HOW TO ORGANISE A POETRY COLLECTION MANUSCRIPT

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

poetry books

Do you have poems you’ve written in a notebook or on loose paper, in a drawer or box? Or typed and saved on a computer. Perhaps, from years ago, or more recently. 

Lately, you’ve been thinking about how you’d like to organise your poems into a collection for publication. Yes, your very own poetry book. But where to start?

Organising a poetry collection is a big task but I’ll show you the steps, so it needn’t be so daunting. I began with scattered handwritten pages of poems and now I have the book When Eve Walked.

Self-publishing is the way to go for many poets these days, but well before publication, you’ll need to consider the design and layout of your book and the creation of your manuscript.

vintage typerwriter_manuscript

Creating a poetry collection manuscript framework

If your poems are handwritten or on loose paper you’ll need to type them up in a Word document on a computer. This document will then become your poetry collection manuscript.

Later, your book designer will request the manuscript from you and transform it into a print book or ebook; converting it into formats required by publishing and distribution networks.

Though the task of typing up your poems may sound tedious its actually a wonderful opportunity for you to get back into the feeling of them again, especially if they’ve been neglected for a while.

As you create your poetry collection manuscript, it’s worthwhile making minor edits as you go. Later, you’ll do thorough edits. But first, it’s important to build a sound manuscript structure.

From the go, even before you create a typed copy of your poetry collection, format your manuscript. Start by working out the size you’d like your print book to be. I cannot tell you just how much this will benefit your bookmaking journey!

  • Choose book size
  • Format manuscript
  • Type up poems

books ordered along shelves

1. Choose a print book size

Standard poetry book sizes (i.e., trim sizes) are 5″x8″, 5.5″x8.5″ and 6″x9″. Typically, a book’s size, number of pages, and quality (colour, paper, laminate, and binding) determine printing costs.

When choosing a book size consider your printing and distribution costs in relation to the return you’d expect from the sale of a print book. Visit Amazon best sellers in poetry to review prices.

Ingram Spark, a self-publishing company with a global distribution network, is a good place to start when researching book printing and distribution costs. *Print and ship calculator here.

Full-length poetry collections are usually 60 to 110 pages of poetry (about 100 pages is common). That’s 30 to 100 poems. My poetry collection When Eve Walked is 162 pages and has 72 poems.

When Eve Walked poems Out Now!

When choosing a book size, you’d be wise to also consider the aesthetics of your collection. That is the artful appearance of your poems. What page size will showcase your poems best?

Think about the white space around the poems: are poems short or long, slender, or wide? How will poems be aligned? Will poems be patterned or arranged in unusual configurations?

Consider the length of verses and stanzas: which page size will they fit best. Typically, a line of a poem ends before it reaches the inner margin of a page.

A poetry book will have poems starting on a new page. A collection may further be separated into parts; each part beginning with a new heading page (with neighbouring blank pages).

vintage typewriter with sheet of poetry

2. Set manuscript margins

Now you have an idea of what book size you’d like for your poetry collection, you can set up the margins for it in a Word document: go to the Page Layout tab in Word – Margins – Custom Margins.

But, how exactly do you know what margins to set for a specific book size? The outer, inner, top, and bottom margins may differ yet together give the essential framework for your poems.

You may search the internet for standard poetry book margins (typically .75″ to 1″) and hope for the best, but you’ll likely discover conflicting information (as I did).

Or, you may go straight to the source of book layouts, that’s right, contact a book designer. Again, you’d be wise to research first. Yes, hit the internet, check reviews, and go on recommendations.

A book designer can create a cover design for your book and arrange the formatting and interior layout for your print book and/or ebook, and give your book/s the look and feel you’re seeking.

I used Damonza (books made awesome) for my books When Eve Walked and Where The Light Lives (paperbacks and ebooks) which was recommended to me by self-publishing guru Joel Friedlander.

How to organise a poetry collection manuscript collage

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Once you’ve found a book designer, you can email them and ask for the exact margins they use. They should be happy to assist you. If not, look for another book designer who is!

Note, if you’d like your poems set further in on a page than is their standard or in unique patterns, etc. (like I did), speak to your book designer first (which I didn’t think to do!) and they’ll advise you.

While you’re at it, you may even like to ask about the placement of poetry titles, font type and size, and the space width between the poem heading and the start of a poem.

If you’re able to work this out early, it will save you and the book designer headaches, later. Then you can go about formatting your Word document accordingly.

If you don’t at least have the correct margins, you’ll have extra work to do later when the book designer changes the framework of your manuscript.

Your poems will then shift around like tectonic plates, causing “earthquakes” to occur, upsetting the arrangement of entire poems and pages! Yes, it’s really that scary! (I’ve been there!)

Helpful tips

  • Before you decide on the look of your book, buy or borrow three popular poetry books. Search the internet for poetry bestsellers from the last couple of years.
  • Hold them in your hands. How do they feel? Their weight. Size. Quality. Open them up and see how they’ve been formatted. The books will likely have different interiors.
  • What do you notice about the layout? Do poems present well? Look at the pages: margins, white space, text alignment, line breaks, spacing, fonts. Are there any outstanding features?
  • What do you like? What don’t you like? Then, emulate those elements you do like in your own bookmaking. Take photos of what you like so you can show your book designer.

woman typing on a vintage typewriter

3. Type up your poems

Phew! Now that you’ve worked the margins out, have fun typing up your poems. A poetry collection doesn’t happen in a hurry. Relax. Get into it. Enjoy being immersed in your creative vibes.

