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



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!

Book Signing Advice

A friend posted this on facebook, “How to Conduct a Successful Book Signing Event” by Sally Watkins via @JohnKremer.  I haven’t gotten to this point yet, but some of you may find it useful.

Another friend and prolific magazine writer, Cheryl Wray posted The Joys and Hazards of Book Signings on Writing for Dollars. She is the author of Writing for Magazines (McGraw-Hill), a popular guide for freelancers, and has published over 1000 articles in magazines.In this article she says to

1) Be sure the bookstore is prepared for you, has a table set up. Have posters set up in the store.

2) Do your own press releases in the local newspapers, have posters around town. 

3) Make eye contact with customers and appear friendly. A freebie (bookmark or candy) with contact info is also a good idea.

4) Ask bookstore manager if you can sign your remaining books.

5) Keep in touch with the bookstore.

Year 2010 in Review

Review of My Year–2010

I’m a little late on looking back at 2010. At first I thought it was not a very eventful year, but upon further study it seems to be quite the opposite, especially for me as a poet–it was my first full year swimming in the world of publishing! I attended many workshops, conferences and concerts. I met a lot of new writers, publishers, editors and musicians! In retrospect, it was a great year!

Top News in 2010 wasn’t always greatthe BP Oil Spill, the war and rumors of war, of course, Julian Assange’s publication of U.S. diplomatic cables on WikiLeaks, controversy over “Obamacare,” Ground Zero Mosque, Global Warming–a big topic blamed for most of these disasters: earthquakes in Haiti, Chili and China, Guatemala Sinkhole, Machu Picchu Landslide, East Coast Blizzard, floods in Pakistan and Nashville, fires and floods in Russia, Pakistan and Peru.

Top Ten New Gadgets of 2010 were the iPad, Berkely Bionics eLEGS, Microsoft Knect, Windows Phone 7 on Samsung Focus, Sprint EVO 4G, iPhone 4, MacBook Air (11-13″ notebook), Samsung Galaxy 3 android-based notebook, Canon’s S95, and Kindle 3. Here are the Time/CNN lists for The Top 10 or Everything.  

Top Personal Happenings. My youngest son moved out (but still close by) and got engaged. The first female was born into our family since me (yes that is a long time), although my oldest sister and I have granddaughters that came into the family as adopted stepchildren. Our new baby girl is my middle sister’s first grandchild, and what a cutie!

Famous Musicians I met: I had my picture made with Morgan Freeman, Sela Ward, Marty Stuart, Connie Smith, Spooner Oldam, L.C. Ulmer, and singer/songwriters Walt Aldridge, Steve Dean, Don Poythress, Jimbeau Hinson, Marc-Alan, and I shook hands with Tracey Lawrence during a concert. I also became friends with legendary Chris Ethridge, Scott McQuaig, and Jacky Jack White. My song, Many More Birthdays, was performed at Relay for Life in Forest, MS at their opening ceremony.

Sweet Potatoes Come on in Party. I actually wrote a newspaper review for The Meridian Star 360 section on the musicians that performed at this party. I met a lot of great Mississippi singer/songwriters–Scott Albert Johnson, Bob Gates, Johnny Crocker, Cameron Compton, Cody Wynne Cox, Taylor Hildebrand, Jame Weems, Scott Randall Rhodes, and Hunter Gibson. I even met Jill Conner, the original Sweet Potato Queen. Unfortunately, I asked her to sign my three books I bought for $45, but she said she’d do it later. Later never came. Sigh…

My Top Poetry News. I joined the Mississippi Poetry Society as soon as I found out the particulars. I accepted the post of Secretary for the Mississippi Writers Guild. I attended four workshop/conferences in 2010: Southern Christian Writers Conference in Tuscaloosa, AL, Mississippi Writers Guild Conference, Chattahoochee Valley Writers’ Conference in GA, Mississippi Poetry Society Fall Workshop. I had planned to meet Mississippi’s Poet Laureate, Winifred Farrar (who was my best friend’s cousin) but she passed away before I got the chance. I did meet the talented Natasha Trethewey at a book signing/reading in Jackson. She was very impressive and kind.

My 2010 Publications. Last year I had 35 poems accepted by 19 publications with 25 poems published and 10 forthcoming. I won 1st place in Grandmother Earth’s Environmental Poetry Contest, 3rd place in Mississippi Poetry Society’s Poets Anonymous Contest, and I won the Enchanted Conversation’s Daughters of Air Contest. Not fantastic, but not too bad for my first full year of submitting. Add one published in Dec. 2009, one accepted on Jan. 1, 2011 for a grand total of 37 acceptances in print and online journals and magazines plus 3 anthologies. I hope this year will be even more productive! I’ve been a slacker over the holidays, but getting an acceptance on the first day of the year was a real encouragement! Back to work—or is it play? Maybe both.

