27 February 2013

“the trouble with titles”: coming up with a title for your chapbook

The Our Lost Jungle Chapbook Challenge: "Titles"
We’re almost done with this challenge, folks, and what a journey it’s been! So far this month we’ve gotten a great deal of work organized and sorted, selected a theme(s) for our chapbooks, organized those contents, and began some of the work of formatting our work. There’s one thing we have not yet discussed, however … and that is the topic of titling our chapbooks!

Coming up with a title for any collection of work is never an easy task. There are so many things to consider, and for many of us, as writers, the task can prove even more difficult than trying to create the chapbook in the first place! Just as there is a great deal of importance placed on the first pages of a chapbook, we also know that those aren’t the first things any potential reader will see of our collection. Beyond the stress of finding the perfect cover art (which is not a part of this challenge … covers come later in the process for our purposes), we must face the challenge of generating the perfect title to captivate and intrigue our readers.

Fortunately there are many options for selecting your title. We’ll review just a few of them, but rest assured, there are many, many more!

title from within

If you are working in prose, read through an editing draft of your work and, with a pencil, pen, or highlighter, start marking lines or phrases that stand out to you. It’s okay to be a little “vain” here: be honest with lines, sentences, or phrases you’ve written that you really love. If you don’t trust yourself, have a friend, fellow writer, or beta reader work their way through your work and do the same. Once you have a list of phrases gathered, start working through it and see if you can’t discover within it the perfect (or, at the very least, close to “perfect”) title for your chapbook.

title from a title

Many authors will select a title by “borrowing” it from a title of a piece in the collection. Skim through your collection and see if a title of a piece doesn’t stand out as one that adequately summarizes what your chapbook is “all about,” so to speak. Or, take the title of a piece that you simply like, a well-known piece, or a piece that you know is popular among other readers. In regards to the last suggestion, ask friends or writing- or artist-colleagues you trust if any of your titles stand out as particularly strong or intriguing. Or, round up some beta readers and get their opinions! Remember, you are looking to captivate readers … so having the feedback of some beta readers may be very helpful!

title from without

Think about the theme of your chapbook collection. Do a search for quotes related to that theme, and see if any phrases stand out to you. I promise, you won’t be the first author to use a phrase either from a quote or borrowing from a popular “catchphrase,” slogan, quote, or saying. Of course, if you borrow a title from someone else, you will want to make sure to give credit to the source.

title from the blue

Welcome back to the realm of fairy tale. Just as “Bippity, boppity, boo” is a made-up phrase that gained its magical appeal through the imagination of whoever created it (and the imaginations of those who fell in love with it), your imagination is a wealth of possible titles. Read through your chapbook a few times and let your theme, topics, and ideas really sink it. If anything pops into your head as you read, write it down. If you’re taking a stroll in the country or through downtown or to the mailbox and something comes to you, rush your way to some paper and write it down. If you’re dreaming and a phrase comes to you, wake yourself up and write it down!

However you choose your title, just keep in mind that, for now, it’s a changeable thing. An editor who loves your work will (hopefully) be willing to work with you to “improve” the title if it needs it. If you have three titles in mind you can, as you submit, play with those three and use them for different contests, publishers, and so forth.

Your task for the rest of this week is to think about your title. Come up with a few ideas, but don’t feel the need to “settle.” On Friday, we’ll discuss “what comes next” in this challenge, and you’ll want to have at least an idea of what your title might be by then … but nothing is final yet! Have fun with it, and feel free to share your title-generation-method in the comments below!


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Join in the Our Lost Jungle Chapbook ("CB") Challenge!

25 February 2013

the nitty-gritty: formatting your chapbook

The Our Lost Jungle Chapbook Challenge: Formatting
Okay, folks … This is what some of you have been waiting for. The formatting. The dirty work. The “Stop with the fairy tale jargon and tell me what to do!” point of our challenge. Get ready for it, ‘cause here it is.

Here’s how this post is going to go down. I’m going to start with some basic general formatting tips. Then we’ll move on to some specific formatting tips across three primary genres: poetry, prose, and photography.

So get your heavy-duty work gloves on, folks, and let’s get started!

general manuscript tips

If you are working with text, now is the time to type all your work into a single word processing document. If you want to play it old school, a typewriter gives you a little more control over the generic formatting choices (i.e. indentations, line breaks, etc.). However, a computer gives you more control over things like font choices, special formatting (italics, font sizes, color, etc.). If, on the other hand, you are working with art, now is the time to scan your work into a word processing document and save your work to a disc. Some publishers or competition runners will want your art in both formats, so saving it that way now saves you from having to backtrack later!

Consistency is key. When it comes to titling your works, make sure you maintain the same format, whether your preference is to put titles in all caps or to italicize a photograph’s title as a caption under the art. Spacing should also be consistent. Typically for prose it’s going to be between 1.5 and double-spaced lines. Artists, don’t think you’re off the hook with spacing! You might want your art’s title directly above or below a piece, or a few spaces above or below a piece … no matter what, maintain consistency.

Pages should be numbered. Here you’ll want to pay close attention to what the various publishers or contest runners you’re considering sending your work to are asking for. In general, your page numbers will appear in either the center of the footer of your page or with odd numbers on right-hand pages (known as recto pages) and even numbers on left-hand pages (known as verso pages). This also means you’ll be creating a Table of Contents. If you are not technologically savvy (you don’t have to be too savvy to be able to create and format a TOC, but it can be a pain in the keester), check out this guide from Microsoft Office on how to create it with Word tools or manually.

Print on one side of the page. This is something some folks would argue against. We are, after all, in something of a “go green era.” But in the world of publishing … trees are sacrificial lambs. And when it comes to submitting your work, you don’t want to be that submitter who irritates a publisher with improperly formatted work. If you want to save paper, consider submitting primarily to contests or publishers who accept electronic submissions.

for poets …

Print no more than one poem per page. Again, plant a tree later for good karma with Mother Earth, but for now … you’ll have to sacrifice. The exception may be if you’re working with short poem forms like haiku, in which case publishers will generally allow multiple poems per page. (There’s also an understanding that with short-form poems the book format may be different; i.e. pocket-sized layouts rather than a more traditional 5x7” book size.)

