Writing Books/publication


My name is Eleanor Cole, and I am currently working on writing my own poetry book. It is 100-120 pages long. I'm still working on it but it is almost done. I don't have a Editor/Publisher, and I wanted your personally opinion about what you think the next step for me would be to do. I'm new at this and very young to be publishing a book so any advice you give me would help me out!

Congratulations on working on your own poetry book!  

My first response to you if we were meeting in person would be this: Tell me the name of the last book of poetry that you purchased. I can almost bet my house that you will tell me you don't buy poetry books, and that is the answer almost every person in America will give, and yet millions of us write poetry. In summary, poetry books have some of the lowest sales records of all books. For that reason, few publishers will invest in poetry, because the likelihood of recouping their investment is almost nil. That is the sad truth.

Your next step, then, is to decide whether you want to try to buck the odds and pursue finding a publisher that will pay the printing expenses or whether you prefer to move forward and self-publish. In a minute I will suggest two good books that will teach you the ins and outs of both pathways.

First I want to say this: if you hope to sell to a publisher, your best bet is to get a dozen or more of your poems accepted into respected literary magazines. Do not fall for poetry scams whereby you are notified your poem has been selected, but you must buy a book or attend a conference to collect your prize. Legitimate magazines will not ever ask you for money, but they probably will not pay you in anything but free contributor’s copies, either. Still, if your poetry is good enough to be accepted by literary publications and you have a track record to prove it, your book will be of more interest to a traditional publisher.

To learn what other steps you must take to sell your book to a publisher, read The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting Published, 4th Edition, by Sheree Bykofsky and Jennifer Basye Sander.

For self-publishing, read Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual, 16th Edition: How to Write, Print and Sell Your Own Book. Be sure to get Volume I, even though his newer book is Volume II, a continuation of Volume I.

I can also tell you what we used to do “back in the day,” before print-on-demand became available. We created our own poetry chapbooks by designing the pages so that each 8.5” x 11” piece of typing paper had two poems, side by side, and we copied them on both sides with a good copier. We created a cover and copied it on a heavier, colored stock. We folded all the pages in half and stapled them with a deep-throat stapler. We became our own print-on-demand printers for the cost of a few Xerox copies.

The copier process works only if you have fewer than forty pages to staple. If you have 120 poems, it could potentially require only thirty-one sheets of paper (two poems abreast on each side of the paper plus one piece of cover stock). These books were called chapbooks, and chapbooks were good for giving to friends or selling at poetry readings. Two of those homemade chapbooks landed a friend of mine a lucrative job as a traveling poetry teacher in the schools of South Carolina, way back in the 1970s, although I doubt he sold many copies.  

I hope you will sign up for my free newsletter for writers. In it I often have markets and tips you can use. Go to www.zebraeditor.com, click on "Free Newsletter," check the box for The Writers Network News, and add your e-mail address.

I wish you much success, no matter which path you take.

--Bobbie Christmas

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Bobbie Christmas


Book Doctor Bobbie Christmas owns Zebra Communications, a book-editing firm in metro Atlanta. She not only edits books, she also helps writers power up their prose to increase their chances of success. She is the author of Write In Style (Union Square Publishing), a creative-writing guide that won three awards.


Bobbie has spent more than 40 years in the publishing and communications industry and has run Zebra Communications, a book-editing company, since 1992. The editor of many publications and periodicals, she has worked with book publishers and trade magazine publishers as well as working in marketing communications and corporate communications.

Past president, Georgia Writers Association; past vice president, South Carolina Writers Workshop; charter/lifelong member, Florida Writers Association; Southeastern Writers Association; Atlanta Writers Club; Society for the Preservation of English Language and Literature (SPELL); International Guild of Professional Consultants

Write in Style (Union Square Publishing), A Cup of Comfort (Adams Media Corporation), A Cup of Comfort for Friends (Adams Media), A Cup of Comfort for Mothers and Sons (Adams Media), Haunted Engounters (Atriad Press), Remembering Woolworth's (St. Martin's Press), First-Time Home Buyer magazine, HomeBusiness Journal, Apparel Industry Magazine, Edge Magazine, Atlanta Jewish Times, Time Travel Australia, American Writers Review, Points North, That's Entertainment, Atlanta Parent, Agnes Scott Alumnae Magazine, etc.

Journalism: University of South Carolina plus four decades of working in publishing, marketing, communications, advertising, newspaper and magazine production, book publishing, etc.

Awards and Honors
First Place, nonfiction, Georgia Writers Annual Contest, 2005; First Place, education, Royal Palm Literary Award, 2004; Best in Division, Georgia Author of the Year Awards, 2005; Finalist, Best Books 2005, USA BookNews Third Place, nonfiction, Georgia Writers, 1999; Nominated for Georgia Author of the Year, 1998; plus many other awards

Past/Present Clients
Capital Books, Sourcebooks, Olin Frederick, The Writer's Machine, Russell Dean & Company, Outskirts Press, and hundreds of writers.

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