As many of you already know, I recently wrote and self-published my first poetry book – Words of Faith: a collection of poems and verses written to challenge growth.
The journey to self-publishing was a very interesting one and I learnt many things along the way.
Quite a few people asked me how I went through the process of self-publishing, why I chose to go down that route and so on. I’ve decided not to delve into the why on this post, but the how to help others who want to achieve the same thing and have their poems published.
For those of you who are thinking of ways to publish your own poetry book, I’ve put together this step-by-step guide based on my personal experience and what I did through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). There are many things I would certainly do differently if I were to self-publish another book.
So, here’s what I did with some added wisdom in hindsight!
In this article, I’ll begin by breaking down what poems and poetry books are, sharing my personal journey of poetry publishing and then leading to a step-by-step self-publishing guide.
What is a poetry book?
First things first, what is a poetry book? Simply put, it’s a collection of poems organised into one book.
You’ll find there are different types of poetry books including collections, anthologies and chapbooks. Some poetry books feature poems from many different poets whilst others feature only one poet’s work. These collections can be structured by theme, year of writing or in some cases absolutely randomly.
In short, a poetry book is a book full of poems. This then leads us to the next question of...
What is a poem?
The literary world is still in unofficial disagreement as to what exactly is classed as a poem. Some people swear poems must have rhythm and rhyme, whilst others also consider styles such as rap, psalms and spoken word as different forms of poetry.
One dictionary definition of a poem is ‘a piece of writing in which the expression of feelings and ideas is given intensity by particular attention to diction (sometimes involving rhyme), rhythm, and imagery.’ This I believe, is fairly satisfactory.
Nonetheless for me, a poem is the art of words. The ability to convey and to express deeper meaning (often succinctly and with great nuance) using different writing styles and techniques. It is because of this that I’d call myself a poet.
My Journey to Publishing Words of Faith
As a writer I’ve always had the desire to create something tangible that would outlive me. Whether this was a novel, a collection of short stories or a feature length screenplay – I wanted to publish something that could be seen and held for generations to come.
I had been writing for what seemed to be my whole life. Stories, blogs, plays and then poems.
In my second year of university I began writing poetry to express the thoughts and emotions I had on a range of topics yet I never felt they were poetry book worthy.
Flash forward to a few months after graduating, I decided I wanted to release these poems that were so near and dear to my heart. During the journey I lost motivation, had moments of doubt and made many mistakes which I learnt from. But I did it. I self-published my own poetry book.
I used Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) to transform the ideas in my head into a paperback that you can order to your front door. All within six months. Now I’m here to tell you how I did just that.
In this post (short summary)
1. Market and promote your upcoming collection
2. Write the poems for your book
3. Correctly format your poetry book for print
4. Design your print ready book cover and blurb
5. Have an editor to proof your poetry book and make the necessary edits
6. Upload your print ready book to Amazon’s KDP
7. Order proof copies to check everything
8. Publish your poetry book
9. Bask in the feel-good of your new accomplishment
How to Write and Publish Your Poetry: Step-by-step Guide
Step One – before the poetry book, write write and write!
Before the poetry book you need a vision, a goal, determination and stamina. You also need poems. Plenty of poems.
As I mentioned above, I had been writing poems since my second year of university but only published some of these same poems over two years later. I had readily built up a strong archive of multiple poems on different topics stored up. So, when I finally decided on creating a poetry book, I had at least ten poems that I felt could easily be included in the collection.
Before you commit to publishing a poetry book, lay out your vision and ideas for the collection. This clarity and purpose will help further down the line if you ever lack motivation to complete the project.
A few questions to answer which will help in this process are:
Is this poetry book a solo project or a collaboration?
What is the theme and purpose of this poetry book?
How many poems will be included in the book?
How will the poems be organised? Will there be parts etc.?
When is this project being released?
The last question, I feel, is the most important. If you set an intended release date from the beginning, it’ll give you discipline to actually finish the project when the initial motivation and zeal has settled. Once you’ve answered these, the journey can begin and you can write poems right until your release date if you like!
For me, Words of Faith was a solo project with the theme of growth. I initially wanted to include twenty poems but my lucky readers were treated to twenty-one in the final copy. The poems were ordered based on how I wanted them to be read and I aimed to release it summer 2019.
Step Two – How to format a poem? Font, size and such.
Now you’ve got the vision and agenda down for the poetry book down, next is to decide how you want these poems to look on paper.
If you’re like me and you write your poems on your phone (and very occasionally on paper) you come to find that the poems look very different once you put them on a document such as Word. And they’ll look even more different in a published paperback.
Though self-publishing comes with creative freedom, standard poems are printed in fonts such as Times Roman, Arial or Garamond with a size of up to 14pt.
With this in mind, decide on a uniform font and font size which you will be writing all of your poems in. Other elements such as line breaks and punctuation will be dependent on the poem itself.
For me, it was a case of creating a single Word document and compiling all of my poems onto it. I used the Times font with a size of 12pt and single-spaced lines. So, once I finished a poem, I would add it to this Word document and my first draft was quickly building up.
Step Three – Poetry book templates and poetry book layout
Next is to decide the trim size of your poetry book. Trim size is essentially how large you want the book itself to be. This size will also determine your overall page count. As the smaller the trim size, the more pages there will be. Which will affect the book’s spine because the more pages in a book, the thicker the spine.
All of this is important because it determines how easily your poetry book will be held and whether a longer poem will fit onto two or two and a half pages. Such a little detail yes, but it makes so much difference to the reader experience.
When self-publishing on Amazon’s KDP, you have the option to choose the size and it’s completely up to you whether you want a large poetry book or something smaller that can be pocket sized.
