Friday, April 19, 2019

Tobi Alfier - Chapbooks

The History of “Sanity Among the Wildflowers”

You may have heard me say before how much I love making chapbooks. How they’re shorter so they can be read in a sitting or two, they don’t get boring, and you have more control over them.

If they’re self-published, you can decide on the cover yourself, make up a name for “your” press, price them reasonably, be sure you keep an archive copy for yourself, and learn something new every time. I hope the story of this book inspires you to make one. Once you get started, you’ll be on the road to chapbook happiness, and you’ll never look back!!

Here we go…

I’ve been writing since dinosaurs walked the earth. That doesn’t mean it was any good, just that I’d been doing it. In 2005, I began to read at weekly readings, and submit my work for publication. I always say that every poem has a story behind it, and if you want to know the story, ask me at the break. No one ever asks. The same is true about why I started reading, and publishing. It’s sad. It’s personal. If you want to know, email me at I will not be offended if you don’t ask.

Jack Grapes
One weekend I was at the L.A. Times Festival of Books, and I happened to meet Jack Grapes. Jack is a well-known, larger-than-life poet and teacher.  The final project for his Beginner’s class was to make, and turn in, a chapbook. Well heck!! I’d been thinking that it was time I started making my first chapbook; this was an omen!

As I’d been going to readings, I’d been buying chapbooks from the featured poets who I liked. I had been keeping notes of what I liked about some of them.

I knew what poems I wanted to include,
I wanted the title to be the title of one of the poems,
I wanted the cover picture to be one of my aunt’s. She’s a fabulous artist.

I didn’t know anything about the computer. I knew I’d need my mom’s help with everything from the Table of Contents to everything else. I named the press AV8TRX Press in her honor, because she’s a pilot. I also named it Carpeted Stones Press for no reason. I liked it.

My mom found a press out by her in Calabasas who gave her a price of $300 for a box of 100. DONE!!! My greatest joy was learning that the guy who did the printing made an extra copy for himself, and he read it on his lunch breaks. Fourteen years later that still remains one of my greatest joys (and yes, I am a dork).

What I Have Learned Since Then, Otherwise Known As Don’t Make The Same Mistakes I Did…           

  1. Don’t let ANYONE but you proof the manuscript before printing a hundred copies. That means first line, last line, period at the end, ALL punctuation, even the colors of the printer. Printers can be calibrated, and it can make a huge difference.

  1. It may look “more professional” to have your entire poem on one page, but as a poet friend said to me “do you want to look more professional? Or do you want to be kind to your readers?” 10pt font is TINY. I have never done that again.

Old Days
  1. In the “old days”, we learned to put two spaces after a period. Now it’s appropriate to put one space after a period. Do whatever you want, but be consistent. In Windows you can do it by using “Home”. “Replace”.

  1. Likewise em dashes. I know there’s a way to do them on the keyboard, but you could give me a million dollars and I won’t be able to do them. Use “Insert”, “Symbol”, “More Symbols”, “Special Characters”…the first one is the em dash…,”Insert”, “Cancel”, (done).

  1. There’s “self-published” and “self-published”. My books were great. I turned one in for my class and I was proud of it. But now, I have two left. One I sent to Rich for his library, and one is in my archive “after I’m dead” box.  That’s it.  You want to make sure you get an ISBN number so your book is available on Amazon, and maybe Barnes & and some libraries. The ISBN number will be listed inside your book, on the page with your publisher information on it. Why do you do this?

  1. Because if people like your work, they are going to look you up and buy every work of yours that they don’t have. And if your book was self-published in 2005, they probably won’t be able to find it now.

Why I’m so very thankful to Rich Soos and Cholla Needles Press:

  1. Rich is going to reprint “Sanity Among the Wildflowers” for me.

  1. My voice is still the same, but I have learned a lot about writing in the last fourteen years. I will have an opportunity to edit all my poems, give them better linebreaks, bettter punctuation, and a decent sized font so we don’t have to include a pair of reading glasses with every copy.

pretty cute picture
  1. I have gotten married!! I can use my married name, update the dedication, update the ridiculously short bio, unfortunately update the pretty cute picture 😔.

  1. I will have an ISBN!!! So from now on, anyone looking for me will find me!! I’m doing the happy dance, and I hope you do the happy dance too. Chapbooks are a blast! Ask me anything you want to know and I’ll be thrilled to tell you!!

because of technology and democracy you can help Rich and I decide what color scheme works best with the updated version of "Sanity". We can have the plain vanilla white-edged cover as above, again - to maintain the "feel of the original", or we can have one of these more colorful covers: Please comment and let us know which meets your eye the best =:-):

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Tobi Alfier's most recent collection of poetry is Slices Of Alice. She is also co-editor with Jeff Alfier of the San Pedro River Review. Don't miss Tobi's columns on the craft of poetry: insert your email address in the "Follow By Email" box to the right of this article and you'll be notified every time a new article appears.


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you Cynthia. I appreciate your vote :-)

  2. I LOVE the red the best. But any color works! This is so cool!!! (And how long have I been reading your blog and JUST figured out I can comment here? (I'm slow sometimes!)

    1. Hee hee hee I'm pretty sure I know who this is. I don't common often, and it took me a LONG TIME to know I could. You are not alone. Thank you for your opinion!!!! :-)

  3. I like the original one. It looks like the typeface is different on the new ones. I don't think the new typeface goes well with the art. The important thing is to pick the color that makes the art stand out. Not the color that makes the color stand out. The original book and typeface make the art stand out. If I had to pick one of the new colors, I would choose gray. But I would pick a different typeface.

    1. Thank you so much. As an artist, you look at things I wouldn't know to look at. Thank you!!! :-)

  4. Red with the artwork larger. Love reading your blogs.

    1. Thank you very much. Thank you for reading the post and I appreciate you vote!! :-)

  5. I like the red. Love the "old days" picture...I think you were working on your high school yearbook.

    1. Yes, I was working on my high school yearbook. That was the year we lost all the "A's". I don't know if we ever found them. Thank you for voting. In the "old days", as you probably remember. our only choices were "white" or "wheat". I couldn't have done the original without you. I couldn't have done the reprint without Rich. Bless you both :-)

  6. The color is a difficult choice for me. I like the blue (but also like the black and the red . . . ) So if I have to pick just one . . . I'll pick blue. What exciting news this is, Tobi! The cover is so attractive!

  7. Thank you Pamelyn!! One more thing you have to think about as you are starting on the road to "Chapbook Happiness". I can't wait to see your first ones!!! :-)

  8. Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Thank you. Between these comments, facebook, email, and the opinion of the cover artist, red won!! Thank you for your opinion!!!


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