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How to Format and Submit Your Poetry Manuscript

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Dec 16, 2019 • 5 min read

What is a poetry manuscript, exactly? If you’ve been writing poetry for a while, you may feel like you have a collection of poems that you’re proud of. Maybe you’ve even published individual poems online or in journals. But if you’re serious about making a career out of poetry, want to publish a book-length collection, for which you will need a manuscript.



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In his first-ever online class, former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins teaches you how to find joy, humor, and humanity in reading and writing poetry.

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What Is a Manuscript?

A manuscript is a draft of a writer’s work—whether it’s a memoir, a novel, a collection of poetry, a children’s story, a nonfiction book, or something similar. While the word “manuscript” used to refer to a version of a book that was written longhand or with a typewriter, it’s now used to refer to any unpublished work, including work written using a computer’s word processor.

How to Prepare a Poetry Manuscript

Before you can submit your poetry manuscript, you need to make sure your collection is in top shape. If you’ve written your poems by hand, that means typing them up in a word-processing program. Once your poems are all in a single file or a series of files, you can begin arranging and selecting the poems you want to appear in your poetry book. Edit and proofread your book manuscript to make sure that it’s in top shape. Especially if you’re trying to publish your first book, you’ll want to make sure you’re putting your best work forward, which may mean some tough editing decisions.

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Poetry Chapbook vs. Poetry Collections: What’s the Difference?

In poetry publishing, there are two general formats: chapbooks and full-length collections. The difference here is one of length. Generally speaking, chapbooks run 20–30 pages, while full-length poetry collections may run 50 or more.

How do you choose which book size is right for you? The main consideration driving your decision should be the quality and coherence of your poems. Remember, every poetry book has to stand on its own. You don’t want to pad out a manuscript with poems that don’t go together. You also want to make sure that you’re showcasing your best work—that’s what a collection is for, after all.

Keep in mind that chapbooks are a common way for up-and-coming poets to get attention before they complete a book-length project. There are numerous chapbook contests out there run by small publishing houses. Create a list of contests and presses you could submit to, along with their requirements, reading fees, and deadlines.

How to Format Your Manuscript

Pay attention to your manuscript formatting—there’s nothing worse than a great poem getting rejected because of poor formatting.

  • Typically, a manuscript should start each poem on a new page. Use a single space between individual lines, and double-spacing between new stanzas.
  • Indent lines that run across the length of the page.
  • Use one-inch margins all around the page.
  • Put each of your poem titles in all caps.
  • Use Times New Roman or a comparable serif font.
  • Include page numbers in the upper-right corner of each page.
  • If you’re submitting a packet of poems to a journal or magazine, make sure you include your name, address, phone number, and email on a cover page.
  • Include a title page with the name of your manuscript in all caps followed by your name about halfway down the page.
  • Make sure your manuscript is typed and printed on a high-quality white paper. Never submit hand-written poems.
  • You may also want to include a table of contents, and possibly a cover letter or acknowledgments page as well. (Though it’s also normal to not worry about the acknowledgments until you’ve been accepted for publication.)

Formatting Tip: Don’t make the mistake of using hard returns to arrange your poems by page. Learn to insert page breaks in your word processing program to make sure each poem begins on its own page.


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How to Submit Your Poetry Manuscript

Think Like a Pro

In his first-ever online class, former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins teaches you how to find joy, humor, and humanity in reading and writing poetry.

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Every publisher has its own interests and aesthetic preferences, so before you begin submitting it might be a good idea to start paying attention to the publishers of your favorite books of poetry. Reading fees can quickly pile up, so narrow down your search so that you can focus on putting together the best manuscript for the book publishers most likely to be interested in it.

  1. Know your submission guidelines. Keep in mind, publishing poetry is a little different from publishing short stories or creative nonfiction, and every press has its own publishing guidelines for manuscript submissions. You probably won’t be submitting a book idea outline or sample chapters, and different publishers may want to see a complete manuscript, or a packet of a few of your best poems, or even just a query letter. In your cover letter, mention why you think this press is a good fit for your manuscript. Mention poets on their list that you consider yourself similar to or that have inspired your work.
  2. Apply to contests. Contests are an important way for emerging poets to make a name for themselves, especially if you don’t yet have a book deal. Many small presses and journals put out by creative writing programs have contests for emerging writers. Create a list of contests, as well as their deadlines and submission guidelines. Pay attention to who’s the contest judge, as well as any associated reading fees, whether there’s a word count limit, or whether they accept simultaneous submissions.
  3. Consider self-publishing. If traditional publishing doesn’t appeal to you for whatever reason, you might seriously consider self-publishing. With self-publishing, you control every aspect of the entire manuscript, from what poems to include to how it’s formatted to your front matter, to how you’ll market and promote your book to your target market, etc. There a number of resources out there when it comes to designing and laying out a book, as well as services that can assist you with the self-publishing process.

Want to Learn More About Poetry?

Whether you’re just starting to put pen to paper or dream of being published, writing poetry demands time, effort, and meticulous attention to detail. No one knows this better than former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins. In Billy Collins’s MasterClass on the art of poetry writing, the beloved contemporary poet shares his approach to exploring different subjects, incorporating humor, and finding a voice.

Want to become a better writer? The MasterClass All-Access Pass provides exclusive video lessons on plot, character development, creating suspense, and more, all taught by literary masters, including Billy Collins, Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Dan Brown, Judy Blume, David Baldacci, and more.