Don Poythress and Wynne Huddleston

Jimbeau Hinson and Wynne Huddleston

Marc-Alan Barnette and Wynne

Jimbeau Hinson and Brenda Fielder

This gold record was given to Jimbeau Hinson by the Oak Ridge Brothers for 2,000,000 airplays of  “Settin’ Fancy Free,” which was written by Jimbeau.

Poetry Submissions-Part 5: Response Times

The Waiting Game. I waited for over a year on an option once; another time I got a response in 2 days. One submission has been out for 9 months and they won’t respond to my query. ??? It all depends on where you send your work, and sometimes, to a much lesser degree, on when you send it. How long until publication? How often does the journal/magazine publish? Where do you find the answer to these questions? Are more publications worthy of waiting for than others?

Statistics of Best American Poetry This book was my Bible for where to submit when I first started making submissions. Now, not so much. Duotrope, Newpages and Poets & Writers are the places I haunt for journals that are better suited for my poetry.

Choosing Where to Submit By Reported Response Times

Here is Jeffrey Bahr’s compilation of Publication Response Times. I often go to Duotrope to check out the latest response times in “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” Now you have to pay to use Duotrope, however. There is so much information at Poets & Writers that I didn’t realize there is an advanced search within Literary Magazines. You can discover the percentage of unsolicited submissions published in each magazine and its circulation. NewPages has a list of literary magazines and gives their response time, publication frequency, as well as many other facts. Here are  Ten Literary Journals that Respond Within a Month.

Is When You Submit a Factor?

Yes! Autumn Sky Poetry offers this advice, “If you don’t want to wait a long time to hear about the status of your submission, send us your poems the last week of the month prior to our issue release. That way you will only have to wait, at most, two weeks. ” Check out when your publication is set to print. How long is that from the deadline to submit? Some take longer than others. Do your research.

Should You Query?

Read the guidelines and see if the publication lists their average response time. Most will even tell you to query if you haven’t heard from them within a certain period of time. It is possible that submissions, or their responses, get lost in the mail or email.  This happened to me twice. You won’t find this out if you don’t query, however. Many places will acknowledge receipt of a submission, but not all. I hate to bug editors and tend to wait out the alloted time. Then I query.

“The Waiting is the Hardest Part,” as Tom Petty sings. But it’s just part of the writing life. Gordon posts that Maybe We Should Just Stop submitting to those journals who seems to take forever responding. Check out Writerly Ways – A Tirade Against Literary Journals  where Ahmed gives four reasons why Literary Journals tick him off. Literary Rejections on Display is a blog with several writers’ veiwpoints on response times, not to mention copies of actual rejections. It’s a place to unload and maybe feel you’re not all alone in Rejection Land.

I hate waiting, but I hate keeping a poem in limbo even worse. My advice is to submit to places that take simultaneous submissions OR places that have a fast response. Then it’s exciting to open your mailbox or email and find out you have an acceptance!


This is Part 5 of a series I started in May. Here is Part I: How.

Poetry Submissions Due October – December

Victorian Violet Press  – Oct. 7

Barrier Islands Review  “Science” – Oct. 15

New Madrid “Water” – Oct. 15

Turtle Quarterly  “Lies” – Oct. 15

Umbrella – Oct. 15

Mississippi Poetry Society Fall Festival Contest – Oct. 16

Kweli Journal “Sanctuary” – Oct. 21

The Tulane Review – Oct. 22

Poetic Monthly Magazine – Oct. 31

Etchings, Ilura Press – Oct. 31

Irish Story Playhouse/StoryTeller Tymes  (Children) “Harvesting Thanks”- Oct. 31

Matrix Magazine “Zen Inspired Poetry” – Oct. 31

Pear Noir! –  Oct. 31

River Poets Journal “Things Lost” – Oct. 31

Sliver of Stone – Oct. 31

Blossom Bones – Oct. 31

5 x 5  “Labor” – Nov. 1

Crab Orchard Review – Nov. 1

Mason’s Road – Nov. 1

The Minnesota Review – Nov. 1

Red Line Blues – Nov. 1

Reed Magazine – Nov. 1

River Styx – Sept. – Nov.

