Formatting a Poetry Book for Publication

You’ve written a lot of poems, many have been published in various journals, ezines, and anthologies and you’re ready to publish your first book. How do you organize them into a collection? How do you choose a title, a book cover? How do you format them into a document? I hope this will help someone. I was given this task when a judge for the Mississippi Poetry Society (MPS) chose my poetry submission and selected me as MPS 2014 Poet of the Year. I had no idea how to do any of these things and had a quick deadline. I hope this will help you. I will add more hints as I remember them and time allows.


In Jeffery Levine’s post, On Making the Poetry Manuscipt Mr. Levine offers 27 things to keep in mind. Here are my own:

  1. Choose your poems. As poets we often write about the same things in different ways. I didn’t realize I had several poems that used a lot of the same words or thoughts until I started making a collection. Do they have the same voice?
  2. Think about what your book is “about,” and think of the entire book as a poem itself. To organize the poems, some suggest grouping them by the time frame (and creative period) in which they were written. I tend to group mine by subject, but find that often they fall into the same general period of time in which they were written.
  3. Another way to organize them is to spread them all out on the floor. I know this is a lot of printing, but this really helps me, since I am a visual person. It’s impossible to see all your poems at once on the computer (unless tiny) and it’s time consuming scrolling up and down, copy/paste, etc…
  4. The first few poems should establish voice, what your book is about, and credibility. I had a hard time with this, as I thought my best poems fit chronologically later.
  5. Another thing to remember when arranging your poems is mood and images. I would not have more than two “downer” poems in a row before having a little relief with humor or an upbeat poem. I gave a group of poems, arranged from dark to light, to a critic once and he wouldn’t read past the dark ones. He said no one wants to read depressing poems. Yet a LOT of people who read those poems told me they were my best because they could relate, they could feel the pain, so I do not agree with him. BUT I will limit the number of them in a row.
  6. Read your poems out loud. I especially like to read the end of one and the beginning of the next to see if they fit together.
  7. Rewrite if necessary. In reading poems I’ve already published I find a word here and there I want to change. It’s OK to do this. You should own the copyright, so go for it! I’m all about rewriting!Weed out unnecessary words, abstractions and flowery words. Ezra Pound in Don’ts by an Imagiste said, “Use no superfluous word, no adjective, which does not reveal something.”
  8. A new author should have some blurbs on the back cover. Did you meet someone famous at a workshop or book signing that might do you a favor? That’s how I got mine. It never hurts to ask. Just don’t do like I did and wait until the last minute.
  9. Line up a friend photographer or artist for the cover pic. If you don’t have one, look on facebook for local photographer or artist groups. Luckily my photographer sister made the 2 hour trip to Red Bluff and got a pic for me! Do NOT get a picture off the internet without written approval!
  10. If you have time and patience, figure out how to make your own cover or fork out the money and pay someone. I’m okay with my createspace cover maker cover, but I spent so much time (and I was on a deadline) and spent about $70 on 4 proofs (fastest shipping is what cost so much) that I could have paid someone to do it for me. Next time I will!
  11. Find a place to submit or publish it yourself. I was lucky enough to be chosen by the Mississippi Poetry Society as Poet of the Year, so they were the publisher, but I had the task of choosing where to have it published… and the daunting trial of formatting my book. After talking to several authors, I chose Createspace because 1) it’s free, 2) the giant Amazon will get your book online as soon as you approve it. 3) You can still sell it elsewhere. They provide a free ISBN (I had one from MPS, though).
  12. You do not have to pay for a Library of Congress Catalog number.; it’s free. You DO need to go to that website about a month ahead of time and apply. If  you do not have a publisher like I did, it is a different route. Whatever email you give them is the one they will send the  info to, so be sure it is one you have access to or that of a person you have informed about this!
  13. Format your poems following the guidelines for where you are submitting. If you use Createspace, for a 6″ x 9″ set your margins to .76″ all around with a .25″ gutter and mirror margins for the whole document… at least that worked for me. Put your page numbers in the middle on the bottom and you won’t have to worry about the mirror problem. When you want to start new numbers go to page setup and choose different new page. I can’t tell you how frustrating this was. I wanted to add blank pages in between sets of poems but never figured out on Word 2013 how to do it without messing up the page numbers.
  14. Use a well-known author’s book as an example for acknowledgments, table of contents, etc…
  15. Spell check and have friends check for any grammatical errors. When you have read a poem a zillion times it is hard to catch your own errors. I think this should be done ahead of time, and I’m sure I need to watch this: abstractions, flowery words. Ezra Pound in Don’ts by an Imagiste said, “Use no superfluous word, no adjective, which does not reveal something. “Now you may see the book falling into sections. Once again you may want to reorder them. If you think a poem is weak, leave it out. Your book should be 48-64 pages. Mine was 70 pages counting front & back material.