Include a list at the end of your manuscript acknowledging anywhere any of your poems have previously appeared in print. By this I mean other journals or publications … you don’t have to acknowledge every poem you ever published on your blog. However, you will want to check with the potential publisher to make sure they’re okay with poems that previously appeared on a personal website.

Avoid too much special formatting. A lot of poetry publishers prefer work that is easily formatted, especially if they have a particular style they like to print in or a special program they use (i.e. your computer may have no problem formatting your shape poems, but a program like InDesign or other publishing programs tend to dislike that much special formatting).

Be sure to include acknowledgements of found poems, quotes, borrowed lines, and poems written “in the style of” another author. Some publishers may want these acknowledgements listed at the end of the manuscript along with “previous publication” credits; others may want you to include them directly following the poem (for example, a few lines down on the page after the last line of the poem) or on the line after the title of the poem.

for prose …

Some of that consistency we spoke about earlier comes into play when it comes to formatting your paragraphs. We’re all used to indenting the first line of a new paragraph. However, you’ll want to check for any paragraph preferences of a publisher. Some, for instance, prefer extra spacing between paragraphs rather than indentation. Some prefer .25” indentations (basically, what you get if you hit the space bar five times) to the typical .5” “tabbed” indentation.

Avoid special fonts. If you’re like me, you may enjoy playing with fonts in a manuscript: I love to give different characters different font styles to match their personality or even mimic their “handwriting.” When it comes to publishing, however, the more fonts you use the harder it could be to get your work published, for a number of reasons. The publisher may not have access to the same fonts. The fonts maybe free to use, but have restrictions on commercial use (which would mean an expense for your publisher if they tried to maintain your work). If you’re sending work electronically, special fonts may not transfer properly leading to errors or inadvertently improper formatting.

Be aware of font size and spacing. Your manuscript should be printed in a readably sized readable font. Basically, avoid using anything smaller than 11pt font (generally, you’ll want to stick with 12pt). Try to stay within the “Serif” family of fonts: Garamond, Times New Roman, Georgia, Bodini, Century, and Courier are among the most commonly used. The typically-considered-“safe” fonts are Arial, Calibri, Cambria, Garamond, and Times New Roman.

for photography and art …

The good news is there’s a bit more freedom when it comes to formatting an art manuscript. The major cautions for you are:

Avoid full-page art with “masked” fonts. In other words, if you have a full-page piece of art, make sure the title of the piece is still readable.

When sending artwork, make sure you have high-resolution versions to submit. If you are sending hard copies of your work, print your pieces with the best settings your printer offers. If you are submitting electronic versions, make sure you have saved your art in a high-resolution format. It may take longer to download, but it will also ensure that, when printed, your art maintains its best appearance.

Use thicker paper. With text submissions, writers will generally use a standard weight printer paper (something like 20 lb paper). With artwork, however, a standard weight may be too thin, leading to ink bleeds, page curling, discoloration, et cetera.

Your Task

Your task for today is to format your chapbook. There’s really not much too it, despite the information presented above. I recommend that as you format you not only use this as a guide, but also take a careful look at the guidelines for some of the places you think you might (now or eventually) submit your work to, and see what they ask for in terms of manuscript formatting. The big things to remember are to include:
  • A title page, including your name and contact information
  • A title page excluding your name and contact information (for blind submissions)
  • A dedications page (typically optional)
  • A Table of Contents
  • A properly formatted manuscript body that is CLEAN (no smudges, stains, or white out!)
  • A list of acknowledgements (if requested)
See the links below for some more helpful resources! Have fun, and good luck!


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Check out these helpful manuscript-formatting resources and guides!

23 February 2013

weave your robes: considering the middle of your chapbook

The Our Lost Jungle Chapbook Challenge: The Robes
Thank you all for your patience with the delay in getting this task up. Those following on Facebook know that I haven't been feeling well, which hampered my ability to post when I meant to.

Today's task is the FINAL task looking at the organization of your chapbook before we begin, in the final week of February, to format and finish the work we've done thus far! This is also the last time we'll be looking closely at a chapbook ... but in a different way than usual. Let's get started!

the task

Today's, and this weekend's, task is for you to consider the mid-section of your chapbook, and consider how it serves as the "robes" to your chapbook's "royal garbs." So far we've discussed the importance of your "crown" (the beginning of your chapbook) and your "slippers" (the end). Of the three, the crown/first piece is probably the most important, because it is your reader's introduction to the rest of your body of work, and can capture or lose your readers in an instant! I would argue that the slipper/final piece is the third most important; once your readers get there, they are happier to follow you to the end. The robes/middle section of your chapbook, then, are of second-most importance, but also have the luxury of having much more flexibility in how you work to carry your reader through the remainder of your chapbook!

the robes

If you think about the familiar representations of royals, both in reality and fairy tales, we can really draw the distinct purpose of the three sections of a chapbook from the significance of royal wardrobe. The crown on a royal shows that he or she is ready to lead: it is a coronation piece, a piece that shows authority, and a signifier of importance and preparedness. Similarly, the first piece in a chapbook shows that you are ready to lead your reader into your work. It suggests order, in that you have considered how and why this particular piece serves as the opening number. The slipper, on the other hand, serves as a finishing touch on royal garments. In a fairy tale, when the damsel slips her foot into the silver or glass slipper, we know the end is near and that we will be satisfied. In your chapbook, the final piece similarly signifies that the end has come, and that it has come in a satisfying manner.

In fairy tales, the robes can take on several distinctive looks, feels, and purposes, but all are significant. In chapbooks, the middle section can be everything between the first and final piece, written and structured as a direct (or even indirect) route from "Once upon a time" to "happily ever after." For some, depending on how you've been organizing your chapbooks, the "middle section" you're concerned with may be a cummerbund. Let's look at how the middle can function in a few distinct purposes, with the understanding that there are more that could be, but aren't, discussed (for the sake of giving you freedom to understand the middle of your chapbook as your creative mind desires)!

ceremonial dress

Ceremonial dress robes are the most formal. With ceremonial dress, each accessory, cloth, piece, and so forth (even sometimes down to color) serves a distinct and defined purpose. For a chapbook, if you organize your middle section "ceremonially," each piece would serve a distinct purpose, making for a very strict and easily defined progression from beginning to end.

