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I am working on a book is going through the typesetting stage for self-publishing. In order to keep page count down, is it acceptable to typeset poetry with about a dozen of stanzas in more than one column?

The work at hand is a fantasy novel where there is about a dozen of songs ranging from 4-6 to 10-20 stanzas embedded in roughly 600 pages of prose. Some of those songs would have to be rendered in a single column due to the length of every line in a stanza, while many could be rendered in two columns as their lines are short.

We are capable of typesetting in multiple columns. As a beginner writer, I tried to find examples of occasional poetry (poems, songs) embedded in mostly prose, but nothing in my personal library contains such. I did find a few titles at stores, with poetry embedded in a single column, but those were relatively short poems with only a few stanzas.

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I don’t think it’s unacceptable to render poetry in two columns when embedded in book-length prose, but if it’s done, it’s rare enough that I’ve never seen it done. Even for songs or poems that run multiple pages, they are always typeset as a single column.

You’re likely better off following convention and rendering them in single columns.

Besides convention, there are downsides to two columns that you may not have considered. Two columns requires the reader to go backwards on the page, an unusual request for a novel to make of its reader. How to lay out the two columns correctly also depends on where the page breaks are, since you don’t want the reader to misunderstand how to read it in order, nor to need to flip back and forth across pages to do so. Third, popular ebook formats can’t natively render two columns, and even if they could, won’t guarantee that the columns will display with the intended page breaks.

The efficiency gains in printed pages for such a small part of the overall work will be negligible. Set against the disadvantages, it’s not surprising that we’ve never seen two-column poetry layouts in novels.

All that said, those considerations apply to the final layout of the book. In your manuscript, you are free to compress it a little by typesetting the poetry and songs in multiple columns, so long as the columns and page breaks don’t interfere with your editor(s) understanding the correct order of the lines! Even then, I’d leave them in single columns, since tweaking columns at the manuscript stage is probably work that won’t benefit the final book.

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    These are valuable considerations. The book is going through the typesetting stage for self-publishing and we are capable of typesetting in multiple columns, but will likely not proceed with that as what you wrote makes sense.
    – SuperAl
    Dec 20 '19 at 16:34
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This is not a writing question per se, it is a publishing question. In other words, it's a problem you should only be concerned about if you are self-publishing AND are in the publishing phase of your work.

If you are planning on submitting this work to traditional publishers OR if you are self-publishing but not yet finished writing, then you should simply format the poem in the standard way, and table consideration of this issue until later.

If you end up submitting to a publisher, they will make the formatting decisions. If you make them yourself, you can make any decisions you want to in order to best serve the writing. Beginning writers frequently get hung up on presentation aspects of their work --those are best left until late, and are generally handled by other people. Outside of self-publishing, the only presentation aspect you need to consider is manuscript presentation, and it's best to be as standard as possible for that.

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  • I would not have asked if it was not applicable to the situation. We are aware of the requirements of publishing companies.
    – SuperAl
    Dec 20 '19 at 16:35
  • That isn't clear from your question. I see you added it as a comment to another answer, but from the question, it makes it look as though you're asking from the perspective of a writer. Dec 20 '19 at 18:38

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