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What to Consider When Self-Publishing Poetry Books

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

You've worked hard to perfect your poems, and now you're ready to turn your collection into a finished book. Exciting, we know, but can you go it alone, or should you hire a book designer? There are several things to consider when turning your manuscript into a work of art—but don't worry. We’ll go over the eight most critical elements on the road to publishing your poems. 

1. Do-It-Yourself or Hire a Professional?

It’s not just about appearances. There are technical elements involved with designing a book, which you may find confusing or difficult to achieve independently. More often than not, the best layouts are completed using professional design software.

To create your own book, use IngramSpark's book-building tool, free to those with an IngramSpark account.

However, if design is beyond your skillset, a good designer will take your manuscript and turn it into a book that matches a traditional publication's quality and standards. This can increase your sales potential since professionally presented work enhances readability. If anything, it will keep your audience's focus where it should be—on your content—instead of layout and design errors.

2. Preparing Your Manuscript

Whether you choose to go it alone or work with a professional book designer, the first thing you want to do is prepare your manuscript. Some authors may have each poem in a separate document, meaning you have a collection of files gathered in a folder. Instead, compile all of your poems into a single document (ordered how you want them to appear in your book) and make sure each one begins on a new page using a page break. Your file should also include:

  • Interior title page (not to be confused with your book cover, which is a separate file)
  • A copyright page (including your copyright notice and ISBN)IngramSpark Blog - In Text CTAs-6
  • A Table of Contents
  • Any introductory content you may wish to include

3. How Many Poems Should You Include?

This is really up to you, but a print collection for a complete book of poems rather than a chapbook (a small, staple–bound book) can contain between 30 to 100 poems, depending on poem length. An average book of poetry would be around 70 to 100. Some authors further divide these into sections, especially if their collection contains more than one theme. 

4. Choosing a Trim Size

While 6x9" (229 x 152mm) may be a common trim size for fiction and other literary works, a smaller size, such as 5.5x8.5" (216 x 140mm), lends itself better to poetry's unique layouts. Choosing paperback, in this case, is also more common than hardcover—unless you are planning to print a large anthology. 

Download How to Choose the Right Trim Size Worksheet


Most poets tend to write in standard 8.5x11” (280 x 216m) documents. However, if you're planning to print in a more common trim size for poetry, such as 5.5x8.5" (216 x 140mm), you run the risk of altering where your line breaks appear on the page once the book is sized down. To avoid this, make sure your document page size matches your intended trim size, so you can see exactly where the lines will break once the book is printed. 

Pay Attention to Line and Stanza Breaks!

On that same note, be mindful of how your stanzas break across pages. When a designer formats your poetry collection, they typically pay close attention to both line and stanza length. For instance, we would never let a single line from a stanza appear at the bottom of a page or at the top of another. These are considered widows/orphans. You always want your lines to break in a natural place each time.

5. Poetry Justification

When deciding on your collection's layout, generally, you want to choose between left–justified or centered. We tend to recommend left-justified, as this gives you the most amount of space to IngramSpark Blog - In Text CTAs-7work with if you happen to have long lines in your poem. Centering is recommended if your lines are short, but you may choose to alternate styles, having some poems centered and some left–justified. This is less common, but it's perfectly fine to be creative!


6. Styling Poem Titles and Poem Text

You typically want your poem titles to stand out from the poem itself, so you may wish to style them in a slightly larger font than your main body font. The standard main body font for a trim size of 5.5x8.5" (216 x 140mm) would range between 11pt and 12pt. Minion Pro or Adobe Garamond Pro are industry favorites, but whatever font you choose, make sure that the text is easy to read. Highly decorative fonts might look stylish, but they can also create eye fatigue. 

7. Designing Your Book Cover

While it's okay to brainstorm and gather cover images prior to finishing the interior book design, the full cover (front, back, and spine) should not be completed until your interior is done. This is because the spine dimensions of your book are based on your final page count. It's not until you know that page count that you can determine your cover's full sizing needs. 

The Ultimate Guide to Master Your Book Cover Design_Read More


When thinking of cover ideas, consider your poetry collection's overall theme and what images might best represent that theme. Is it a personal photograph, artwork, something more abstract? If you're not artistically inclined, you could hire an illustrator or choose to use stock photography. Just be sure the image you acquire is high resolution—at least 300DPI—and that it has a high enough pixel count to fit your sizing needs. Be cautious when choosing images from online resources, as you must assume they are copyright protected. Stock photography sites are also a good resource for brainstorming ideas. 

8. Submitting to a Book Designer

So if you've made it this far in the blog post and have decided to go with a professional, great! Here's what you should know before reaching out to one. First things first–edit! This is the time to make any last-minute changes to your work because once the book design process starts, you want to minimize the chance of having to resubmit due to errors. Although most designers will allow for post–design corrections, you will likely be charged for any editorial changes you want to have made. If it's just a few minor edits, the fee may not be that much. But if you are adding/removing content in ways that impact the overall text flow across multiple pages, you could be looking at new design fees. The best way to avoid this is to submit your work in as close to its final form as possible. 

Once everything is in order, then you're ready to publish. Be sure to spread the word! Social media and local news outlets can be a great way to get free publicity. Also, if you're not already involved in a local poetry community, find out what's happening in your city. Go to poetry readings or attend an open mic where you can sign up and read your work. This is a great way to let people know about you, to network with other poets, and to hone your craft! If all this sounds rather daunting, keep in mind that there are great resources available in online forums, or you can work with professionals who are there to help you every step of the way.


The Ultimate Guide to Master Your Book Design_Free Download

Stephanee Killen

Stephanee Killen is a poet, entrepreneur, and author. As the owner of Integrative Ink , a publishing pre-production company she established in 2001, Stephanee has edited and designed work for New York Times Best Selling authors, beginning writers, and those who are somewhere in between. She has published articles in Elephant Journal and Huffington Post. Additional experience in the industry includes work for the National Educational Service, F&W Media, and The Ballantine Publishing Group. Stephanee has worked in the publishing industry for more than twenty years and specializes in acting as an author advocate. Her passion for the arts and the creative process fuels her in exploring and developing new services, opportunities, and resources for writers.