formal wear

In Western civilization, formal wear is what we are more accustomed to. Formal wear comes with particular "dress codes" that are still flexible, simply because there are different styles and functions to which they must become suited. For example, formal wear covers ceremonies and weddings, but also dances and parties. Prom garbs are considered formal wear "with flare": it must look appropriate, but also leave room for a spirited dance. For a chapbook, a "formal wear" organization means that you have a particular path in mind from the beginning to the end of your collection but you leave room for surprises. To use poetry as an example, it may mean using primarily free verse and surprising your reader with a form piece (a sonnet or villanelle or haiku, etc.) on occasion. In photography, you might have an entirely black and white collection onto to surprise your reader with occasional color pieces, or black and white pieces with a solitary color included.

the spider-spun silk robes

In fairy tales, there's often something magical, mystical, or otherwise alluring about the robes of the hero or heroine. They are spun from the silk of spiders. They have magical properties. They are dropped from trees by birds. Often folks might say there's a "lack of logic" in them, despite the fact that the magic is their logic: they leave room for surprise and wonder, and inevitably lead to the possibility of the happy ending. For your chapbook your middle section may be driven simply by your desire to express your artistic power and creativity. It will, inevitably, lead us from beginning to end, but with much more room for play, surprise, and wonder.

a hint: the cummerbund 

One hint for many of you is to consider "grounding" your chapbook with a centerpiece. In semi-formal wear, a cummerbund is used to provide a transition between the beginning (the shirt) and the end (the bottoms). In a chapbook, a piece located in the middle may serve as a type of bridge transitioning us from the work done at the beginning and the work that will bring us to the end. This will look different for many of you, if you even choose to do it. However, the point is that a distinct central piece may be helpful if there is a distinct shift in feel, theme, or approach that comes between your beginning and end; consider using a "cummerbund" piece to hold it together and avoid confusing (or losing) a reader with that shift!

a warning: the emperor's robes

One final warning for you when it comes to organizing your chapbook is to avoid weaving emperor's robes. We've focused so heavily on the beginning and end of a chapbook that I don't want to leave you with the impression that the middle doesn't matter. Remember that in the fairy tale the emperor wore his crown but was otherwise naked ... Don't let your chapbook inadvertently do the same thing to you! Carefully read over what's happening between the beginning and end, and maintain control over the look, feel, progression, and flow of your chapbook!

window shopping

We've already said that the task for this weekend is to consider how your middle-section functions in your chapbook. The secondary task is to not rely on your own abilities as a seamstress or tailor. Use this weekend to look at some of your favorite chapbooks or collections and consider how they have organized everything between the beginning and end of their works. Consider how you can play with what they've done and use it as a sort of template or pattern for what you hope to do with your work! As always, good luck, and have fun!

On Facebook there's a poll question asking about your favorite collection or chapbook; be sure to stop by and answer the question, and/or share your favorite collections in the comments below!


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20 February 2013

shine your slipper: choosing the piece to end your chapbook

The OLJ Chapbook Challenge: The Slipper
Today’s task is to select the final piece in your chapbook. Since we’ve been playing with our chapbooks for a while now, you might already have your structure down, and that’s great. Some of you, though, may be feeling a little panicky about how to bring your chapbook to a close. This post, hopefully, will help alleviate some of that stress. Keep in mind that while the final piece is important, it is not a “grand finale” … it is a “happily ever after.”

“happily ever after”

What’s the difference, you might be wondering, between a grand finale and a “happily ever after”? It’s not all that complicated, really. Basically, while you sought to almost “thrust” your reader into the emotions or emotional world of your chapbook in your first piece (a grand opening), you are looking to avoid introducing grand themes at the end. Cinderella begins with tragedy: her mother is dead, her father is semi-absent, her life is awful. You don’t want to get to the end of Cinderella and learn that, yes, she married Prince Charming, but he’s actually a philanderer. No, the end here is softer, more … conclusive. (Well, in most cases ... the Grimm version has a "less-than-soft" ending, but you get the gist.) You might be left with some questions (They just met; can they really be that much in love? What happens to the step-family now?), but they are somewhat easily-cast-aside questions.

The same thing goes for your chapbook. The ending is important, but in the same way as the end of a fairy tale is important. It tells the reader your “story” is over, but it does so in a “soft” way. All this is simply to say that while there’s a lot of pressure on picking the first piece of your chapbook, there’s less when it comes to the end. The first piece is the final fastball pitch of the World Series. The final piece is the gentle underhand toss at your kid’s Little League game. 

“the slipper”

When it came to the crown of your chapbook I cautioned you from trying to “gradually” introduce your reader to your skills as a writer. There was a sense of urgency and immediacy necessitated by the crown. When it comes to the slipper, you have already built the anticipation … Now it’s time to satisfy.

Think about almost any fairy tale you’ve ever read. A character’s plight is introduced immediately: there is a sense of urgency to the need for this character’s salvation. As the story proceeds, that tension builds and builds: Hansel is in the oven and Gretel must save him, or Cinderella is locked in a separate room while the stepsisters force their toes into her glass slipper. We all know what’s coming. We know the Prince will awaken Sleeping Beauty, or slay the dragon, or kill the witch. The emotions of a chapbook are the same as the emotional wave of a fairy tale: it builds, it crescendos, but then it must smooth out.

The final piece in your chapbook is your slipper. It’s the “happily ever after” to the narrative arc you’ve spun for your reader. It tells the reader that your journey is now complete. The good news is, there’s much less pressure here than there was at the beginning of your chapbook. Why? Because while the piece must still be good, if your reader has come this far they are more willing to accept—or forgive—how you choose to end. Still, you have a responsibility to your reader to bring them not only to an end, but to a satisfying end.

choosing your slipper

So how do you choose the slipper of your chapbook? By examining the chapbook we reviewed on Friday, you hopefully noted the three key elements I suggested the final piece in your chapbook must have: it must bring the chapbook’s narrative to a satisfying conclusion; invite further thought, discussion, or action; and bring about what, last week, we discussed as your chapbook’s “happily ever after” moment. Just as there are many ways to select the piece to start your chapbook, there are also several things to consider when it comes to selecting the piece you use to bring your chapbook to a satisfying end:

1. Theme: Just as with the first piece in your chapbook, the final piece needs to be one that exemplifies the overall theme. This time, however, you are looking for a piece that both exemplifies the theme and shows readers that the discussion of this theme is finished … for now.