Thema – Nov. 1

Barrier Islands Review -“Snow/Ice/Winter” – Nov. 15

Dandelion “Mapping” – Nov. 15

Halfway Down the Stairs  “Silence” – Nov. 15

Lumina  – Nov. 15

Ruminate  “Sustaining” – Nov. 15

Through This Window “So This is Growing Up” – Nov. 15

OVS Magazine – Nov. 30

The Thirty First Bird Review  “Prayer” – Dec. 1

Black Market Review – Dec. 1

Contrary – Dec. 1

The Common – Dec. 1

The Iowa Review – Dec. 1

Barrier Islands Review -“Morph/Warp/Changeling” – Dec. 15

Borderlands Texas Poetry Review – Dec. 15

Off the Coast – Dec. 15, March15

storySouth – Dec. 15

The Animal Anthology Project  Dec. 31

Calyx – Dec. 31

Existere – Dec. 31

Quinebaug Valley Review   (new) – Dec. 31

For more calls for submissions and many other writer’s resources, see NewPages.

For themed submission deadlines, see Duotrope’s Digest.

For Contest Info, see Poet’s and Writer’s Submission Calendar.

For additional contest listings, see Just a Contest.

Please contact me if you want to add to the list, or just add you site in the comments!

Chattahoochee Valley Writers’ Conference

I had the pleasure of attending the 2010 Chattahoochee Valley Writers’ Conference in lovely Columbus, Georgia this weekend. I loved the fact that the workshops were an hour and a half long and were small enough that everyone had a chance to get to know each other. (Plus I won a door prize of several great books!) Sarah and I arrived just in time for the reading by Jessica Handler, author of  Invisible Sisters: A Memoir.  It is such a hauntingly sad story, it made me cry! But it is also a story about her finding herself through her journaling, after becoming lost in amid illnesses, hospitals, sorrow and death.

These are the workshops I attended on Saturday:

1) Keith Badowski— “How to Get Started, How to Keep Going: Poetry Prompts, Exercises, and Springboards for Those Times When Your Muse Takes a Vacation.” Keith Badowski, “The Bearded Poet,” had to substitute at the last minute for Rick Campbell whose wife and daughter were in a wreck (they were not injured). While I did hate missing Rick, Keith conducted a great workshop and did a wonderful job of getting poetic “juices” flowing. He used words, line prompts, partners, pictures and other springboards to inspire us to write several poems during the workshop. He was also on hand to write spontaneous poems on Ron Self’s antique typewriter. Keith and Ron Self, President of the Georgia Poetry Society, co-founded Brick Road Poetry Press. Contact Keith Badowski at

2) John Travis–Publishing in Today’s World. After a brief history of printing , John led us on a trip through internet websites for writers. He also talked about the future of publishing–ebook readers and self-publishing sites. John is the editor for a very small literary press, Portals Press in New Orleans. He asked us to keep an open mind about e publishing. He said there are some writers who are marketing straight to e books and then using print on demand for those who want a print copy of their books.  For a listing of agents, see (Council of Lietary Magazines & Presses; directory) Kindle is owned by Amazon, therefore you have their free advertising for your book, whereas Nook has the same situation with Barnes and Nobles (which is up for sale). John likes for a POD (print on demand) or for ebooks. They are also owned by Amazon, again, free advertising from the #1 book prints your PDF FREE, but is permanent after you send it. You can send a photo for the cover and set your own price for the book, with a 50/50 split on profits. They also protect your work from being copied on the internet.

3) Sarah Campbell–Earn $$ Before Getting Published. This was the second of Sarah’s workshops, the first being “Photos + Stories=Winning Nonficton.” I wish I could have attended that one, but I was in the poetry workshop. I did have the good fortune of catching a ride with Sarah on her way from Jackson to Columbus, GA! Sarah Campbell is the author of the award winning children’s nonfiction book, “Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator,” and “Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature.” This workshop dealt with ways to make money by speaking engagements, free lancing and teaching in schools, but it was primarily about how to incorporate your own knowledge about writing, and/or the subject matter of your work, into a classroom setting. 

Elsie Austin (veteran of the 30-Day Novel), Andy Harp, thriller author, and Scott Wilkerson, poet, also presented workshops. I wish I could have attended all of them!

Home of Carson McCullers (1917-1967)

After the workshop we had a great social at the great GA writer Carson McCullers’ home. There is a call for papers and a huge 94th birthday celebration being planned for February 17-19, 2011! Deadline for submissions: October 1, 2010.

Carson McCullers' Home

Wynne and Sarah Campbell at Carson McCullers' Home


Time Line

Jessica Handler and Sarah Campbell

Jessica Handler and Sarah Campbell