Full-length or chapbook first?

A poet friend of mine, who also has a full-length poetry manuscript done and is now working on a new project, asked me the other day to help her decide on a title for a chapbook. She told me she’s been sending out her full-length for a while now and nothing’s been hitting, so she decided to try to send out a group of her most recent poems to some chapbook contests instead. This got me thinking about doing the same thing.


-Many chapbook contests offer publication to the winner and several of the finalists (though no cash purse to the finalists), which means you are actually looking at a better shot of seeing your work in print.

-Even if you get your work published in a chapbook first, you can still submit to the First Book full-length manuscript contests and use those same poems (as long as you acknowledge where they first appeared). (If this is wrong, please tell me. I can’t find any contests that don’t allow poems to be included if they’d been included in a chapbook previously.)

-You can get your name out there and have something to sell at readings while you’re still shopping around your full-length manuscript.


-To get an academic job, you need at least one full-length poetry book published. Often, you need two.

-Chapbook contest entry fees are usually the same as for full-length book contests. Sometimes they’re cheaper, but not by much.

-It’s a lot of work to put a book together, even if it’s just 16-35 pages.


Do you guys have any thoughts about this? I’d love to hear them!

4 thoughts on “Full-length or chapbook first?

  1. I have a few chapbooks out, and I they were most definitely worth doing, and here’s my reasons (in list format!)

    1) experience editing and gathering a collection (it helped me start to think of my work as a whole and not as individual poems)
    2) brought to light any repetitions (in style or subject matter) that i have in my work, which gave me ideas as to where i wanted to go from there / things i did not want to repeat again
    3) it was great to have something to sell at readings or to give people if they ask to read some of my work

    BUT i will say that this was before I had enough poems for a full-length; now that I do have a full-length, I focus on that and not on chapbooks. I think if I go a few years of sending out my full-length with no success, I’ll probably try to put together a new chapbook.

    I also did not go the contest route with my chapbooks though–no money for it really–so I submitted to places that read for free. I’ve got a list of those here, if you are interested: http://hyacinthsbiscuits.blogspot.com/2012/10/chapbook-presses-that-read-for-free.html

    1. Thank you! This was really helpful! After some research and talking it out, I think I’m going to focus on the full-length for now and see what happens. If it doesn’t pan out, it might make sense to try to shape a chapbook from it and go from there.

  2. Writing poetry for me is the best thing that has ever happened to me, but how do one feel when most traditional publishers reject one’s work.

    Nevertheless, i’ve resolved to get my first book published on my own. I guess it will be a full length or I might just make it a chapbook lol, whichever the case maybe.

    1. I hear ya! Sometimes there is a legit reason why books are rejected. At least in my case, several versions haven’t been “done” when I’ve gone over them again after they got rejected. It takes time and distance for me to figure that out too. My book is out now, and I have no idea if this is really “it,” or if I’ll need to edit it again. It’s always a journey!

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