2. Closing Chronology: If you have been telling a story with your chapbook, the first piece in your collection provided the “Once upon a time” opener to introduce your reader to that story. Your final piece, then, should be one that indicates, as we’ve discussed, the “happily ever after” for your reader: it should show the reader that this is where things, naturally and artfully, end.

3. A “Peace Piece”: A third option for the final piece in a chapbook is to make it what I call a peace piece. A peace piece is simply a poem or story or photograph that softens the reader’s return to the world outside of your collection. Read through your work and find the piece that makes you look at your world a little differently; if it does that for your reader as well, it’s a peace piece. Or, if the tone of your chapbook has thus far been somber, or kindled any other strong emotions, your final piece should be one that returns your reader to a literal state of peacefulness: the tissue to the tears you’ve induced, so to speak.

a word of caution

Just because there’s less pressure here, don’t go and get lazy on me now! Just throwing a piece on the end of your chapbook doesn’t work. It does require some thought, and should still be chosen carefully. Laziness at the end of a chapbook shows; readers can still get the sense that you didn’t give your collection much thought, even if the first sign of that sense is the last page.

As always, remember that the goal of this challenge is to have fun playing with chapbook creation. Work with several possible endings. See how different choices change things. Play, and have fun with the process … and remember, things can always be changed later!

Now go find your happily ever after!


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18 February 2013

pause: giving your chapbook room to breathe

Today's task (which, admittedly, took absurdly long to get posted) is extremely simple: Pause.

The OLJ Chapbook Challenge: "Pause"
That's right ... we're taking another break from our chapbooks. But the reason is a little different this time around. Earlier this month (just last week, actually) we slept on our chapbooks to allow our emotions to mellow and allow ourselves to switch hats from writers to editors of our work. This week, however, we're taking a break because we've been doing some serious work with our writing (or art) and ... wait for it ... we deserve a break.

Let me rephrase that. You deserve a break. Yes, you. You, who have been sitting in front of piles and piles of your work for two weeks now. You who have been gazing intently at your computer screens trying to figure out which piece belongs where and why these words no longer sound right or how you missed the bad coloring in that corner of your photograph. You who are ready to pull your hair out. You who ran out of coffee. Whoever you are, hear this, and accept it: You. Deserve. A. Break!

This task isn't without some writerly advice, however. We're not simply casting our writing aside. This time around, our break-task comes with a few mini-tasks in between. They are to:

1. Go for a walk. Reconnect with nature, even if nature is that tree in a cast iron fence in the middle of downtown.

2. Watch a movie. Pull out an old favorite, or go see something new. I'd recommend Rio Bravo, but that's just because I'm going through a really weird phase right now ...

3. Sing a song. Karaoke it out. And, hey, I've even got some Karaoke for Writers for you!

4. Take a long bath or shower and pretend you're at a beach or in a rainforest. Seriously. See what happens.

Why are these the mini tasks for this week? Because part of putting together a chapbook needs to be giving yourself time to be fun or silly or otherwise not chapbooking. Your task is not only to take a little break, but also to have fun. When we come back on Wednesday, we'll be looking at selecting the final piece for your chapbook; on Friday we'll be switching things up a bit (you'll see how when we get there ... I promise it's nothing too extreme)!

Until then ... Have fun! 

Be sure to leave a comment with what you did for fun outside of chapbooking between now and Wednesday!


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15 February 2013

“eye on the prize”: a closer look at … christopher deweese’s “maneuvers”

Maneuvers by Christopher DeWeese
(Blue Hour Press, 2012)
This week’s “Eye on the Prize” feature takes a close look at the “slippers” of a chapbook—that is, a chapbook’s closing piece. We will take a look at the closing poem in Maneuvers, a 36-page chapbook by Christopher DeWeese, and how that poem works as a finale. From here on out posts will get a little shorter as the focus turns to keeping our eyes on our own work.


Before we focus in on the last poem in DeWeese’s chapbook, let’s look at the story—the narrative thread—that drives this particular collection. The summary of Maneuvers (retrieved from Goodreads) shares this regarding what this collection is about:
Reading like a dead war correspondent’s gonzo journalism, the poems of Christopher DeWeese’s Maneuvers relay every uncanny detail of the wasted landscape, and acknowledge that absurdity becomes the only appropriate response to carnage. Each poem, the collected debris of rallies and bomb runs and campsites, give purpose to the poet that claims: ‘Inside me, there is all this dust I want to have a reason for.’
From the very first poem the reader is inserted into a war-plagued and war-reminiscent world. We read from the perspective and memory of a soldier, of soldiers, of men remembering other lost souls, etc. We are pretty much pushed into this world … The first poem begins, “I have no war to talk myself into,” and proceeds to carry us forward into DeWeese’s poetic world of war from that point on. We begin in medias res … in the midst of whatever war has been waged, is waging, will be waged.

“the deserters”

The final poem in DeWeese’s chapbook is titled “The Deserters.” We could spend as much time analyzing the significance of that title choice for a chapbook of war’s ending as we could analyzing the poem itself. But what strikes me as particularly significant is the abrupt end it suggests. Just as we are placed into this poetic world in the midst of things, DeWeese smartly chooses to extract us from the world with just as much abruptness. No peace is declared. No white flags are waved or memorials held. Instead, suddenly, we are simply “done” with it.

If you look at the language, though, things aren’t quite as clean cut as being “done.” We began the chapbook with ghosts, and though the speaker of this closing poem may be a “deserter,” or speaking to “the deserters,” those ghosts still linger. We’re left with a sense that the poem may end, but not the war … not the haunting … not the memories of either.

the slippers

Next week we’ll look at how the final piece in a chapbook is just as—if not, in some ways, more—significant than the piece that begins a chapbook. For now, remember that the last piece in your chapbook is the “slipper.” It is the piece that

1. brings the chapbook’s narrative to a satisfying conclusion;
2. invites further thought, discussion, or action; and
3. brings about the chapbook’s “happily ever after” moment

If you’ve noticed, we’ve been working with something of a fairy tale theme here. One thing I must point out is that a “happily ever after” moment in a chapbook isn’t always going to be as pretty as Cinderella’s slipper getting slid onto her perfectly-sized foot. Sometimes that moment is more reminiscent of the original end of Cinderella: blinded and bloodied stepsisters. We’ll talk more about the distinct goals of a chapbook’s final piece next week.

