How Long Should a Poetry Book Be?

The biggest suggestion one of my beta readers had for me was to cut the book in half – release half of it now and the other half at a later date. It wasn’t so much about the quality of the poems but the length of the book. Most of the poets she knew released chap books – small books of 50-60 poems each. My book contained 143.

I took her suggestion into serious consideration and talked about it with my editors but the story I wanted to tell needed every poem in the book so I decided to keep it as one complete whole. I also knew I wasn’t trying to please the poetry community or to make my work fit into modern standardsStacked Books of poetry book length. I was communicating a truth and creating a book my readers would want to open, nearly all of whom aren’t poets themselves, not the poetry intelligentsia.

The book is now out and doing well. My favorite reactions are “It’s a damn good book!” with “kick-ass poetry.” For a book about the deeper rhythms of love, these responses please me to no end. I believe I made the right decision for book length, telling the story until complete, but what about my next poetry book? Should I try for more of a chapbook length? I haven’t made that decision yet but there are some truths I learned this time around that will guide me in the future and I hope will guide you as well:

  • Focus on the strength of the book and each poem within it, not how many poems you’re including. Your readers will appreciate your effort toward quality, not the quantity.
  • Write until you feel the book is done. Each poem in your book must contribute to the story you’re telling, the point of the book, not merely filling a slot.
  • Don’t be the poet people expect you to be; be the poet that you If you see your book as a chapbook, then write a chapbook. For a poet starting out, you may want to publish a book costing less. But if you see your book as a thicker one chock full of fantastic poems, then that’s the book you should write.

When publishing our writing, it is important to pay attention to industry and genre standards, they’re there for a reason after all, but it’s also important to be creative, innovative, and to write the book inside us.

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About the Author

Sarah Katreen Hoggatt
Sarah is the author of several books and numerous articles. A freelance writer, international speaker, book designer, and spiritual director, she holds a Master of Arts degree in Christian Ministry and a Certificate of Spiritual Formation and Discipleship from George Fox Evangelical Seminary. Sarah makes her home in Salem, Oregon. For more information, see her website at SarahKatreenHoggatt.com.

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