I’ve mentioned a few times that “Mother of the King” and any other short(er) stories I self-publish over the next year will only be available in print as chapbooks to be sold at conventions and other events. The conventions and other events part is easy to understand, but I’m sure some of you have wondered what a chapbook is. Well, as promised, I’m going to explain what those are and why authors make them.

To put it simply, a chapbook is a small pamphlet or booklet of 40 pages or less, either folded from a giant piece of paper or stapled together from several sheets of paper (fun fact: the latter is known as saddle-stitching). The practice of making and selling chapbooks began around the 16th century and were named after the men who sold them, chapmen, who were early traveling salesmen and dealers. Modern chapbooks are often made by authors using printers and staplers, or assembled in print shops and sold at events or sometimes in specialty bookstores.

So, that’s what a chapbook is. Why do we have them? Why would an author make them?

Well, chapbooks were originally printed for working class families who could read but couldn’t afford books on their own (even with the printing press, those things were expensive). They were easy to transport and helpful in disseminating ideas, information, entertainment and (often inaccurate) history into popular culture. They were also used to develop literacy, much like comic books and graphic novels help teens and people who don’t speak a nation’s native language learn and develop language and reading skills.

“The Chapbook, promotional poster” by MCAD Library is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Fast forward to today. Books are cheaper and libraries exist, but chapbooks are still around. They’ve been especially popular during the past couple of decades in certain circles thanks to copying and printing technology. For the first time, people could sell their stories and poetry directly to the people without the aid of a major publisher or someone who owned a printing press. It was kind of an early form of self-publishing, if you think about it.

With people making chapbooks and small circulation magazines from home, the chapbook has made something of a comeback. And though it’s still not as popular as the your regular hundred-plus page book, they’re still being put out every year. Authors and poets like how easy and cheap they are, and how they can make something of a profit from them while also giving potential fans something quick to enjoy and maybe get hooked on their work. Like I said, a form of self-publishing, though some presses also do chapbooks alongside regular books.

And presses and authors aren’t the only ones who have seen value in these little booklets. There are bookstores that sell chapbooks alongside regular paperbacks, events devoted to them as an artform (looking at you, NYC/CUNY Chapbook Festival), and major publishers using them as advertising tools for their catalogs. And sometimes, depending on the chapbook, who made it, the method of production, and how many exist, these babies can go for quite a bit of money. Sometimes hundreds of dollars.

Not bad for a cheap little booklet that was often recycled as toilet paper after the buyers were done with the story (yeah, that’s true. As well as strips of old newspapers. Beats a stick or a corn cob though, right?).

Anyway, I don’t expect to make hundreds of dollars off chapbooks of my work. Especially when they’ll still be available as ebooks online. But as I said above, they’d be a good way to get my work out to more people. For events out of town, they could help fund those trips. And let’s face it, they could be fun to have and to show off at my next convention. Whenever that is. Damn you, COVID-19!

Anyway, that’s a chapbook. A form of literature with a cool history and a revival in an age when people can control when stories come out. A diverse artform that takes very little time to make and enjoy. And I hope I can start making them (or going to the print shop to make them) very soon.

In the meantime, I already have one story out in a digital format, so it’s kind of like a chapbook. Yeah, you knew this was coming. My Arthurian fantasy novelette, “Mother of the King,” is out now and available as an e-book. The story is about the fabled return of King Arthur, told from the point of view of the woman chosen to be his mother. It’s been out barely two days, and it’s already garnering some great reviews! I’ll include the links below, so check it out!

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m off with a priestess, a dragon and a Deep One to find Arthur’s casket. Until next time, good night, happy reading and pleasant nightmares!

Mother of the King: Amazon US, Amazon CAN, Amazon UK

Comments
  1. I often learn something from your posts, Rami. Today I learned about the history of chapbooks. Cool!

  2. Great post, Rami. Thank you.

  3. Very informative! I didn’t know the origin of the name! And yes! I highly recommend that short story šŸ˜€

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