For now, your mini task for the weekend is to start thinking about the piece you might use as your chapbook’s “slipper.” Read or browse through Maneuvers (available via a link below), and see how “The Deserters” works as a slipper-piece for DeWeese’s chapbook!

Have fun!


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Further Reading:

13 February 2013

cast your crown: choosing the piece to start your chapbook

The Our Lost Jungle Chapbook Challenge: The Crown
Today’s task is to select the first work for your chapbook. If you’ve been playing with your chapbook already, you may already have a good idea of which piece makes the best beginning. If you haven’t, this post will help you figure it out. In either case, let’s look at why the first piece in a chapbook (or any collection of work) is so important.

first impressions

Did you know that, when meeting face-to-face for the first time, you have a matter of seconds to make a good first impression? The number of seconds tends to vary between three (which is horrifying) to ten (which is slightly less, but still, horrifying) … but the fact remains that you don’t have long to impress.

The same goes for a collection of your work. Watch people in a book store. The ones who go in without really knowing what they’re looking for tend to have the same book-finding habits: read the back, then flip to the first page and start reading. You’ll notice many readers don’t make it any further than the first paragraph. That’s how long you have to make a lasting impression on your reader with your chapbook!

“the crown”

The first piece in your chapbook is your crown. It’s the piece that announces that you are the master of the work you’re presenting. It’s the piece that tells readers to respect the work to come. It sets the stage for what they, as your captive audience, should expect in the following pages.

Some writers go into the process of putting together a collection thinking they can gradually introduce their readers to the writer’s skill. The truth is that, as your crown, it’s important that the first piece is a strong piece. You don’t want to gradually impress … you want shock and awe. It’s like reading that first great line of a novel. The first line or sentence or image needs to be what I call a “Go on” selection. (Think of Moby Dick. “Call me Ishmael,” the narrative begins. If you’re anything like me, then you as the reader are saying, “Go on,” or, “Tell me more.”)

choosing your crown

The question is: How do you choose? If you looked at the chapbook we reviewed on Friday, you have three key elements that the first piece in your chapbook must have: it must set the stage, deliver the tone, and prepare your readers with a sense of expectancy. There are a few ways to choose the piece that does this, and a few things to look for in a piece you hope to use as the opening number:

1. Theme: What is the overall theme of your chapbook? Select the piece that best exemplifies, or introduces, this theme.

2. Chronology: What is the time landscape of your chapbook? Are you telling a story? In that case, there should be that “Once upon a time” quality to your first piece—a piece that tells the reader that this is where, how, and why everything gets started.

3. Repetitions: What phrases, images, colors, etc. get repeated the most in the pieces you’ve selected? Find a piece that contains a good selection of the repetitions that a reader can expect. (For example, as many of my poems deal with birds, flight, air, et cetera, I might choose my poem “On the Origin of Black Birds” as a collection opener.)

4. Publication: Maybe the piece you select as your opener is simply a piece that you know is well-liked … because it’s been previously published. Readers who know your work will remember it, and remember you, and be willing to follow you into the newness of what comes next.

a word of caution

As you get started with this task, beware the tendency to put pieces that are too similar too close together. This risks fostering a sense of boredom in your readers. When selecting the first poem or story or photograph for your chapbook, you’re working your brain in a lot of different ways at once. You’re not only considering the question “Where do I start?” but also “Where will I go next?” For some, two pieces that are similar may be what’s necessary to initiate readers into the world you’re creating. For the most part, though, you want to keep up that sense of anticipation … and if too many pieces are too similar right at the beginning, you lose that sense, and potentially you lose those readers.

No pressure, right?

Despite how “Do or die” all this might sound, remember that the big goal of this challenge is to have fun getting your work together. The product you end this month with may be a “final” or “finished” product … or it might not be. Either is okay! For now, just have fun with the process and remember that things can always change.

Now go on out there and play.


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11 February 2013

“sleepover!”: why you should sleep on your chapbook collection

The Our Lost Jungle CB Challenge: "Sleep On It"
Over the weekend, your Chapbook Challenge task was to check out No Silence in the Fields, a chapbook by Rachel Mennies, and consider some of the organizational choices you need to make for your chapbook. The weekend was also a chance to get caught up on the first two tasks: getting your work organized, and selecting a theme stack and gathering 30 pages of material to use for your chapbook. Today, we’re going to jump right into the task at hand … and if you’ve missed any of the past three tasks, you’ll probably appreciate this one!

Today’s task is to have a “sleepover” with your chapbook’s 30 pages. Unlike a typical sleepover, which involves spending time with your guests, this task calls for you to … ignore. Set aside. Sleep on it. Your task is simply to put your work away and not think about it for at least 24 hours.

There are three key reasons sleeping on a chapbook collection is an important step in what we’re doing during this challenge. Let’s briefly take a look at each!

feelings … whoa, whoa, whoa

Sleeping on your chapbook selection allows your initial feelings toward your work to simmer and marinate. When it comes to how you feel about your chapbook, you don’t want to be overly critical of your work. It’s easy to look at the pages you’ve gathered and start thinking that it’s all, to put it mildly, garbage. Sleeping on it gives you time to accept that the work you have is worth working with. You also don’t want to be overly protective of your work. Pieces you love are often harder to edit, revise, or place honestly. Sleeping on it gives you time to accept that the work you have isn’t perfect, and can still be played with.

shifting gears

Sleeping on your chapbook selection also allows you to “shift gears” when it comes to the role you’re playing with your work. It’s important to understand the difference between the work of the author and the editor of your work. As an author, it’s your job to write the work and lay the foundation for the complete work to come. As an editor, your goal is to build the framework for your chapbook and ensure that the foundation is structurally sound. And here’s the thing … You can’t wear both hats* at the same time. Don’t try to! By sleeping on your work, you allow yourself to more gradually change hats.

celebrate good times come on

Finally, sleeping on your chapbook selection allows some of the initial stress of starting a chapbook to wane. Give yourself at least a night off from the work of chapbook-ing. Furthermore, take that time to celebrate the work you’ve accomplished! You’ve taken a ton of work and weaned it down to 30 pages. You’ve sorted your work into manageable themes, topics, or potential collections. You’ve done a lot already! Sleeping on the chapbook grants you a little more room to revitalize yourself after this work, so that you can be eager—rather than anxious—to proceed!

the task

While you sleep on your chapbook, I’d encourage you to spend the time on relatively stress-free activities that will still inspire and energize you. Read through a few new chapbooks or collections in the genre you’re working in. Reread one of, or a few of, your favorite chapbooks. Go for walks, if that’s what inspires you. Or maybe you’re like me and the very act of not working on your writing makes you all the more eager to get back to it! The one goal of the next day or two is simply to give yourself a break from what you’ve done so far. Enjoy it, and enjoy the anticipation of getting started with the structural organization of your chapbook on Wednesday!