Choose a Title

  1. Levine suggests the title come from the title of a significant poem or line of a poem in your book. I had the hardest time with this!
  2. According to Cinders in Titles you do NOT want to choose for your poem or short story,  the abstract words like  Love. Hate, Death, Life, Friendship, or Emotions like Sad or Happy should not be used as titles “because they are generic, and inspire nothing in the reader. They are dull. And they are EVERYWHERE.”
  3. Get opinions. I ran different titles by Facebook friends, coworkers & family. Everyone had their own opinion, but they may make you see a title in a different light.
  4. Print out a title page and see how it feels.
  5. Is there another book by this name? I like to Google potential titles and see what comes up–wouldn’t want my book to be confused with someone else’s book. I had thought about naming the book Devil’s Due, but decided it was a misleading title. Then here is a movie just released with that title. How strange is that? Pay attention to these things.
  6. Think about the cover–are you going to have a related photo or drawing, or will it be abstract?  I decided on a poem that seemed to bring it all together–From the Depths of Red Bluff and another that placed the poems Where Muscadines Grow. I could see a beautiful country scene with a winding dirt road, or a closeup of muscadines. Unfortunately they were out of season and no one I knew had a picture.I could also picture beautiful Red Bluff (Mississippi’s Little Grand Canyon) on the cover. People either loved or hated the latter.
  7. Consider connotations and double meanings. I asked ONE more literary friend with great insight to talk it through with me. After discussing connotations & how Where Muscadines Grow sounds like Where the Red Ferns Grow, and how another choice I had that mentions God might make some people think it was a religious book, we then discussed “Red Bluff“–That sounds like a history or tour guide book, we decided. Plus the word “bluff” is meant as a canyon in this instance, and might be misconstrued as its other meaning.  She did like the connotations of the color red, (heart, blood) and said it made her think about rivers, Mississippi, even Indians. Most of all, she said it made her curious about what was in the depths of Red Bluff. So, I decided on the full name, From the Depths of Red Bluff .
  8. For heaven’s sake!! MAKE YOUR OWN COVER or PAY SOMEONE. No one told me you HAVE to do this in order to have the price on the back cover, an industry standard.

I hope this helps someone. I always find things out for myself, but it is so time consuming.From the Depths of Red Bluff



Pushcart Nomination

Dear followers,

This is a note to say thank you if you voted to help nominate me for a Pushcart Prize Nomination for my poem, Same Stars, Different Houses, which appeared in Deep South Magazine. The results for the Top 6 are in, lowest to highest % of the votes:

6. Mississippi Speaks– by Sandra Bounds (A fellow member of our Mississippi Poetry Society) 4%

5. Where to Go From Here 6%

4. Long Distance 8%

3. Lovebug Seasons 22%

2. Middle of Nowhere 23%

1. Same Stars, Different Houses–by Wynne Huddleston 28%

Thank you so much, my wonderful fans, friends, family and fellow bloggers and writers! You are the reason I made the cut!

 Wynne Huddleston

Merry Christmas/ Happy Holidays

I hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas or whatever holiday you celebrate! I’ve put my poetry on the back burner for the last couple of months with the holidays and other things going on that prevented my time alone that I usually spend writing and submitting. I hope to get back into the swing next year! It’s been a year of bad health for me (4 surgeries from Jan-May for under the skin cancer on my face) and sinus/sore throat problems I have had since September. I’ll take a more in depth look at my year in writing later. Here is the story behind one of my favorite Christmas Carols, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.

