What is the difference between a pamphlet, a chapbook, and a collection?

Stewed Rhubarb’s publisher James T. Harding answers the single most-asked question of poetry publishers (apart from ‘how do I get you to publish my poetry?’) in less than 400 words.

I am often asked about the differences between different types of poetry publication, and – let’s be honest – the answer is excessively dry and therefore easy to forget, so this is a handy reference guide for the poetry pedants among us.


A poetry pamphlet is a short compilation of poetry. They are typically around A5 in aspect, probably stapled rather than bound with a spine, and usually around 25 pages.

Poets usually publish several pamphlets before they go on to their first collection. This is a rather nice system, as it means that poets get to make their big-leagues ‘debut’ with a publication track record and established relationships with critics, bookshops and audiences.

There is actually an official definition of a pamphlet defined by the United Nations, no less, which is “a non-periodical printed publication of at least 5 but not more than 48 pages.”

In practice, though, you’re unlikely to encounter a pamphlet of more than 40 pages in the UK, because under the Forward Prize rules this would quality as a first collection – and most poets want to hold off entering the Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection until it’s actually time for their first collection.

Pamphlets vs Chapbooks

Pamphlets and chapbooks are, in poetry terms, exactly the same thing. It’s simply that Americans prefer the word ‘chapbook’ and British people prefer the word ‘pamphlet’.

There are historical distinctions between pamphlets and chapbooks to do with the type of content – the pamphlet has a much more political connotation – but in contemporary general usage I don’t think there’s a difference between ‘pamphlet’, ‘chapbook’ and ‘booklet’ unless you’re using a formal bibliographic categorisation system.


A poetry collection is a long compilation of poetry by a single author, more than 48 pages, and most usually produced like an ordinary book.

The word ‘collection’ can mean any compilation of poems regardless of format. You might have a pamphlet collection and book-length collection.

However, in the UK we normally to call a pamphlet collection a ‘pamphlet’ and a book-length collection a ‘collection’. If you call a pamphlet a ‘collection’, it kinda sounds like you’re trying to mislead people into thinking it’s a book-length collection, so I’d recommend not doing that.

Posted by admin

Funding Pamphlet Poetry: An Interview with Publishing Director James T. Harding

Last week, Stewed Rhubarb announced a new scheme to fund spoken-word pamphlet poetry in Scotland, so we sent publisher James T. Harding to interview, erm, publisher James T. Harding to find out more.

Why do you want to support pamphlet poetry?

Stewed Rhubarb is currently the only specialist pamphlet publisher for Scottish spoken-word and performance poetry, and I think it’s really important that we’re able to continue supporting poets as they master the gap between stage and page. 

Pamphlets are significant because poets only get one first book, and they can only enter first-collection prizes once. The very competitive nature of the poetry market means that poets who do not win or get shortlisted for first-collection prizes have a much harder time building a sustainable career; pamphlet publication offers a chance for poets to hone their craft and develop their voice, all while building their audience and relationships within the book trade.

Oh yes—and let’s not forget that pamphlets are delightful things in their own right! They can act like a tasting menu of a poet’s work, or as a sharpened, single unit; they can tell stories, make arguments, and evoke emotions… Their shorter length often allows them to be more experimental than a book-length collection can, without losing their sense of being a coherent whole.

Why can’t you carry on as you were before?

Over the last two years, Stewed Rhubarb has become a (happy) victim of its own success. Running SR has evolved into a substantial part-time job for me – I worked 250 unpaid hours in 2018, and 460 unpaid hours in 2019 so far – but the nature of developing non-commercial products (i.e. debut poetry) in a commerce-based sphere (i.e. publishing) means that potential profits are far off in the future.

I love working with poets and helping them grow their careers, but my personal circumstances have changed recently and I am no longer able to subsidise the press to the extent I currently am.

I believe that Stewed Rhubarb has the potential to be a sustainable organisation whose expertise helps the next generation of poets and publishers, and on into the future, but in the short-term, a bedrock of financial support is needed so that I can spend more time making it so. I think it would be a great shame to artificially slow Stewed Rhubarb’s growth merely in order to reduce the time I spend on it.

Couldn’t you apply for arts funding for this?

The way the finances work out, I still need a source of income that is not arts funding in order to effectively apply and make use of the funding that is available. It makes more sense for Stewed Rhubarb to pursue funding that will help us grow our book-length list, where the expenditure is far beyond what we could realistically achieve through pre-orders.

Didn’t you used to get the poets to cover the costs of publication?

Yes, between 2012 and 2016 we operated on a ‘hybrid’ model, which co-founder Rachel and I talk about in more detail in this Poetry School interview. When I re-founded Stewed Rhubarb in 2018 (Rachel having moved to Canada), I wanted to move away from this hybrid model because it creates an additional barrier to publication which was disproportionally affecting working-class, queer and non-white poets.

How did the Fellowship come about?

I stole the idea specifically from Stefan Tobler of And Other Stories, a delightful, translation-focused publisher. (Though the model look quite a bit different in practice as poetry is a very different landscape: unlike translation, there are no dedicated funds for publishing poetry.)

Of course, many other presses do this and there is a long-standing tradition of pre-orders covering the costs of publication—it’s the oldest publishing business model around!

How many subscriptions do you need to make this viable?

We need 85 crumble subscribers, 175 custard subscribers, or a proportional combination of both. 

What will happen if too few people sign up?

We will cancel the project and return everyone’s money. 