*Note: Thanks to S.E. Ingraham for catching a typo. Under "shifting gears," it should read "You can't wear both hats" ... not "hates."


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08 February 2013

“eye on the prize”: a closer look at … rachel mennies’ “no silence in the fields”

Beginning today, Friday posts for the Our Lost Jungle Chapbook Challenge will feature a look at the three critical sections of a chapbook, through the lenses of three unique chapbooks. We’ll look first at the “crown,” or the ever-important opening piece in a chapbook that prepares us for what to expect from the rest. Next week we’ll examine the “slippers,” and how a chapbook’s closing works to both keep the work as a whole together and bring the reader to a satisfying end. Finally, we’ll examine the “robes,” how a chapbook’s midway point can be just as important as its start and finish, and how that point can also represent the “glue” that holds the two halves of the chapbook together by representing both an end and a beginning.

(A note: the chapbooks we’ll be examining are by poets. This isn’t meant as a slight to any fiction or nonfiction writers, photographers, or artists also participating in this challenge. It’s simply that poetic chapbooks are both a bit more readily available. It’s also easier to look at a single poem than a story or essay, and for me easier to describe what’s happening in a poem than to detail a photograph or art piece for our purposes!)

No Silence in the Fields

No Silence in the Fields by Rachel Mennies (Blue Hour Press, 2012)
Rachel Mennies’ debut chapbook, No Silence in the Fields, was published in February 2012 by Blue Hour Press. As a whole, the collection tells a 36-page story of a couple that moves into a barn and, subsequently, falls apart. More broadly, the chapbook takes a beautiful and haunting look at the workings of the body, particularly the female body: beyond mere function, but also purpose, meaning, sense of self and other, etc.

In an interview with Hayden’s Ferry Review (see link below), Mennies describes her chapbook thusly:
The chapbook makes a narrative study of two characters as they move into a barn in rural Massachusetts and hope to have a child. “Barrenness” comes early in the collection, providing a chance for the female character to express the depths of her frustrations with her body. This was one of the earliest poems in the chapbook: one of the poems from which many others emerged, one where I realized this character had more to say.
There are two things I love about this description of her own work. First, I love how Mennies establishes, in simplified form, that this chapbook is telling a single story. There are many elements to this story, but it is a singular story. Second, I love how she hints at the purpose and play in developing a chapbook. Both in this interview and elsewhere she discusses how the chapbook came together, without her even realizing that a chapbook was what it would eventually become. If you’re sitting with your piles right now, or even if you keep going back to that one piece you know you want your chapbook to be born from, take heart in this! If you build it, the rest will come.

“The Barn”

The first poem in No Silence in the Fields is titled simply “The Barn.” Yet there is nothing simple about this poem. The piece does a great deal for the establishment of the chapbook as a whole:

Setting: This poem sets the stage for the landscape of the rest of the collection. Not only does it instantly establish that a barn is the literal setting; it also establishes bodies as the figurative and symbolic “setting” of what’s to come.

Tone: “The Barn” also establishes the tone of the chapbook. One thing you’ll notice if you page through No Silence is the threadbare layout. This poem establishes a landscape that is at once cold (the repetition of the question “Whose” suggests that we are entering a retrospect world, looking back on a story long over) and haunted by warmth. We begin with a “red shoebox,” paired with a “poisoned apple.” Mennies gives us a magical fairy tale landscape in the darkest sense: more of the darker side of those original tales than what we get from Disney. We are set on guard—we know that what’s to come may not end “happily ever after.”

Expectancy: One of the most important “gifts” from this poem is the sense of expectancy for what comes next in the collection. The repetition of “Whose” internally to the poem leaves us wondering, external to the narrative, whose story we will enter. We are met with juxtapositions that call us to question: there is at once a “mewing cat” and a “hissing wolf.”

The Crown

We will begin to look more at how the first piece in a chapbook is extremely important on Monday … but for now, let it suffice to say that the first piece is your “Crown.” It is the piece that sets the stage, delivers the tone, and prepares your reader with that sense of expectancy for what comes next. One thing you’ll find as you work through the process of creating your chapbook is that not every piece you include is on the same playing field. Some are higher, some are lower. One of the keys to compiling your work is thinking of how to get from one piece to the next, and how to keep your reader going.

No Silence in the Fields is available to view online (see the link for the text below). Your task for this weekend is to check out “The Barn” and see what it does for you. Does it make you want to keep reading? Why? Or does it perhaps do nothing for you? In either case, keep reading. See what comes next. Think about how, and why, Rachel Mennies chose the order and structure and style she did for her narrative. As you do, begin to think about what choices you need to make for your chapbook!

Have fun!


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Further Reading:

06 February 2013

“stack it up to experience”: using theme stacks to develop your chapbook

The Our Lost Jungle CB Challenge: Picking Your 30 Pages
On Monday we sorted our work into common threads, or themes, to give ourselves a sense of the various chapbook collections we could create from our work. Today, we’ll be taking individual theme stacks and using them to actually begin developing a chapbook!

One thing that’s always desired from a chapbook is cohesion. Whether you want your chapbook to tell a narrative story, or if you want your chapbook to focus on a shared theme or narrative “thread,” every work within the chapbook should work together as a whole. And guess what? When you Pull-Thread-Weave your work, you automatically sort your work into cohesive themes! The question becomes how to sort and organize the works within a single pile, and how to pick and choose between pieces that will and will not make it into the final chapbook.

The bad news...

