poetry print runs?

An interesting post on print runs and another one here. Would someone tell me the size of an average poetry print run? Have zero clue. This thread suggests that a first print run of 300 is standard in the UK; and that selling out a print-run of 2,000 in the US puts a poetry collection in the best-seller category.

Any additional information appreciated!

Update: Just found this thread at the Magma blog. In the very long comments thread, a representative of Ward Wood, a UK publisher, talks about print-runs and publishing poetry. I have excerpted these observations from her remarks. (For the whole context, including original post and other comments, please visit the Magma URL. )

I have to say that for me, this discussion further demonstrates the concept of the ‘publisher’s cycle of need‘.

“I think the main question in the UK is how to help publishers at least break even on the print run. It’s very hard to sell poetry – about 200 copies is pretty good and more than that is excellent. A bestseller is still in the hundreds rather than over 1,000. 200 copies only really pay for the print run, so publishers and editors are often doing all the other sides of the work without any income at all.

If poets are to keep finding outlets for their work – if they want it to be published – then they/we do have to find ways to make people aware of our writing and to tempt them to buy a book. Publishers also have to help with this and it’s all very hard with so few sales to pay for the time needed to work hard at trying to promote poetry…. I do believe that it’s possible to make people aware of what they’re missing, and I also believe more copies of certain poetry books should sell. So we’ll all keep trying.”


“If we want to have publishing outlets for poets, and keep the independent publishers going that we already have, then we have to work really hard at promotion just to get the necessary sales to pay for the print runs.

When I say ‘break even’ I mean ‘pay for the print run’ and other necessary expenses like the postage to send off the required number of review copies. About 200 copies will cover that but that does mean the publisher and any editors and book designers working without an income. Sales of 200 copies is normal for poetry so that’s the problem – and that’s a normal sales statistic even with the poet helping by giving readings.”


“To be more clear – the amount of sales needed to break even would depend on the size of the print run. So, as an example, on a print run of 200, the first 100 sales would break even by paying for the basic costs like printing and postage, and the second 100 would pay for the next print run. So there’s little or no income from it.

You need to get into higher sales to do more than break even, and that’s very hard in poetry. I’m not the business expert in our company by the way but this is my simple understanding of how the figures work out!

Some publishers have turned to print on demand, but we don’t use that method so we need to promote our authors to pay for our costs. Some publishers are using printers in other countries, such as Poland, but they tend to ask for large print runs of 1,000 at least.

Publishers do need to be helped by some of their authors championing poetry. I do understand writers who aren’t comfortable performing though and it certainly wouldn’t stop me selecting them.”

Published by

Nic Sebastian

Nic is the author of Forever Will End On Thursday and Dark And Like A Web. She founded the now-archived Whale Sound site and is co-founder of The Poetry Storehouse. Nic blogs at Very Like A Whale and Voice Alpha.

13 thoughts on “poetry print runs?”

  1. My first chap, if I remember correctly, had a print run of 400 copies; I have no real info on how many sold, but I doubt it’s anywhere close to that. My second chap was just 100 copies. Again, I haven’t been given any figures, but my own purchases for review-and-reading stock account for nearly half the run.

  2. Many thanks, Maryann. Someone on Facebook said her university press ran 2,000 for her first run, adding that is standard for university presses. In this interview the publisher notes that average greying ghost runs are 75 – 100. I’m amazed at how hard it is proving to find this information!

  3. I think it will only get more difficult to get a good number with the rise in popularity of Print on Demand services.

    My first chapbook ran in two printings—but the second was solely because I wnated more copies, and the cover stock was noticeably different than the first set of books I received. I doubt if more than 100 book total were printed for that one. My second and third chapbooks are from Foothills, and I suspect somewhere in the 50 and 100 copies range for each of those titles respectively. My book which is once again in the realm of the unknown will have at least 60, because I get 30 free, which I will be sending out for reviews and such and I bought an additional 30 copies for sales at readings. I also ordered another 19 copies of my Working in the Birdhouse. Trying to do my part, I am going to convince as many people as I can to buy my book directly from the press—they need the money!