 Since…Don’t Forget 

A Decade Since
by Wynne Huddleston
Don’t forget the horror
Don’t forget the tears
Don’t forget the despair
although it’s been 10 years.
Don’t forget the men and women
who sacrificed their lives
to save someone else’s daughters,
and sons or husbands and wives.
But we must remember this—
how quickly we joined as one
in grief and anger and love
fighting through fire and stone
to rescue and comfort each other.
Boundaries of politics, race
and religion all disappeared
in the dust of this gray place.
We raised our flag and our voices here
where two tall towers had stood
America breathed and grieved
as one in love and brotherhood.
Mourning, she buried the dead,
counted the injured and lost.
Then swiftly lifted up her head
and vowed no matter the cost
such evil, viscious acts of terror
on American soil could never,
WOULD never
again be allowed to occur.
© Wynne Huddleston
Sept. 11, 2011
I was just moved to pen this poem. I’m sure I’ll change some things, but wanted to post it in remembrance for this day of sorrow. Please do not copy it, but feel free to share the link to it. Thanks!

Political/Human Rights Poems

Red, Red Rain

by Wynne Huddleston 

Red, red, red—
government control, swords
upon babies’ heads, staining
mothers’ souls.

Red, red, red—
abortion, coercion, sterilization,
feminine damnation,
perpetration, denies God’s creation.




Rein, reign, rain—
drowning full term babies
females plucked
and crushed like weeds.

Rein, reign, rain—
taking living, breathing
human beings, throwing
them away.

Infanticide, gendercide, suicide—
taken from the streets;
nowhere to hide
from the slaughter of daughters.

First version published in Poetry24, Tuesday, 14 June 2011

© Wynne Huddleston

Is Technology Killing All Things?

The world is shrinking– with more and more new technology the world is becoming closer knit. But is the world shrinking because it is killing all our stuff and maybe even killing us?

First the decline of Barnes & Noble and now the largest chain of bookstores, Borders, is closing. They could not compete with Amazon’s massive online presence. And Amazon is now selling more e-books than paper books.  Brett Arends of Market Watch warns us The bookstore massacre is coming. Not only are things like books, book stores, and cds disappearing, but cell phones may be fatal to us and other creatures!

The world is abuzz about a study (see original study) in Switzerland claiming that cell phones are killing honey bees.  Now others are saying that while the radiation may harm them, it has not been confirmed that it is killing them. Here’s a neutral view: from cnet news  which calls for a more conclusive study.

Do Cell Phones Cause Brain Cancer? I had heard it was conclusive, but this article says more study is needed as in the case of the bees. To find out how much radiation YOUR phone is leaking see Get a Safer Phone.

Here’s my tongue-in-cheek reaction in a poem I wrote about the Kindle and other e-readers when they first appeared.

Empty Margins Rekindled

by Wynne Huddleston

We’ve come a long way—from feathered quills
to ballpoint pens, typewriters to computers;
from paper to laptops, and now, from books
to e-readers. It’s wonderful! At the touch
of a finger you can open an e-book in the new
computerized, iPhone-sized reader. Who

wants to hold a thick, new book, and have to
hold it in both hands to press it open, caress
each page as you turn it, mark your place
with an old envelope or an emery board,
and smell the newness… then have to put it
away on the shelf next to your treasured
photos, keepsakes and trophies. Who

likes the feel of ink staining permanence
as it flows like blood from their veins? Who
wants to hold in their hand a freshly sharpened
number 2 pencil in order to write? Who

wants to drag it across a waiting, virgin
white page, and have to erase or mark through;
scribble rhymes in the margins, draw arrows
and circles for what to move where, and, oh, dear,
check spelling with a real dictionary? Surely no
one wants to rekindle those days… do they?

© Wynne Huddleston

Do it “Write”

So many people tell me, I want to get published, tell me how. I give them the link to Part 1 of my series on Poetry Submissions (which also works for stories).  Often it boils down to this: the right time, the right place, with the right poem or story. If you are rejected it might not be because it wasn’t “good enough,” but simply because it didn’t fit that particular issue or the theme of that issue. Some things to check to make sure you get it right:

  • Read a previous journal or sample if available. This will give you a feel for the style they prefer–rhyme, free verse, spoken word, confessional, etc…
  • Also check the genre–such as fantasy, dark, experimental, or general.
  • Make sure you follow the guidelines. Sometimes editors are very picky about this and will throw out a submission that did not follow their rules.
  • Obviously you should check when the issue for which you are submitting will be published. For example, don’t submit a poem about winter when the issue is coming out in July, unless the theme is on winter.
  • If your work is not accepted, read it again to see if there are any mistakes. Submit somewhere else suitable using the guidelines above. If it is rejected 3 or more times consider revising it, remembering to “cut it ’til it bleeds,” and “show don’t tell.”
  • Finally, don’t give up! You’ll eventually hit the “write” time, the “write” place, with the “write” poem or story!