Trim sizes well suited for poetry books are: 4.25" x 6.87", 5" x 8", 5.25" x 8", 5.5" x 8.5" and 6" x 9".
Once you’ve picked a trim size, you now need a template that structures your work accordingly.
For each of these trim sizes, KDP provides Word templates which you use to write and input your formatted poems.
Aside from Amazon KDP, there are many other sources online which provide free templates. These templates format your margins and the header and footer space for you as you input the text. This allows you to see a more accurate scale of how your poetry book will look printed.
To give more of a visual idea, the screenshots below show: how my poems looked in a normal document vs a formatted document for my print size of 5.25" x 8". You can see the difference this makes because the first would be far too small for readers once printed!
Step Four – How to design a poetry book and poetry book cover ideas
Once your trim size is decided and you’ve got a correctly formatted Word document filled with your poems. It’s time to start thinking of your book cover design. This includes the front of the book, the spine and the back and blurb.
If you’re stuck for ideas, start by researching poetry book cover designs to gain some inspiration. Create a colour scheme and mood boards which capture the visual style you hope to go for. Think of what images best convey your poems because people truly do judge a book by its cover.
If you’re not a graphic designer and you don’t know how to use photoshop well, my best piece of advice is to have a professional design your poetry book cover for you. This will save time, effort and frustration. A professional should be able to design your cover according to the trim size, make a consistent blurb and spine design which will leave you with a print ready file. Once this is done, all you need to do is upload it onto Amazon.
For Words of Faith, I went onto a site called fiverr and looked for freelancers who could design book covers. There were many artists to choose from, so I looked through their portfolios and selected one who created work that I liked the look of.
I then sent the artist the required details alongside some mood boards and a detailed description of my vision for the cover. They sent me back a design in less than 5 days, I grew to love it and that was that!
Amazon KDP also has a cover design suite which helps design a basic cover if needs be...
Step Five – How to edit your poetry book
Another important step in the process of publishing your poetry book is to have it ‘edited’. There are professional editors who will proofread your work and rewrite parts for you to improve the quality of the writing and expression.
With expressive work such as poetry, it’s not always ideal having someone else edit the words as this could change the meaning of the poem dramatically. That being said, it is still important to have other people read your poems before they get published.
My advice is to find two or three people (with a knowledge of and interest in poetry) to read your poems and provide feedback to you. This is so important because when you read your own work, it’s easy to miss little errors and mistakes which can’t be altered once your poetry book is published.
Save the trouble and have an extra pair of eyes check your work for you!
I got in contact with one of my lecturers from University and a friend who works as a copywriter. I sent them both my finalised first draft and asked for feedback on all of the poems. Through this they highlighted to me any errors in spelling, punctuation, grammar and style. They also provided little tips on what I could change to make the poems more effective.
Both were kind to do this for free which was really nice because I didn’t know how much an editor would charge. Their insights were extremely helpful and I knew I could trust their opinions on the standard of my poems.
Step Six – The details on Amazon KDP... Time to hit PUBLISH!
Once you’ve completed your poetry book and have a proofed final draft ready, it’s time to start uploading all of your details onto Amazon KDP.
The three sections you will need to complete are Paperback Details, Paperback Content and Paperback Rights & Pricing.
KDP asks for quite a lot of detailed information however the most important things to include are: your book details and author information, an engaging book description which will appear on the amazon page and keywords which will help searchers find your book. Amazon is very helpful and they have pages and videos which explain why each section is important to help you fill it out in the best way.
Once all the content is uploaded and any errors have been sorted, you’ll have the option to preview your poetry book and publish straight away! This process takes around 2 days, and once Amazon has approved your poetry book, it’ll be live online ready to purchase!
I will be putting together another step-by-step guide specifically on the Amazon KDP process which will provide more detail and advice on how best to fill in each section.
Step Seven – Marketing and advertising
Don’t wait until you’ve published your poetry book to start advertising and promoting it! I can’t stress that enough. It makes little sense to publish a book that no one knows or cares about. Before the book, you have to get an audience to care.
And unless you already have a massive social media following with an established audience eagerly awaiting the release of your poetry book... The sooner you start your marketing, the better.
Ideally, marketing can become the first step to the self-publishing process. What’s most important is to make people aware of your upcoming release. Share the process of publishing, post images, videos. Share a poem or two. Tell your friends and their friends. Put posters up and send flyers out. Perform at poetry nights. Host a book launch event. Run a giveaway. Get the word out. Spread it and keep it fresh on people’s minds.
Anything that will get people interested and gain their attention. Do this consistently until your collection is released and maintain afterwards. If you don’t first support and promote yourself then who will? So, post post post!
Personally, I found this the hardest part of the self-publishing process simply because it takes a lot of time and effort to remain consistent with marketing. And there’s also a fine line between effective marketing and simply getting on people's nerves. But we live and we learn. I’m still learning today and I always love a tip or two from any marketing gurus out there!
I’ve published my poetry... now what?
Don’t stop there! Like I said above, it’s important to remain consistent with your marketing to gain new readers and buyers for your poetry book.
Organise a book signing for your poetry, publish an e-book or audio book for your collection, make creative videos and visuals to complement your work and keep things fresh!
If you’re publishing a poetry book then chances are, you’re a very creative person so don’t let the ideas stop flowing. You never know what doors and opportunities will arise so keep pursuing your vision!
And that’s what I have to offer. I hope this extensive guide has been helpful and has inspired someone to publish their work!
If you have any questions or think one of the steps needs clarifying please leave a comment and I’ll be very happy to give more detail. Also feel free to message me if you want specific help!
Thanks for reading and I hope you’ve found this insightful. Stay tuned for next week's post where I'll be sharing a step-by-step process/guide on how to self-publish using Amazon KDP.
- Faithful xoxo