    If a book I have written ever sell more than 100 copies, I will be surprised. Actually, stunned would be more accurate.

  4. Hey Justin – Thanks for joining the conversation! As a poet, do you want to sell books or get your poems read? My point in recent posts is that these are two conflicting objectives – the first serves the publisher better, and the second, the poet.

    What I’ve been advocating for the poet who wants her poems read (as opposed to her books sold) is finding a publisher who distributes your collection in multiple forms, at least some of which are free. I’ve been illustrating my point using the example of my own collection, which was published 10 days ago in multiple forms, some of which are free. I’ve been periodically updating its stats and as of today, they are as follows:

    free e-book downloads – 38
    free PDF downloads – 24
    print edition sales – 9
    free MP3 downloads – 4
    CD sales – 2

    Total copies out there in first 10 days – 77
    Total books sold – 9
    Book sales as percentage of copies obtained by potential readers – 12%.

    And yes, I know it’s just one random sample, and it’s crude, and that the variables are infinite, but still — 77 potential readers of my collection, vs 9?

  5. sorry for the long absence. I was taken out for a loop and then forgot about the entire conversation for a week+.

    I want my poems read, but I also want my book to be a real,, concrete thing—have a corpus. I am old fashioned that way. I gave away copies of my first book , not selling a single one. My second and third chaps were almost the same. My full length book will be a bit different. I have about 20 copies to give away, but because my editor makes his living from making and selling books, I bought 30 copies from my own pocket, and I am going out of my way to get people to “buy” copies from him instead of me—to the tune of giving free gifts away with each purchase. My editor deserves the patronage and that means more to me at this point. I already know I will be lucky if 50 people actually buy my book from him.

  6. It will be interesting to see how poetry books do now that there is the Internet, Amazon, Facebook and so many opportunities for connection! My first book of poetry just came out this week, and I’m very excited. :)

  7. My poetry book, Amazon says sold 267 copies, which, I gather from your article is pretty decent! It was a relief to see that average numbers were not in the thousands or millions for poetry books, which made me very happy indeed, as it seems Injuring Eternity did rather well! It is available in EU and the US as well as in ebook version (which the above figure did not take into account). However, my book sales relied very heavily on a supportive press and the fact that I gave 14 readings in one year as well as workshops and lectures at five conferences, which also helped bring my book to new audiences. I know I can do more, but I am pretty happy with the results thus far.

  8. VLaW: thanks for the sobering assessment. i think the way to begin solving the problem of low poetry book sales is for poets to start buying, reading, and reviewing each other’s books. If poets have a problem shelling out $5-20 per book for a poetry book, then we can hardly expect the general public to show much interest. RT

  9. I worked as an intern for Yale University Press (a university press) for two summers. They have an annual poetry contest, and the winner’s full-length book of poetry is published by the press that following year. Standard first-edition print runs through YUP for this contest are 1,000 copies, and it generally jumps up to 2,000 copies for the second edition if the first edition sells out. Books with lower prices obviously sell more copies (think $9.99 a book vs $18.00 a book), which is why paperback is generally the better bet

    Readings are a very important part of any book’s success, as are reviews. I’m seeing the other side of this business now that I’ve had my first book of poetry published, “Chronicles of a Bee Whisperer” by River Otter Press. It is difficult enough getting reviews on books of prose — even more so for books of poetry! If anyone would like to take a look, the link to my book’s amazon page is below: http://www.amazon.com/Chronicles-Bee-Whisperer-Timothy-Stobierski/dp/0983553025/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1354927540&sr=8-1&keywords=chronicles+of+a+bee+whisperer

    Sorry for the shameless self-plug. Just doing the author’s part in the publicity side of publishing!

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