How to Make a Poetry Chapbook (With and Without a Computer)

poetry chapbook

Guest post by Eliahu Case

What’s a Poetry Chapbook?

Poetry chapbooks are small collections of poetry, typically handmade from inexpensive materials in a brochure or booklet format. They’re great to pass around if you’re interested in sharing your work with others, and they’re really easy to make! With a bit of time and the help of a photocopier or printer, you can bring your poetry to the printed page. Even if you plan to make one or two just for yourself, this quick DIY project will let you experience your poetry in a brand new way. The physicality of the poetry chapbook is one of the most gratifying parts!

If you stick around, I’ll show you how to make a poetry chapbook with a couple of different methods. Keep in mind that this is a home for your art, so its structure should reflect you. Feel free to break the mold here. It’s your chapbook, after all, and your poetry deserves a good home.

How to Make a Poetry Chapbook (Easy)

With or without a computer, any of these folding methods are perfect for hand-crafted chapbooks. You want to keep the folding method that you choose in mind as you write or type up the pages—different methods will require different writing formats! Here’s a quick overview of the major folding methods for a simple poetry chapbook:

The Half-Fold Poetry Chapbook:

For all of these examples, you should work with A4-sized paper, be it printed paper or just sheets that you’ve written on. Don’t let that “A4” title intimidate you—it’s just the typical page size. The half-fold will be the simplest method—just bundle your sheets into a collection, fold them lengthwise, and staple it at its spine. It should resemble a small book at the end!

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The Pocket-Sized Poetry Chapbook:

For a more portable poetry chapbook, there’s the “double parallel fold.” For this method, you’ll want to fold the paper in half twice. This gives your chapbook thicker pages and a stout surface area, which is great for a sturdy, pocket-sized edition of your poems!

“Leaflet”-Like Poetry Chapbooks:

You can use the “Z fold” or the “gate fold” to yield a poetry chapbook that resembles a leaflet more than a book. For the “gate fold,” lay your paper horizontally on a flat surface and then fold both edges toward the center. The result will be a gate-like appearance, like a brochure or double doors to bare its interior. For a “Z fold”, just fold your paper three times, back to front, like an accordion. The design will look like a “Z”.

Which format should you choose? That depends on how you’d like to display your work. The gate design might be a fantastic choice, for example, if your poetry or prose content contained a great reveal of some kind, or perhaps an illustration that the reader should only see once they’ve finished reading the piece. Maybe you’d rather include a lot of bright artwork while retaining the traditional “book” feel. In that case, try the half fold. My personal favorite is the double parallel fold for its portability and durability.

How to Make a Professional Poetry Chapbook (Harder)

If you’re interested in putting together a more complicated and professional poetry chapbook, this is for you:

1. What to Use

Make sure you’re using a computer and word processor. Many people find it easiest to use slideshow software since text boxes can be easily manipulated and dragged around the page, so consider using one of those! Keep the dimensions typical—that would be A4, remember? And don’t worry, you can always scan handwritten calligraphy and manipulate it on the computer if you’d like!

2. Format the Text Box

First, put your document in landscape modeNow go ahead and insert a text box, and format its size. Its height should be 4.25, and its width should be 2.75. Next, change the left and right margins of the text box left to 0.3 and the top and bottom margins to 0.25.

3. Rinse and Repeat

Drag the newly-formatted text box to the bottom left corner of your page and duplicate it. (Typically, this is done by left-clicking and selecting a “copy”, “clone” or “duplicate” option and then pasting it elsewhere.) Since the box is 1/8 the size of your page, we’ll need to duplicate it seven times to cover the whole sheet. You’ll add three to the bottom row. Then, just paste four more, mirroring them on the top half. Your result should be a grid of eight uniform squares.

4. Final Touches

That’s almost all for the computer but there’s one more thing to do before we print. It gets a little tricky here because after you print this thing out and fold it all up, the top row is going to read upside down. How can we prevent this, you ask? Well, we can print our content upside-down in the first place! Go ahead and rotate the text box upside-down.

But what if you’ve scanned a pen and ink sketch for the front cover? My suggestion is:

  1. Compose your words and/or visual art
  2. Save it as an image
  3. Add that image to your document
  4. Size it down (you know the drill. See text box formatting above)
  5. Rotate if necessary

5. Print and Get Folding

So, you’ve printed it out an unfolded poetry chapbook (a blank sheet with boxes, images, and text). It’s time to get folding!

Note: for each of these steps, make sure you crease the folds well, as one would with origami.

  1. Fold the sheet in half horizontally, then unfold it.
  2. Fold the sheet in half vertically, then unfold (bisect the first crease to make a cross in the paper).
  3. Lay the paper out horizontally. Fold the edges inward, toward the center (like the “gate fold” previously described). When they’re nice and creased, go ahead and unfold it.
  4. Lay the paper out vertically. Fold the page in half (you’re re-doing step 2, which will be easier now because you’ve got a pilot crease to work with).
  5. You should be looking at four boxes, two by two. With a scissor, cut from the crease in the center of the page to the end of the first two boxes. Do not cut into the third and fourth boxes. Just make a slit.
  6. Here’s the tricky part! Open the paper up. Grip the horizontal crease while forcing the slit open and down. You want the result to be that the far ends of your paper meet each other. After this step, a square of paper should be pointing in each of the cardinal directions, like a plus sign.
  7. After that, it’s pretty much cake. Flatten your pages out and voila! Your book is done.

What’s Next?

Learning how to make a poetry chapbook is a great publication solution for emerging poets. And since they’re inexpensive and pretty simple to make, you can use them to sell, promote, or just give away your work at your leisure. I’ve seen poetry chapbooks distributed at farmers’ markets and in coffee houses—I’ve even bought a few at open mic nights and concerts. So, play around with the different method, make something you’re proud of, and get your work out in the world!

This article was written by Eliahu Case

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5 thoughts

  1. Hi, Brian. Thanks, again, for an interesting and informative post filled with useful ideas regarding Chapbooks and their creation. Have a great day. Goff

  2. This is a wonderful tutorial! Thank you for sharing it. I am wondering about copyright when distributing a chapbook. Any thoughts or advice about that? Thanks again and Happy New Year!

    1. I’d love to hear Elihau’s take on this (the author of this article), but from my understanding, authors and poets do not have to register copyright. Their work is protected the moment they produce it, and there’s no need to register every poem, blog post, journal page, or chapbook with the Copyright Office. With a $35 filing fee, that would get pretty pricey.

      That said, leaving clear copyright information on your work (especially a collection of poems) can give you stronger legal footing should something go awry. You can always include a copyright footer on your blog and chapbook even if you haven’t filed for it

      And if you do want to file for it, it’s much cheaper to pay the filing fee once for a large collection of poetry than one hundred times for individual poems, But again, official filing only puts your wishes in the public record. It isn’t necessary — and there are other ways to announce copyright — but it might dissuade people from trying anything!

      1. Thank you for this clarifying information! I did not know that the copyright was automatic no matter the format (blog or print). I guess I don’t have to mail it to myself either? 😁

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