At this point, don’t be overly concerned by the order your poems appear in the manuscript; that’s for later. Simply, rid yourself of distractions and feel your poems moving through your fingertips.

Note, do make sure each poem starts on a new page and number all the pages. Give your poems a title. Poem titles are typically capitalised (… but not always).

If you haven’t looked over your poems for a while, pay attention to what crops up along the way as you type. Perhaps, there are words you’d like to change or delete, and that’s completely OK.

In fact, it’s part of the bookmaking process to keep refining your manuscript until you’re completely satisfied with it. However, again, it’s best to leave anything but minor edits for after the first draft.

Make your first draft as “original” as possible. Then you’ll have a true starting point. Be sure to save the drafts of your manuscript. It’s satisfying to have a record of progress made.

poetry manuscript spread out across floor

Ordering the poems of your poetry collection

Congratulations! You have a poetry collection manuscript – a first draft. Perhaps, you’ve even thought up a title for your collection. Attach a cover page to your manuscript to make it feel real.

I’ve purposely left the ordering of poems for after formatting and typing the first draft of the manuscript because it gives you time to settle in and feel the rhythm of your collection.

There are many ways to order a poetry collection manuscript, it really is up to you. This is the beauty of self-publishing. Freedom. But it also means the harder choices are all yours to make too.

Pause to consider your and the reader’s journeys, and how they intersect. What story about you, the poet, is being conveyed via the collection? What experience do you want your reader to have?

Ordering a poetry collection is intuitive look and feel for interconnections. Like a symphony, its harmony and beauty is created through patterns, its power by ebbs and flows. I cannot tell you just how much this will inspire your reader’s journey!

  • Find patterns
  • Get perspective
  • Give it time

woman reading poetry book

4. Find patterns

Ordering a poetry collection is about finding a pattern; rhythm; thread, or multiples of these, that unites your poems and which the reader will be guided by when journeying your book.

You may simply like to choose a particular number of poems for your collection and present the poems in chronological order. The pattern, therefore, may be time.

Or, is your poetry collection a story of sorts with a beginning, middle, and end? A common viewpoint or common character/s dotted throughout.

Is there a common theme or feature of your poems? Or multiple complimentary themes. Can the poems be separated into parts and do those parts share threads?

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Poems may be arranged in universal themes: joy, death, family, suffering, love, and birth, etc. Or sequences of time: night and day; seasons; before and after; past, present, and future.

Or stages of life; events; cycles; elements of nature; colours; etc. Look for common and contrasting features that exist between poems that may highlight one or the other.

You can group similar poems together or split them up with contrasting poems, or have poems mirroring minor elements of neighbouring poems.

Your poetry collection is best ordered in a way that supports your reader through rises and falls, offering inspiration and relief. Note, begin and end with shorter poems (no longer than a page).

a book in the sky

5. Get perspective

Once you’ve finished typing up your poems, print the pages of your manuscript and hold it. Woo-hoo! All that piled paper looks awesome (sorry, paperless people).

Flick through your manuscript and begin arranging the poems in an order of your liking. At this point, don’t overthink it; go with your feels. Then spread the pages out in order across the floor.

This bird’s eye view will afford you greater clarity. You’ll see your poetry collection in its entirety and in a new way. You’ll see patterns emerging – something like the artistry of a patchwork quilt.

Think of the poems as music notes. Poetry is rhythm, and rhythm evokes emotion. Where you put a poem in the scheme of things will affect the melody you create; the vibe of your collection.

You’ll get a sense of when poems don’t sit well together. Either your eye will flow or stick. It’s a visual and feeling thing. Move the poems about until you’re happy with the arrangement.

Type up the preferred order – make a list of poem headings (save and print). Use this as a reference when changing your Word document: copy and paste the poems in the new order; save as draft 2. 

manuscript

6. Give it time to evolve

Ordering your collection will take a while. I can’t tell you how many times I rearranged the order of poems for When Eve Walked. Too many. Be flexible and expect changes along the way.

Also, be brave about culling poems. Not all the poems you’ve ever written need to be in the one collection. But, sometimes you need to see a poem there to know it doesn’t really belong.

Though a poem may have been written in the past, it evolves and comes to life, sometimes with a different meaning, in the present. Your collection is in many ways more about now than then.

You, poet and bookmaker, need time to process all of that. So don’t be in a hurry to work it all out in a day. Sit with it. Sleep with it. Make bread with it. You’ll be amazed by what comes to mind.

When you’re finally satisfied with the order of the poems within your collection, set your manuscript aside for yet another day. Come back to it refreshed. Then, sift through it again.

Do you have the feeling to change anything? If nothing pokes at you, well, you’ve arrived! Rejoice. It’s editing time. Perhaps, the most challenging yet necessary part of the bookmaking process.

Linda Cull is an artist, author, and founder of Wilara Press®. Her blog Spirit my way® covers spirituality, inspired creativity, and transformative experiences. Learn more

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