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How long should a book of poetry be?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Ban, Jan 10, 2021.

  1. Ban

    Ban Sir Laserface Article Team

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    As the title says. To specify "long," I'd like to know what word count those of you who've read such books would expect to find. Answers in regards to the number of poems are also welcome, though less so, for there is a great degree of difference in poem lengths, thus lessening the value of the answer somewhat. Thanks in advance.

    Please do refrain from saying: "however long it needs to be."

    Strong opinions people! Strong opinions! Those are the ones of use ;)
     
  2. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Minstrel

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    Well, I'm going to be contrary here and say just what you didn't want to hear: as long as the book needs to be.

    It depends what sort of poetry you've written, and why you've published the book. Ted Hughes' first published collection (The Hawk in the Rain) contained 40 poems. Tolkien's The Adventures of Tom Bombadil has 16 poems. And Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark consists of only one poem. Or, you might want to consider TS Eliot; his Old Possums Book of Practical Cats has 15 poems, whilst his Four Quartets (which won him the Nobel Prize for Litterature) has only 4 poems.

    So I don't have any real expectations about the length of a book of poetry, it all depends on the poet(s) and what they've written. And yes, I'm aware that this wasn't a terribly helpful reply. ;)

    But why are you wondering?
     
  3. Ban

    Ban Sir Laserface Article Team

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    What does 40, 16, 15 and 4 poems equate to? Those might be thousands of words or dozens.
     
  4. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Minstrel

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    Well, it varies. I'm dyslexic so I try to read the poetry rather than counting the words, but I remember someone saying that The Hunting of the Snark is nearly 4500 words. Also from memory, I was told the poems in the Ted Hughes collection I mentioned vary from 90 words to several hundred words in length. The last time I listened to the Four Quartets being read it took nearly 1 1/2 hours to read the whole collection, if that's any help. I think a lot depends on what sort of poetry/verse style the poet is using, and if a poet has used several different styles (like Ted Hughes did) then the number of words per poem and per collection is going to vary quite a lot.
     
    Ban likes this.
  5. Ban

    Ban Sir Laserface Article Team

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    Thank you Mad Swede, that helps me out a good bit. The reason I ask is because I have sifted through my collection of written poetry over the years of writing them, and I was wondering how close to a publishable length my own work is so far. Of course, I could publish a book of 10 words, but I prefer sticking a bit closer to tradition than that. The total for now is 18 poems of a combined 3300 words. I've cut over 40 poems at least, but, so be it,
     
  6. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Minstrel

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    I think that before you worry about cutting poems from your collection you need to find a publisher. They may have some ideas about how many poems your collection should consist of, and they may want to change your selection so as to group your work in terms of themes or poetic style. I'm no poet myself, but I'm told that not many agents or publishers will handle poetry. Good luck with getting it published!
     
  7. Ban

    Ban Sir Laserface Article Team

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    Ah, but we have this lovely new way of doing things called self-publishing ;) For a short poetry collection, I feel the effort of finding a traditional publisher simply isn't worth the time and effort. But thank you! I will still use the good luck. Never enough of it.
     
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2021
  8. Ban, I'd say the average of self published and small/micro press poetry I have encountered comes in at around 80 pages. Honestly, my opinion is you would be better served with 50 to 60 pages of spot-on, tight poetry than twice that with a lot of throw aways. That said, if your poetry is telling a story or grouped in a thematic sense, include all that you believe serves the theme well, no matter the length. :)

    I know you said you have cut the number of poems and that's good, but can I ask if some of that choice was at all informed by having poems critiqued by "beta readers"? Just curious because, in my experience, a lot of my friends who have published short collections shied away from too much external input (compared to short story or novel writers who are always looking for it) and I think their collections suffered for it.

    I know poetry is so personal and often seems "misunderstood" but the lay of words on a page still resonates with every reader. Layout, page break, line break etc. So often I've read poems of friends who put no time into how their words filled the page ( i know by MS example this is NOT true of you) and simply assisting them in working with that made the poem more palatable to other readers.

    Best of luck!!
     
    Ban likes this.
  9. Ban

    Ban Sir Laserface Article Team

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    Hey Maker. To jump straight into the answer: Nope, no Beta reader has influenced my decision in cutting the wheat from the chaff. Everything that I have cut is cut because either I don't believe they are worth reading, as a number of early poems simply aren't good, or because they don't reflect my thoughts as of now. A few that I would not include in this collection, are not included because they don't fit the tone of the collection as a whole. That said, I am still considering adding some more, if I can figure out how to include them within the whole.

    Are you by any chance able to tell me how many words you estimate are on the individual pages of the works you are aware of? Font size can make an enormous difference. Oh, and thank you for the luck. Will take it! ;)
     
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2021
  10. Well, I'd say offhand, most of the collections are comprised of poems that vary in length with most featuring looser prose, not set in strict stanzas or to a form, so while some clock in at around only 80 words per page (due to a centered layout, single lines, double spaced, lots of white space) and longer poems which may range from120 to 150 words per page. But I have so few that stick to that higher count over an entire book or chapbook. Varying long and short, lots of space and heavier word count and I, myself, tend to short, sparse (think Bukowski-like) poems by preference, so I don't have much to weigh in on the count using an epic, classic structure. :)
     
    Ban likes this.
  11. Ban

    Ban Sir Laserface Article Team

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    Thank you Maker, this helps a good bit. My own poetry varies in length, though only one (which you might recognize from the challenges) reaches a length I would consider "Long." I will keep a general 100 words per page in mind.
     
