Craft Chat: What We’re Looking For in Chapbooks

October 13, 2020

In this Craft Chat, our editors discuss a few of the endless possibilities that chapbooks represent for us. We’re hoping to read great writing, of course, and we always do! But this contest offers something new that our other contests don’t. We can’t wait to see what y’all have in store for us!

Cole Meyer: Our very first Chapbook Contest has been open for a few weeks, and I’m so encouraged by the submissions we’ve had come in so far. But I thought it might be helpful to have this chat about what we’re hoping to see submitted for this contest. The kinds of work, not just in content, but in form and style, too! This is a chance for us to publish an emerging writer in a way we haven’t in the past. What are y’all hoping to read from this contest?

Melissa Hinshaw: Two things come to mind right off the bat. The first is clearly a personal bias / psychological need I have for my own self: work that spans this gap of “really intense thing happening that narrator/author clearly has firsthand knowledge of” and “sort of quieter or otherwise enjoyable story that has no awareness of greater social issues but does its own little arc nicely.” Work that has seemed successful to me in this regard in the past is work that kind of gives itself a project, something obscure or random that manages to break from the normal cycles of life but also ask bigger moral questions through this project, but also manages to not be melodramatic. Tall order I know! This is something I struggle with personally as I writer and a person— how do I reconcile the huge awful dramatic things going on around me with my pretty quiet little personal experience sphere?—so it’s absolutely a selfish request. Teach me your ways, o submitters!

The second thing is just more strange forms and styles—glad you said that, Cole. I want to stress that form and style does not mean section breaks or just no quotation marks in dialogue. Push harder! “Taco Bell it” as they say (er, okay just as I say)—think outside the bun. We do not see enough weird forms and styles. Often I think this means go shorter for individual works—10-15 pages max? You don’t have to commit that hard to a form experiment, just try something new for a few pages and I can almost guarantee it’ll come out better than you anticipate.

CM: I think chapbooks offer folks an opportunity to do more of that experimentation, which is exciting. I’ve gotten a lot of e-mails about the kinds of things we’ll consider: novellas (I think novellette is probably the right term for something around 40 pages); flash chapbooks; drama, even! The only thing we’re not considering, basically, is poetry. Send us your weird, wacky stuff you can’t find a home for.

MH: It would be so cool to see a chapbook or two that was like— different riffs on the same story or idea, different forms of the same thing.

CM: Oh, that’s an interesting idea! Kind of like Danzy Senna’s “Triptych” which takes the same plot three times—a young girl coming home from college after her mother’s death—but in each, the protagonist’s race has changed.

MH: What! This is amazing. Yes! I love books/collections/even stories where things are all versions. Dave Eagleman’s SUM comes to mind, too.

Brandon Williams: I think it’s really interesting that we’re essentially talking about the form as self-aware of its own exploration, or basically metafiction— the experiments we’re bringing up remind me instantly of Calvino. I assume this is because, if y’all are anything like me, you don’t yet have a set expectation for exactly what a chapbook should be in the same way that a “novel” or “short story” sorta defines itself. I keep thinking about how cool it was the first time I read If on a winter’s night a traveler, and this feels like something similar, like possibility exists in ways I don’t really know where to expect. I’m so excited to see where that exploration takes our submitters, and I’m hoping to find something like an argument of and for the form itself in these submissions; not necessarily in the winning submission, or not in it exclusively, but in the process of reading through these. I want to know what a chapbook can do. I love the idea Melissa presented of little experiments, or of riffs in multiplicity, and I can certainly imagine some more traditional plays on POV or character shifts around a single scene, but I’m certainly ready for something totally surprising. All of which is to say, I don’t really have anything set that I’m expecting, and that in itself is my hope.

CM: I definitely agree—I’m ready for anything. I think that’s true for most of our contests, especially. Since we don’t do themed contests, and our guidelines don’t insist on any particular style or genre, I’m always looking for something innovative and surprising. But as you said, we’re used to reading in our pre-defined forms. The chapbook is something new for us, and that newness is exciting. There are so many possibilities for where our submitters can take us. I can’t wait!

For the full Chapbook Contest details, check out our Chapbook Contest page, or click the button below to submit by Nov. 15th!



At The Masters Review, our mission is to support emerging writers. We only accept submissions from writers who can benefit from a larger platform: typically, writers without published novels or story collections or with low circulation. We publish fiction and nonfiction online year round and put out an annual anthology of the ten best emerging writers in the country, judged by an expert in the field. We publish craft essays, interviews and book reviews and hold workshops that connect emerging and established writers.

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