Beef Up that Chapbook

First, check out Jamaica Baldwin’s “Call Me By My Name.”

Now, on to business. We’ve finally gotten to the climax of our recent search for poems and prose. Ten, or so, short pieces of work that you admire and respect. These will be used for a showcase of our personal taste, a snapshot of our fancy in this moment. Arrange these pieces into a chapbook, so that you can refer to them when you need a moment of inspiration. So how to make a chapbook?


The simplest approach is to fold 5 or six sheets of printer paper in half and staple them into a book, handwriting the pieces in or pasting in xeroxes. Alternatively, you might construct an elaborate chapbook of exquisite design to practice for when you’ve assembled one of your own work and you’re ready to sell them. Any choice that’s right for you at this moment is acceptable.

The more elaborate path might be approached with Adobe InDesign or other publishing software or even simpler word processing software or a typewriter. Create a cover, arrange the pieces of writing so that they print in the right order, fold and trim your paper, and bind the chapbook. Check out a great pamphlet stitch tutorial here. Most people probably have most of the equipment necessary already in their house. This method can be used to create journals or chapbooks that are elegantly and simply bound.


Here are a few considerations, based on an article in Poet’s Market 2016, for your chapbook design:

  • Typography: Make it look good on the page. Choose a readable font, play with the spacing (leading, kerning, etc.). Print the poems out to really see what it looks like on the page.
  • Real Estate: The prime real estate is in the middle of your chapbook, so put your best poems here. The book will fall open to these pages naturally, and thes poems will be the first thing the reader sees.
  • White Space: Your white space can help your reader.
  • Odd Sizes: The 8.5 x 5.5 book is simplest. You could experiment with other sizes, though. Square, thin, and even alternative folds borrowed from the zine movement are possible.
  • Cover Design: Don’t waste this space in making an impression! Check out what’s happening on the back covers of published chapbooks for inspiration…
  • End papers: The pages that connect the cover to the meat of the book are an opportunity to further deepen your book’s aesthetic impact.
  • Trimming: Do you want the rough edges or do you want them trimmed and straight?
  • Binding: Use stitching and a colorful thread to add texture. Maybe a ribbon as well?


Robert Lee Brewer collected a list of quotes about chapbooks in response to a question posted to one of his facebook groups: “What makes a great chapbook?” Take a look, if you’re prepared for a plethora of interpretations and possible choices. If that sounds overwhelming, here’s my favorite, from Jesse Loren:

A chapbook is a universe, and the poet is the solar designer. The planets and moons, no matter how far out, need to follow their own laws of gravity. From the quark to the gravitational force, it needs to make sense to the poet or editor, even if it remains a mystery for the audience.


We used a simple, short prompt this week, because we spent so much time reading and discussing. Set your timer for five minutes, and freewrite in your journal. Use one, two, three or none of the following words to ignite your writing: branch, water, robe. Can you use what comes out to craft something? Bring it next time, with your chapbooks.