How to format a poetry collection | Proper Manuscript Format | William Shunn

How to format a poetry collection

A reader writes to ask:

I am currently trying to put together a manuscript of all of my late mother's poetry that she wrote from about 1970 to 2013, when she passed away. I made her a promise that when she died, I would put this manuscript together and submit it to publishers.

When formatting the pages of each poem, I noticed your formatting instructions say to include the author's name and contact info at the top left of each page but since my mother is passed and I am the contact person, how would I format my information?

The instructions you reference are for submitting a packet of three to five poems to a magazine or journal. If you're submitting a full collection of poems to a book publisher, you format everything a little differently.

First, your manuscript will have a title page. Your name and contact information go in the upper-left corner of this page, since you are essentially acting as your mother's agent. Center the title of the collection about halfway down the page, with the author's byline underneath (which in this case is your mother's name). This is similar to the way a novel manuscript's title page is formatted. One difference is that you don't need to include a word count. (If you wish, you might replace it with a poem count, but that's not necessary.)

After the title page, include all the poems in the order you want them, starting each poem on a new page. The manuscript should include a standard page number in the upper-right corner of each page, the same way it's done in a novel manuscript. Do not include your contact information with the individual poems, since that already appears on the title page.

That's it, the basic format for a poetry collection. However, individual publishers may have different requirements, so be sure to check the submission guidelines for each publisher you submit to and if necessary adjust the formatting accordingly. You will probably want to mention in your cover letter that you are submitting on behalf of your deceased mother.

Finally, if you're wondering how to order the poems in the manuscript, this article by April Ossmann is helpful:
"Thinking Like an Editor: How to Order Your Poetry Manuscript."  


Can i include a Place when writing a poem?

I have a manuscript with approx. 263 poems that my late mother wrote throughout her lifetime. I have read that a poetry book shouldn't contain more than approx. 60 poems. Is it absolutely written in stone that poetry books be shorter than 60 or so poems or is it okay to have over 200? Have there been poetry books that contain over 200 poems published that were successful?

Mr. Shunn,
Thank you for the useful advice re: my mothers' poetry and manuscript. I recently completed it after having it polished by a professional editor who has worked in publishing for over 30 years. She said my mother had a gift not unlike some of the most notable poets in history! Your article link you sent "Thinking Like an Editor..." was a very good article and helped me immensely when putting together the order of each poem and section. Thanks again and wish me luck!