sharing your music. Print out 100 copies of your book at Kinko’s and staple them together yourself and you’re… a hack who can’t get published the right way. Just as litbloggers aren’t as good as real critics, so self-published writers aren’t thought of as being as good as those with agents and book deals. Unless I’m missing the chapbook reviews that are sweeping the blogosphere.
But have no fear, chapbook poets, because we at LitKicks love you. Perhaps because we at LitKicks are chapbook poets ourselves. Levi has put out a collection of poetry, as has Caryn, and I’ve put out two (one poetry, one prose, neither available any longer, so I guess that makes them collector’s items). I made my own chapbooks because I wanted to present specific pieces together in a certain way, and not because I couldn’t get my work published in conventional venues. Each book is kind of like a concept album, with the writing meticulously ordered and each detail, from the fonts used to the type of stock used for the covers, carefully considered. I’m a creative type by nature and always have roughly a million different projects going on at any given time, ranging from photography to crochet to beading, so taking my words and presenting them exactly the way I wanted to was an enormously satisfying creative project, which I’d recommend any writer try at least once. (I have a shelf full of chapbooks at my house — each is amazingly creatively executed and I love them all.)
So if you haven’t already, why would you create a chapbook? Well, maybe like me, you want to challenge yourself to make something cool. Or perhaps you do live readings or other networking and want something more interesting than a business card. Could be you just have 20 poems that you’d like to print together. Or you could be out of ideas of what to give your mom for Christmas. Or perhaps something else entirely. The reasons for chapbook-making are as varied as the writers who create them, but no matter what inspires you to give it a try, making a chapbook is rewarding because it gives you a chance to jump into your writing and get your hands dirty making something that says to the world, “This is what I am as a writer.” You don’t need a publishing house’s marketing department or a cover designed by Chip Kidd to define that for you and, in fact, it’s valuable to be able to put your work together as a cohesive whole and present it to others.
Are you convinced? Good. So how do you make a chapbook? Well, it’s as easy or hard as you want it to be, but the first step, naturally, is to choose the writing you’d like to present. Opinions on this matter vary widely, but I believe that a chapbook is at its most effective when it’s like an EP, and not a Greatest Hits double album, if you get what I mean. Try to limit yourself to a 20-25 page maxiumum printing. If you just have to print something much longer than that, you should probably look into the perfect-bound-book category, handled by print-on-demand places like Lulu, for instance. Plus, it’s important to be able to curate your own work and pick the absolute best stuff. You probably will have to make some cuts, and it might hurt a little, but it’s worth it when you consider that this is going to help you make the best, most concise product you can.
After you’ve chosen the writing you want to present, it’s time for the really fun part. Once you figure out the order or your pieces (and layout can definitely be an adventure), you need to print and bind them somehow. Kinko’s is an indie writer’s friend, remember, and could definitely be a big help. But you also need to consider how you want to present your books. Do you want to use regular paper for a cover, or do you want to buy heavier card stock? Are you going to print your covers, or do something fancier with them? (I cut a design out of card stock for one of my books — a bad idea, because it was way too much work.) Are you going to staple them? Bind with thread or cord? Or will you go for the decidedly uncool spiral binding? It’s entirely up to you and really comes down to how much work you want to put into it and how fancy you want the books to be.
One of the things we talk about on LitKicks, especially when reviewing self-published work, is the presentation of the material. If you’re published by a major publishing house then you don’t have to worry about things like paper and printing and cover design, but when you’re doing it yourself, you’re entirely responsible for how your work looks to other people. This means that it’s in your best interest to make things as professional as possible — you don’t have to spend a fortune and you don’t have to be ultra-fancy, but you want to do a nice job. If done well, a chapbook can be like a calling card and can help you make an impression on others. The ultimate self-publishing labor of love, the chapbook is great because it’s always as individual as the writer who creates it, so when you’re working on your own, take your time, ask questions if you need to, and remember to have fun with it.
If you have a chapbook that you want to reach a wider audience, I’d love to receive a copy, and maybe I can give it a mention here on LitKicks. My contact information is in my profile or on the review info page. (If you want me to review your work, I recommend not sending it to the address listed there, but contacting me directly. Since I don’t live in New York, it always takes extra time for me to receive things sent to me there.)