...is that the “pick and choose” process can be extremely hard. Chances are as you sorted you came across pieces you forgot about, pieces you love … and pieces that, despite how much you love them, just don’t seem to “fit” anywhere. The hard part here is twofold. First, you must avoid the urge to spend too much time figuring out “where this piece can go.” It’s like being the conductor of a train: just because you love that field of flowers to the left doesn’t mean that’s where you’re meant to go right now. Leave the pieces that simply don’t fit out.

This is the second hard part. You cannot force a piece into the mix, no matter how much you like it. To throw in another analogy, you might feel like that mom with three kids in concert choir and one kid who’s tone-deaf. It might not feel good to leave little Fiona Flat sitting in the bleachers, but you’re not doing her any favors trying to force her up on the risers with the rest of the gang, either. The same goes for your writing. Just as you don’t want to waste time trying to place a piece that doesn’t fit, you also don’t want to potentially damage the cohesion of a chapbook—or embarrass that one piece—by trying to force that piece to belong.

The good news 

...is that from here on out the hardest work you have to do is continuous organization. That might not sound like particularly good news, but hear me out! If you completed the task on Monday, you already have the really hard part of organizing your work done: you’ve developed several theme stacks that you can pick and choose from. For the rest of the challenge, you’ll just work with your favorite stack (heck, you could play with multiple stacks at the same time if you want!) and get things narrowed down and sorted.

Starting today, we’re going to focus on getting a single stack—a single “eventual chapbook”—sorted and weaned down to the best of the bunch. We’ll start by narrowing the playing field of works you’ll be working with through the remainder of the month. Then we’ll move on to pinpointing the three pivotal parts of a chapbook, which are the same as the major sections of just about any work: the beginning (“crown”), the end (“slippers”), and the middle (“robes”).

Your Task

Today’s task is to pick the theme pile you’ll work with for the rest of the month and start whittling that pile down to 30 pages. There are several ways to get started with this task:

1. By the Numbers. Read through the work in your pile and assign it a number between 1 and 5, where “1” indicates a piece you could easily toss aside (for now) and “5” represents a “must-have” for your chapbook. Once you’re finished, your chapbook will consist of all your 5s, followed by 4s to fill empty slots, and working your way into 3s if necessary.

2. Look Into Your Heart. Read through the work in your pile and pull the pieces that you feel the best about. You’ll do this in maybe one round of reading, or maybe several rounds. Make sure you’re reading when you’re feeling fairly amiable about your writing. At the same time, make sure you’re also looking at your work realistically: don’t become so enamored that you’re saying “Yes!” to everything!

3. Spaghetti! I’ll admit it … this is one of my favorite ways to “get organized. If I’m working with a really big pile of poems, I’ll just toss it—yes, the whole pile—across the room (see why I like to work with printed materials?). I’ll spread the scattered works out with my feet, pick a corner of the room to start in, and just start picking up poems. If I like it, I hold onto it; if I’m not feeling it, I’ll toss it again. Go ahead … give it a shot. Keep picking until you have thirty pages—poems, stories, pictures, whatever you’re working with—in your hands. Then stop. If your favorite piece is missing, you can hunt it down … but my personal advice? Don’t. be organic! Go with the flow. Beware paper cuts.

4. “Fubsoy.” Fubsoy is a made up word for the acronym “FBTSOYP” … better known as flying by the seat of your pants. If you have another method you want to use to select your 30 poems (asking friends for help, using a random number generator, picking the pile that has exactly 30 pieces in it right now, etc.) go for it!

Your Turn

Now that you have your piles of work, how are you feeling about the amount of work you have left to do to develop a 30-page chapbook? How will you go about selecting the pieces you’ll work with? Share your methods and tips (or games) in the comments below!

Note: Just as a reminder, right now you’re only picking the pieces you’ll include in your chapbook … You don’t have to start organizing them yet. you can, but don’t overwhelm yourself! And don’t rush the process of picking your 30 pages. You have from now through Monday to get that done. Take your time, and have fun with it! Good luck!


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04 February 2013

“pulling strings”: organizing your work by common "threads" & themes

The Our Lost Jungle CB Challenge: Pull-Thread-Weave
I spent the weekend cleaning and reorganizing my apartment. It wasn’t something that particularly needed to be done (outside of a few wayward clothes, I could have just picked things up and spot cleaned) … but it’s something I get a weird kick out of. It helps that I always make it a game. As a kid, I hated cleaning my room, so I’d pretend I was on a competitive cleaning show; in the next room, some other person was trying to clean faster and make the room prettier than me, and so I’d rush to finish and decorate faster. And yes, there was commentary.

It’s a habit that I’ve let spill into adulthood (competitive bed making … competitive dish washing … competitive grocery shopping…), and into different areas than household chores ... including organizing my writing! Today's Chapbook Challenge task involves looking at how getting organized can be fun, and begin the process of organizing our work into chapbook-workable stacks (or folders, if you’re working electronically)!

I call this organizational “technique” the “Pull-Thread-Weave” Method. I like it because it essentially does half the work of putting a chapbook together for you! While it’s the method I’m sharing, it’s not necessarily one you have to use … But give it a shot, and see how it works for you!


The first thing you want to do is “Pull” your work. All of it. (Some of you have already done this, through the mini-task last Friday or in anticipation of the start of this challenge!) Whether it’s shiny and (nearly) perfected or in need of work and revision, gather all your work together into one big pile. If you’re working with printed materials, don’t worry about it being a neat pile, either! You’ll be playing with and sorting it, so let it be messy for now.

If your work is saved on your computer, you can “Pull” in one of two ways. When I first started working with pieces on my computer, I opened a blank Word document and copied all my poems into it, giving the document a title that included the date when I was finished (i.e. “Collected Poems 2-4-13”); that way, if I wrote any new poems after that date, I knew I had to add them, and update the name of the file. The easier way to do this, though, is probably to print the work. I say “easier” for two reasons: 1. You can actually hold the work in your hands and skim it more easily, and 2. It makes the next step (“Threading”) a little easier.

“Pulling” all your work, whether it’s stories, narratives, poems, or pictures, helps you get a better sense of what you have to work with. A lot of times, writers feel they “don’t have enough” to put together a chapbook. Pulling is the first proof of exactly how much you actually have, and it’s usually a lot more than you think!


Next, we’re going to “Thread” the work. This is where getting organized, and playing, begins! Grab a pen or pencil and start reading through your work. As you read, start to identify EITHER the narrative thread OR the theme of the piece: If you had to summarize the piece in one word, what would it be? Write that word at the top or bottom of the page. (If you’re working on a computer, type the word into the page’s Header.)

