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How To Format Your Poetry Collection

How To Format Your Poetry Collection

Many poets dream of one day publishing a full collection of poetry, whether it’s a traditionally published best seller or a self-published manuscript shared with family and friends. But before you try to get your poetry book published, there are some important first steps you’ll need to take.

Whether you’re submitting your poetry collection or preparing to self-publish, here are some essential elements your poetry manuscript should have. As always, when there’s a question of proper formatting, follow the specific guidelines of the publisher or company in question.

Title Page

Title: You might have a title in mind for your poetry collection before you even start compiling poems, or you might want to lay out your content and choose a title based on the poems you’ve included. Either method is fine, as long as you decide on your title before you approach a publisher.

Author Name: This might seem obvious, but if you’ve ever used a pen name when publishing individual poems, keep in mind that potential buyers are more likely to purchase your book if they recognize the name of the author.

Copyright Page

Check With Your Publisher: If you are submitting your poetry collection to a contest or publisher, you probably don’t need to worry about copyright. If you are working with a traditional publisher, the publisher will most likely take care of copyright registration for you.

But if you’re self-publishing, this can be a tricky issue. Some self-publishing companies specify that they cannot be named the publisher in the manuscript. If you use your own ISBN (see more on that below), you’ll actually be the publisher. If you use the self-publishing company’s free or discounted ISBN, that company’s publishing imprint will be the publisher of record.

Publication Date: If you’re self-publishing, include the month and year that you publish your book. You won’t know this at the onset of your journey, of course, but remember to update before publishing.

ISBN: The ISBN is an important tracking number that identifies your published book. If you self-publish, we strongly recommend purchasing your own ISBN from Bowker (the only direct source for ISBNs), rather than accepting a free or discounted ISBN from the company producing your book. Check out the Bowker website to read more about this issue and decide what’s right for you.

NOTE: If you’re submitting for consideration at a traditional press, you don’t need to reserve your ISBN in advance.


Saying Thanks: Whom do you want to thank for the part they played in your journey? You’ll want these acknowledgments to be well-written and not leave anyone out, so be sure to give this a lot of thought. That being said, this page isn’t mandatory, so you can skip this step if you choose.

Submit to Review Board

Important Note: Remember to credit the literary journal that first published each poem, if applicable. Create a page of credits at the beginning of the book, outlining where each poem was first published.

Table Of Contents

Arranging your table of contents might seem like a quick step, but we encourage you to think carefully about this “big picture” view of your manuscript. It’s much easier to move things around in your word processing program than it is to swap poems from one page to another once you’re further along in the publishing process.

The order in which your poems are read is an important part of the overall experience. Be sure to consider how readers will react to the presentation. Do you want people to move through a steady emotional progression, or experience constantly shifting moods? If each of your poems tells part of a larger story, they should be in the proper sequence. Or, if you have several related poems, you might want to group your poems into sections by topic. The more you experiment, the more you’ll see your vision come to life.

About The Author

Tell your readers a little about yourself, and include a professional photo if you like. This bit of information (usually a short paragraph) can be modified from your cover letter bio.

To see formatting examples, check out one of your favorite poetry books at home. Or you can browse some of your favorite titles on Amazon.com and use the “Look Inside” feature to see the title page, copyright page, and table of contents.

Be careful, do your homework, and be sure to review your final poetry collection many times. Then, ask others to review it for a second opinion. And don’t forget to enjoy the process—you’re publishing a book!

Photo by Erin M

Writer QuestionsQUESTION: What issues have you encountered while preparing a manuscript for publication?

11 Responses to How To Format Your Poetry Collection

  1. Thank you for sharing this valuable insight into publishing poems. I shall try to remember the guidelines given when I finally decide to publish my book.

  2. I finally decided to go ahead and publish my first book at age 70 of 168 poems. I did not have an index so I just had the poems in alphabetical order in the table of contents. That way they will be easy to find.

    Editing is a very hard process and it took many times to get it right. It was well worth the effort. I had to choose which one to include and check and re -check spelling, words and sounds. I had to read all the poems out loud to friends again and again.

    Writing my poems was easy, the hard part is editing a large group of them. Next book I will make sure to be more careful and edit as I go along.

  3. Donna Thompson don’t give up! If you love writing and you have something to say people need to hear it your poetry could mean the world to someone ! You’re important and your thoughts are important!!

  4. That’s good, thank you for this eye opening information. Am about to publish my first book which is poetic in form, but I was wanting to publish it without table of contents, but now will confidently include it. Thanks a lot.

  5. I have a collection of over 400 poems written by my late mother from the 1950’s to 2013. I have been pulling my hair out trying to figure out how to put together a book or manuscript of her poems to have published so this article was indeed helpful although of course, I still have many questions!

  6. Very informative indeed. I’m glad to see that someone is taking time out to blog about poetry. I’m hoping to come across a blog that speaks about creative ways making them more appealing to others to gain interests online. Poetry is very important and will always be. Great blog.

  7. Interesting and helpful article. I have been trying to decide how to set my poems into a book so this was a very timely article.

  8. PageMaker is a pro-level desktop publication program I learned to use in college while I was getting my degree in Technical Communication, and in my first job out of college and production coordinator of a local newspaper. I thought I’d save time and have greater control by doing the pre-press myself, only to discover publishers EXPECT authors to be neophytes about layout and pre-press and want things in word processor formats developed for SOHO typists.

    So my comment is NOT and example of “amateur layout leads to heartache.”

  9. Self-publishing authors would be well-served by doing what they do best—writing. Hire an editor after writing, and get a designer to lay out the book. DIY is overrated and time-consuming unless you’re formally trained and experienced. Amateur layout leads to heartache and stress almost every single time, as evidenced by Wendy’s comment above.

  10. My issue is that I laid my book out in PageMaker, which Adobe had phased out in favor of their home-grown (they bought PageMaker from Aldus) publisher, InDesign, which I can’t afford. And while PageMaker does have a .pdf converter, whenever I try to convert my chapbook, it not only crashed the program, but irretrievably corrupts the file I’m trying to convert! And the word processors and MS publisher are so awkward about inserting and editing graphics I end up tearing my hair out over it, and going on to some other project.

  11. Thank you for an informative article, one which is beneficial to a writer of poetry.

    The issues I’ve encountered are lack-of-knowledge and quitting because of that.

    Writing is my passion but the written field is to difficult to achieve the expectations. I only know how to write not how to fulfill expectations. I cannot follow the written field any longer, I can only continue on sharing tidbits of wisdom that intuitively reigns in me.

    Writing in it self is fun and rewarding when someone benefits from your words. But, without readers the writer is nothing.

    I likely won’t ever put my book out titled The Compilations of Foresta Gump. Because it’s just to hard.

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