Beyond Print: What I Learned in Creating and Editing an EBook Anthology of Poetry
By Kelli Russell Agodon (2007)

Last year, Annette Spaulding-Convy (my co-editor at Crab Creek Review) and I each purchased an eReader. Hers was a Nook from Barnes & Noble; mine was an iPad.  As we began to explore these new devices and what they would offer us in eBook format, we each noticed that there was very little poetry available.

As poets ourselves, this concerned us. It’s not as if we wanted to replace all our print books with eBooks, but we wondered where all the poets were and why poetry publishers hadn’t embraced this new technology?  We started talking one night on the Bainbridge Ferry after a literary event in Seattle. What if we created our own poetry anthology?  What if it consisted of just women poets, our favorite women poets, and we published it? By the end of the ferry ride, we had decided to edit and publish, only in eBook format, our very own poetry anthology—an anthology that sixteen months later would be published as Fire On Her Tongue: An eBook Anthology of Contemporary Women’s Poetry.

We had a few goals in mind when creating this anthology: we wanted it to leave as much of a zero-carbon footprint as possible, we wanted each poet to have their own section in the anthology like a portfolio of poems, and we wanted to handpick the poets involved. We contacted over a hundred of our favorite women poets by email. All the contracts, proofs, and final product were digital. At that point, we weren’t exactly sure what we were doing or how we would format the poems to keep their form, line, and stanza breaks in eBook format, but we kept taking small steps forward.

As we began to research eBook formatting, we realized we had a lot to learn.  Having never even formatted an eBook of prose (which is much easier to do than poetry) we decided to hire someone experienced in formatting, as we did not want to have our first publication be a debacle. After researching many individuals and many companies who worked with authors to create eBooks, we chose Publish Green. They were a little more expensive compared to some of the other companies, but their goal of quality publication made them our choice.

From our research, we found the cheapest way to publish an eBook is through Smashwords. It’s a free service and the means by which many authors publish their own eBooks. However, the problem we had with them is that once you submit your manuscript, it’s put through what they call the “meatgrinder,” which formats the work for various distributors.  Just hearing the word “meatgrinder” put us off, but we were also concerned about the fact that we would not be able to review the eBook after it went through said “meatgrinder;” instead it would be distributed without our final approval.

We knew dealing with poems and their precise line breaks, indents, and spacing, required more than a “meatgrinder” approach. So we worked with Publish Green who helped us to correctly format the poems. Because our anthology was about 460 pages and had several very challenging poems, we did have to include an extra fee on top of what we were paying to cover the unique formatting work they did.

Poetry in eBook form is truly a challenge, and as we moved our anthology of poems from individual poems to MS Word document to eBook, here are some things we learned:

1)  Use dashes or other punctuation to signify spaces, pauses, or a shift in tone/subject, because spacing isn’t acknowledged in the eBook format.

As we formatted the work, we learned poems that had unique spacing in a line—
like this.        And this             and this             too—

end up collapsing together in the eBook format so that your final line will look like this:
like this. And this and this too—

While in the example above, the sentence still makes sense, we had a few lines where this collapsing together of words created a line that was both awkward and confusing. For these lines, we used em dashes to represent a pause and show the space between words, such as in this excerpt from Martha Silano’s poem “It’s All Gravy:”

seamlessly        with sides of potato of carrot of corn
seamlessly        while each door handle sings its own song

which was changed into this:

seamlessly—with sides of potato of carrot of corn
seamlessly—while each door handle sings its own song

2)  Poems that are flush left and just have line breaks and stanza breaks are the easiest to format.
This format comes through very well in an eBook upload.

3)  Poems that have indenting work better than expected, as long as the poem is “stair-stepped” in.


work and would look like this when it was in eBook format:

4)  If you’re having trouble formatting your eBook, hire someone.

We learned that eBooks and eBook formatting are changing quickly. Some things we weren’t able to do in the beginning (such as indenting), we were able to do by the time we completed the project. Poems have their own special challenges. Don’t be afraid to ask (or pay) for help to get your poetry book to look its best. With so few eBooks of poetry out there, we want people to find the pleasure of poetry in this format, not feel frustrated with how it translates digitally.

Annette and I hope to continue learning about putting together eBooks and finding new ways to help poetry reach a larger audience. Just as the television didn’t replace the radio or the microwave didn’t replace the oven, eBooks will never replace print books; they just offer another choice to readers. This is a groundbreaking time in digital publishing, especially for poetry, which seems to be taking its time on this new platform. We were happy to be able to offer the first of something—an anthology of contemporary women poets—which we hope will open doors for others who have felt a little skittish of poetry that is delivered in eBook form.

If you’d like to see how our anthology of poems turned out, you can visit our webpage at Two Sylvias Press. If you have a Kindle, you can purchase it on Amazon here, or for the Nook, you can purchase it at Barnes & Noble here.