“Threading” your work helps you start to develop a handle on not only the collections you could create, but also on the themes and topics that are important to you as a writer. For example, when I do this the “thread words” are: WOMEN/SEXUALITY, MYTHOS, FLIGHT/BIRDS, and WATER/AIR. It can be playful, or fun, in that you are challenging yourself to summarize an entire work in one or two words. (In fact, to make it a game: Consider your threads/themes “teams” and award teams points for the number of works they “win”!) It also helps give you a sense of how some themes interact, especially if some pieces fit more than one “Thread” (or theme); i.e. a poem titled “A History of Black Birds” fits both the FLIGHT/BIRDS and MYTHOS categories.


The final step is “Weaving,” or separating the big pile into the smaller “threaded” stacks. This shouldn’t take much time, since you’ve already labeled all the work (in fact, you could technically “Thread” and “Weave” at the same time) … which makes it the perfect spot to really turn your work into play!

If working with printed materials, use notecards to write out the different “thread” titles you came up with, and place the notecards around the room; set the pile of work in a central location. Start a stopwatch, grab a pile of work, and see how quickly you can get the work to the properly labeled notecards! For more of a “competitive edge,” imagine that someone in the next room is doing the same thing … and trying to do it faster than you! Or, instead of a stopwatch, use a timer and give yourself a competitive sense of urgency!

If working with a computer, create separate Word documents with each “thread” title (save it as that thread’s name). Set a timer and start sorting! See how fast you can get it done. (Don’t forget: If a poem fit more than one category, copy and paste it into both.)

“Weaving” basically develops several potential chapbooks for you. If a pile is particularly small, you might try to sort them into a bigger category, or set them aside for later use. If a pile is particularly huge, you just know you have multiple chapbooks with the same theme! In either case, you’ve started to develop the themes for your chapbooks and get the poems, stories, etc. organized! We’ll talk about how to use your theme stacks (or “Threads”) to develop chapbook collections on Wednesday!

Your Turn

Guess what your task for today is? Pull-Thread-Weave! Go ahead … start getting organized! Remember, this step is just about getting the work sorted, not about putting together a collection! Just focus on developing your threads for now!

How do you get your work organized? Share your organizational tips and techniques in the comments! If you play any of the games suggested above, don’t forget to share your winning Theme Teams and/or your Weaving record in the comments as well! Have fun, and good luck!


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01 February 2013

the cb challenge: “what is a chapbook?”

The Our Lost Jungle Chapbook Challenge: Join In!
Today is the first day of February … and the first day of the Our Lost Jungle Chapbook (“CB”) Challenge! This month is all about taking the time to get our work—be it poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, art, etc.—organized and developed into workable collections. But we’re not dealing with full length collections (don’t panic). The goal is to start small, and to do that we’re working with chapbook-length manuscripts of our work.

But there’s one question we have to answer before we even think of getting started: What exactly is a chapbook?

chapbook: defined

A chapbook is, very basically, defined as a short collection of work that is generally focused on one “central theme.” The way we differentiate between a “collection” and a “chapbook” varies from publisher to publisher and writer to writer, but here are some generalized points:

40 Pages: Just because it’s a short collection doesn’t mean it’s … well, short! Chapbooks are usually considered collections of less than or up to 40 pages. Generally, contests or publishers looking for chapbooks will set a page limit of between 20-40 pages. For poetry, this might mean up to 40 poems, with one per page. For fiction or creative nonfiction, it could be a short “portfolio” of work totaling no more than 40 pages.

Themed: While just about any publication could be said to have a “central theme,” chapbooks tend to be a bit more narrowly focused. In a full-length poetry collection, for example, a poet may cover several different themes or topics in the different sections of the book. In a chapbook, a poet may select just one theme that all the poems must relate to in order for inclusion.

“Self-Published”?: This can be a nitpicky generalization of chapbook “features,” but chapbooks tend to involve more self-published traffic. For one thing, they tend to be cheaper to produce than full-length collections or works. Chapbooks make for a great, inexpensive way to get your work out there without waiting for someone else to snatch it up. Where claiming this as a typical feature of chapbooks gets tricky, though, is in the fact that more and more publishers are looking for chapbooks, or offering chapbook contests.

“pu pu chapbook”?

Some writers consider a chapbook a “sampling” of their work. While this is sometimes true, it’s a use of terminology that we may want to be wary off. Viewing a chapbook as a “sampling” leaves some readers thinking of it as the Pu-Pu platter of the publishing world. Really, a chapbook is more like a model bedroom in a model house: just because it’s a smaller sample of a larger body of work doesn’t mean it should be out of order!

a word on formatting

The formatting of a chapbook is not unlike the formatting of a full-length collection. During this challenge we’ll look at a chapbook’s structure using an “emperor’s clothes” model. No, our chapbooks won’t be strutting around au natural. We will, however, look at three essential parts of a chapbook’s structure: the “crown” (beginning), the “robes” (middle), and the “slippers” (end).

When it comes to publishing a chapbook, there are many ways writers choose to go about it. To go back to the self-publishing point, some writers take self-publishing to the max by literally putting their books together themselves! A chapbook can be a saddle-stitched book or a DIY project bound with ribbon.

We’ll take a look at formatting chapbooks for publication through more traditional outlets (contests, publishers, etc.) during the last week of February, including formatting a table of contents, the importance of proofreading, and more.

your task

Folks who read Our Lost Jungle regularly know that most posts end with a “Your Turn” section asking you a question. Today, before we get to that, I’m giving you a small task … Rummage.

This weekend is the time to start finding all your work. Scour your desktop. Search through your drawers. Head to the attic and find that box of writing you never unpacked! Flip through notebooks for pieces you started but never finished, and start finishing them! You don’t have to organize them … just get them gathered and consolidated either in a writing file on your computer, a stack (or box) on or near your desk, or some combination thereof!

your turn

To get us all tuning our brains for the coming month, here’s a question for you: What are you most, and/or least, looking forward to in this challenge? Getting organized? Developing a collection? Revising some work? Finalizing a current book project? Whatever it is, feel free to share it in the comments below!


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Join in the Our Lost Jungle Chapbook ("CB") Challenge!

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