– What steps did you take to determine the length and style?

Since it was my first decent-sized compilation, I went through my published poems and decided which ones I’d like to use.

– How did you wade through your possibly thousands of poems?

I chose a theme and selected my poems that way. And that determined length. Since many of my poems are light-hearted, I chose that for a theme and used 70 poems, only three or four of which would see publication for the first time. If the poem didn’t fit the theme, it didn’t make it in the collection. And all the other initial publications were credited.

– What route did you take? Traditional? Indie? Self?

Self-publishing, though I did have some help with formatting. (I traded services with a publisher I’ve been working with for my other books.) I used the same press in our region that I had used for my family version of my first picture book. My artist friend, Deb Pryce, came up with the cover with collaboration. She’s amazing. We chose feathers to denote lightness for the cover art.

I wanted a less costly route so that I could sell the books more reasonably, given that I’m not well known and poetry, unfortunately, doesn’t make a person wealthy. But I do like to write it.

My book, Travelling Light, is available from me and hopefully soon I will have a store on my website.

Published? Do tell, Barbara E. Young!

How I Built A Book (insert laugh track)

If you can create a poem, you can create a book of poems. Period.

I was looking for someone to republish a chapbook whose publisher had decided to retire right after putting my chap out. The first place I queried (they had published books for two people I know) replied [more or less] that yes they did republish, and they would be willing to read the chapbook, but did I have enough material for a book-length collection? They’d really prefer that.

I had done any number of gift booklets, samplers, and mock chapbooks, as well as two published chapbooks; and I certainly had poems. So: Sure.

Having a publisher willing to look at a manuscript—without paying some contest entry fee—was a massive piece of good luck, but the tradeoff was time. I did not have the luxury of months or even weeks to assemble, refine, and rewrite a target minimum of seventy-five poems. The chap had eighteen.

I tried to turn that into a single, unified “poem” of a book, and that was NOT working, when I noticed (duh) how many books of poems (research) were broken into sections, like chapters. Like chapbooks. hmmm. I had two chapbooks, both with extra, associated poems that hadn’t fit for space. That was the beginning.

It is easier to work with several smaller units than with one large one.

So I set aside the poems for those two sections and started in on a third, new one. And this is essentially my process for putting together a chapbook. Even if my memory were as good as it once was, I would have printed out almost everything resembling a usable poem. Waste paper. I have no guilt. Everything gets to be read again and again. Spelling, punctuation, lame words, better phrasing, etc.

First piles. (at this point there is no theme, no nothing)

Short poems and fragments (Enough for a section of their own? Punctuation?)
“Finished” poems
“Needs work.”
Potentially useful (a fuzzy category, but I can’t function without it)
No way, José (“Why did I print out a Christmas poem?”)

No Way—into a box
Shorts and Potentials—into open boxes

Second (and third, etc.) piles

Poems that MUST be in the collection
Other good poems
This is interesting
Probably not
I don’t think so

The four “best” I laid out to begin and end the section, and I started looking for similarities. Tone, theme, sound, look. Don’t want any that are too similar—set one of them aside. Nothing jarringly different.

Eventually, every poem is like a line for a larger poem, and it is a matter of arranging them so that a reader can go from one poem to the next, not seamlessly, with a sense of rightness. Maybe a little surprise, because there are surprises within poems. I had to do some rewriting to make some poems fit.

And plenty of changing my mind about what constituted a good beginning/ending/middle. But the time came when I couldn’t take anything away or add even my favoritest favorite without damaging the integrity of the whole. Can’t explain that: it just happens.

Then back to the other two sets, repeat the above—adding some, taking some out, tinkering.

And finally back to the computer, and revised the individual poems’ files. Set up the compiled book both as .doc and pdf. Sent it to a couple of people, hoping they would catch any embarrassing mistakes. Tinkered some more.

Sent it to the publisher. From there, the pride-swallowing, comma-eating process.

If I were advising someone without that existing chapbook structure that simplified building Heirloom Language, I would suggest creating sections that serve the same function. Choose three or four, or five (if you have enough material) of the strongest pieces. Strong, because they will collect similar poems to them—magnets for light poems, or father poems, or poems with lots of trees, maybe something subtle like water flowing downhill in one poem and cars in another and in a third changing jobs. Let those be your anchors.


Heirloom Language

Madville Publishing

Published? Do tell!

Good morning, everyone!

Have you published a book of poems? If so, may we pick your brain? If you are willing to share your process, we’d love to hear all about it. Here are some questions to get you rolling, but feel free to simply tell us anything you feel would be helpful for those who have never dipped a toe in the waters.

– What steps did you take to determine the length and style?

– How did you wade through your possibly thousands of poems?

– What route did you take? Traditional? Indie? Self?

If you would like to share your experience(s)/advice with us, please e-mail your submission to . We will gladly post your sage advice. If you wish to include the names of your published works and links to follow for purchases, you are welcome to do so.

Looking forward to hearing from you!