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Writing Articles : Chapbooks & Publishing Opportunities

Chapbooks Create Publishing Opportunities: Five Strategies to Success

By Marilyn Zembo Day

If you're calling yourself a writer (even if still in a whisper), then you're concerned with getting your words out there. Certainly, the next step after finding your voice is sharing it. But how do you go about it, given the cumbersome, time-consuming submissions process in today's publishing world? Creating your own chapbook could be your best alternative.

Chances are, either you've never heard of a chapbook (mention one to many people and hear, "Chat-book? What's that?"), or you assumed they're purely for poets. While the latter was once true (before desktop publishing software), it is no longer the case. And as for the former — chat-book — well, not a bad name for it, given its power to enable you to share your words; but its not the correct term for this small booklet composed of a few pages of printed material, generally including a cardstock cover.

Chapbooks date back to 16th century France (then called colporteurs) and later found their way to England. The term comes from itinerant agents, called chapmen, who sold the cheap, stitched-together publications. Providing inexpensive reading material for the common people, subject matter included everything from adaptations of fairy tales to religious treatises to travel adventures — and plenty of topics in between (they seemed also to have served as the tabloids of their times).

These little books, originally created to educate and entertain common folk, provide today's writers with the perfect opportunity: to publish their own words.

Here are The Top Five Reasons to Create and Publish Your Own Chapbook:
  1. You aren't having any luck getting accepted by traditional publishing houses. Or the entire process of seeking an agent or publisher seems too frustrating to even consider: thousands of writers submitting work to the same overburdened editors, for the same limited publishing space.

  2. Publishing your own chapbook is economical and quick. While you might consider creating a larger volume of your work and contracting with a vanity or print-on-demand press, chapbooks are easier to compile and can be printed at local copy centers at fairly reasonable rates.

  3. Creating your chapbook forces you to organize your work, look at what you've got, evaluate it. In turn, this not only makes you trace your creative journey (where you've been and where you're headed), but it makes you think like a publisher. Every step of the way — evaluating, selecting, designing, printing, marketing — is a mini-version of how publishers work.

  4. You'll have control of your own work. Once a publisher accepts your work, it's not just your opinion that counts. The editor, the designer, the marketing department and a host of others all get their say. Self-publish and it's all yours!

  5. Producing a well-put-together, professional-looking publication boosts your self-confidence and self-esteem. Your words are finally out there! You have something to show people — or sell to them (another benefit: you can gain back some the cost to produce the booklet, and enough to create the next one). And when you tell someone you're a writer, you now have something in hand that confirms it. •

© 2005 Marilyn Zembo Day. All rights reserved.

Marilyn Zembo Day is a published creative writer, workshop leader and artist living in Albany, NY. She has facilitated writing groups, workshops and retreats for over nine years, both for her own collective of writers and at other venues such as retreat centers, libraries, colleges, government agencies and conferences (including two summer conferences of the International Women's Writing Guild at Skidmore College in Saratoga).

Updated 1/6/14