Is everyone being paid fairly?

The poets get double the industry paperback standard in royalties, and an advance based on the number of subscribers; the editors, Charlie our publicist, and me as publisher/designer will receive only token fees—these will rise, of course, if we manage to get over the threshold for pre-orders. 

Will this undermine independent bookshops?

Realistically, the amount of money small bookshops make from selling pamphlet poetry is so small that they will barely notice if it dries up—but I don’t think it will, because the magical thing about good booksellers is that they bring in new readers. (Don’t ask me how: it’s an arcane art.)

Stewed Rhubarb has been blessed by very positive relationships with indies around Scotland, and I am keen to support them wherever I can. The budget for this project therefore includes a small pot of money to pay our favourite indies to host launch events for us, which means I’ll be able to demonstrate that appreciation in a material way.

If you too would like to support emerging poets to build careers on the page, you can pre-order next year’s pamphlet titles and join the Fellowship of the Stewed Rhubarb here.

Posted by admin

Rewriting the Story About HIV

“We should never underestimate the power of stories to heal and to reveal, to shape and to make, to guide and change the tide,” writes Jackie Kay, Scots Makar, in her foreword to Disclosures: Rewriting the Story About HIV, published by Stewed Rhubarb Press. “And we must never forget what it costs to share a story—the first steps are always brave ones.”

This preconception-busting anthology, edited by Angie Spoto, collects together poetry, stories, artwork, and nonfiction which challenge the image of what it means to have HIV in Scotland today.

Much of the included work was nurtured by HIV Scotland’s Positive Stories project, through which workshop leaders Colin Herd, Angie Spoto, Peter McCune and Katy Hasty helped participants to shape their experiences for print.

The book will be available for World AIDS Day, December 1st. The launch party is at the Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh, and several contributors have been invited to read at the Scottish Parliament’s World AIDS Day reception.

The diverse list of contributors is: RJ Arkhipov, Mark Carlisle, Kevin Crowe, Will Dalgleish, Stephen Duffy, J. William James, Matthew Lynch, James McAbraham, NJ Millar, Nobody, Michael Nugent, Oliver, Rio, Fraser Serle, Nathan Sparling, Angie Spoto and Jamie Stewart. The book features illustrations by Brian Houston.

James T. Harding, publisher at Stewed Rhubarb, said: “The greatest privilege of any publisher is to be able to amplify people and stories which might not otherwise be heard. I couldn’t be more delighted to support this informative, moving, and empowering anthology.”

Jackie Kay, the Scots Makar, said: “This is a brave, bold and beautiful book – breaking new ground. The stories and poems are full of surprises and carry out their fare share of healing along the way. I was happy to write the foreword to such a much needed collection.”

Nathan Sparling, interim Chief Executive of HIV Scotland said: “This book personifies the experiences of the full diversity of people living with and affected by HIV. It challenges the misinformation and misconceptions that people have through the mix of stories and facts about HIV. It is an important message for this World AIDS Day, as the fight against the virus is far from over. We must not let stigma get in the way of ensuring everyone has the right to a long, healthy and fulfilling life.”

Posted by admin

SR Reissues Tonguit and First Blast

We are delighted to announce that we will be picking up where we left off two years ago with the re-issue of two poetry collections by Scottish poets Harry Giles and Rachel McCrum.

Tonguit by Harry Giles – a collection shortlisted for both the Edwin Morgan Award and the Forward Prize for First Collection – and The First Blast to Awaken Women Degenerate by Rachel McCrum – former BBC Scotland Poet in Residence – will find a new home with the press after being taken out of print following the collapse of Freight Books late last year.

Harry Giles and Rachel McCrum had both previously published pamphlets with Stewed Rhubarb before being picked up for their debut full collections by Freight.

Shortlisted for the Forward Prize’s 2016 debut collection award, Harry Giles’ Tonguit is a moving exploration of identity in Scots, English, and bureaucracy. Politically radical and formally inventive, Tonguit plays at the borders of nationality and sexuality with irreverent affection, questing through languages for a place to speak.

The First Blast to Awaken Women Degenerate is both lyrical and gentle, demanding and harsh as it carves its own path through themes of family, place, environment, and repression. The poems in the collection are fragments of McCrum’s sea-bourne journey from Northern Island, across Scotland, and alighting in Canada. It’s a collection about leaving home and what you take with you.

Harry Giles says:

“Stewed Rhubarb’s dedication to fertilising the roots of literature is immense and impressive. They care about poetry, and they’re doing difficult work to keep Scottish poets in print at a vulnerable and precarious time — and they’re doing it with gusto. After a tumultuous year, working with SR again felt like coming home. Also, they design gorgeous books.”

Rachel McCrum says:

“I am thrilled to my core to be working with Stewed Rhubarb again, and honoured to be among the first for their new wave of publishing. Their books are immaculately designed and edited, and their publishing model is responsive, considered, and places the author at the heart of things. Scotland should be proud of them. I can’t wait to see what they do next.”

James Harding says:

“I was so excited when Rachel and Harry were taken on by Freight. I thought a bigger publisher would be able to advance their careers better than I could. When Freight went into liquidation, Harry Giles emailed to ask if they could buy one of my ISBN numbers to self-publish a reissue. I thought I could do better than that… so here we are, a few months later, and I appear to have started a full-on publishing company.”

The new edition of Tonguit is currently available to order from bookshops and online, and McCrum’s The First Blast to Awaken Women Degenerate will be released in May.


Posted by admin