  12. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Seems like there would be ways to know this. Look at poems being sold at Amazon. Join poetry publishing-oriented forums and ask around there. I think the answer will vary depending on whether or not you plan to offer a physical copy. The length isn't really the pertinent variable; rather, it's the marketing effort. How much are you willing to spend, what's your platform, etc.? Once those parameters are established, the length will follow them.

    Have you submitted poems to magazines? Opportunities are limited but they exist. Being able to say you have published will help the marketing. Which, I'm presuming, will help with getting you to the length you want. I'm also presuming you actually have a length in mind but are worried it's too long to be marketable. (note I say presume not assume. I don't mind being a pre. <g>)
     
  13. Ban

    Ban Sir Laserface Article Team

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    To the contrary, I'm afraid it might be too short. As for magazines and such, I am not personally interested at the moment. I want to self-publish and I'm not expecting to make a big splash, a minor splash or any money for that matter. I wish to publish my poetry collection for the sake of publishing, getting some experience in on that front and having something to link to for people to read if they enjoy my work on other mediums. My platform will be Amazon, possibly Bol.com (Dutch) and maybe other online platforms if I can navigate them. Given my reasons for publishing, I am not intending to spend any money on marketing. Word of mouth will do. Mostly words coming from my mouth over an extended period of time.
     
  14. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Fair enough. Too short, then. I would still go to Amazon and investigate length of poetry books (self-published, not the collections of masters!). If you find some can be very short, you might consider publishing in two volumes--buy-through and all that.

    Getting experience with the process is something I heartily recommend. I had to go multiple rounds before I felt comfortable. One thing worth noting is interior formatting. When it's just a novel that can be tricky enough (mostly ToC, running headers, resolving differences between print and electronic). But I do hear from people who write highly-formatted books that the process can be a real headache. With poetry I picture something like line length, which you can't really control in an ebook. So there will be plenty of things to discover for yourself which is significant and which isn't.

    And do let us know when you've published! Even if it's in Limburgish. <g>
     
    Ban likes this.
  15. Ban

    Ban Sir Laserface Article Team

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    It is a good tip, I will make sure to investigate the range of self-published poetry collections on Amazon. The current selection of poems I have are just short of 4000 words total, as I managed to include two other poems I wanted. The formatting ordeal is one I don't look forward to, but luckily for me, most of the poems I have, have a fairly simple structure. The line length will be an issue, but that is a problem for another day.

    I will certainly let everyone know when it is published. All of the poems in this collection are in English :)
     
  16. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    I haven't read much poetry, but it strikes me that poems would be formatted differently to the prose of a story.
    For me, 4,000 words is about a chapter and a half, which might be perhaps twenty pages, give or take.
    With poetry, you're looking at a lot more pages, as there's more white space around the words, at least in my limited experience.
    4,000 words might be enough to fill 40-60 pages?

    If you're going the ebook version, the number of pages becomes a non-issue, and you're down to considering just the content. Would a reader go through the book all at once, or would they read the poems one at a time with perhaps a break in between?

    How many poems do you envision will provide a satisfying reading experience? How many poems are you comfortable sharing? Would you force yourself to write some additional poems just to add more content?
     
  17. Ban

    Ban Sir Laserface Article Team

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    Would a reader go through the book all at once, or would they read the poems one at a time with perhaps a break in between?

    I assume they would take breaks and I have collected the poems in smaller subsections, "chapters" if you will, but I don't know what poetry readers generally prefer, which is one of the reasons I ask for advice.

    How many poems do you envision will provide a satisfying reading experience?

    I have no idea. While I've read a good bit of poetry, I've never read a full collection.

    How many poems are you comfortable sharing?

    As many as I deem to be worth reading. So far, that's around 22-23 poems in English if I'm counting right.

    Would you force yourself to write some additional poems just to add more content?

    Force? No. But if people were to advise me to add more, I wouldn't mind waiting some more months to publish. By then I should have written more on my own accord.
     
  18. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    So, what I'll do then is echo what Skip said. Check what other poem collections are like, maybe see if you can find people who read/write poetry and see what advice they have.

    I have two books of poetry myself (no written by myself). One is about three millimeters thick, and the other closer to eight.

    Other than that, go for it.
    Having a book of poems that doesn't conform to public expectations of what a book of poems should be like, is better than not having a book of poems. :)
     
    Ban likes this.
  19. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Inkling

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    Check out Draft2Digital. They're an agregator which lets you publish to a dozen sites (including Amazon) at once. It's probably the easiest option if you don't want to do ads.

    For self-publishing on Bol, there's a few self-publishing services in the Netherlands that get your book on Bol. From what I've seen, they're all more or less the same. Most of them you need to get an ISBN at €12,50 (depending a bit on distribution), but other than that they seem free to use. They pay fairly low royalties compared to other distributors though. 40-50% compared to the 75% Amazon gives you. I haven't tried any of them though. So let me know how it goes if you do try one.
     
    Ban likes this.
  20. Ban

    Ban Sir Laserface Article Team

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    Too bad to hear that about Bol.com, but thank you for recommending Draft2Digital. I've heard of it before, but had forgotten all about it. I'll look into it. I will likely focus on Amazon then. I can always add my works to other platforms at a later date.
     
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