Po-Biz: What NOT to do (and what you should) in 2015

by Ron Hayes

Welcome to 2015! Thank you so much for tuning in with us for another year. I’m very excited at the things we’re planning for you this year, starting with this month’s guest blogger. Be sure to check back with us throughout the month to make sure you don’t miss it!

As we begin the year, we’re getting right down to business by talking about just that: the Business of Writing—in particular, how to market your work. For poets, managing the Rumbling Behemoth that comprises the overwhelming demands of the Poetry Market can be mind boggling. The constant calls for interviews, the incessant encampments of news journalists and paparazzi on our front lawns, the cloying avarice of groupies and hangers-on… yeah, breaking out a new tome of fresh verse these days can be mentally and psychologically nightmarish!

Okay. Maybe not. All kidding aside, the fact of the matter is that marketing your chapbook or book-length collection of poems truly can be exhausting for poets. Because the comparative demand for poetry is so small, budgets for marketing and publicity are typically non-existent for all but the most distinguished of poets. That means if you want the word to get out about your book, it’s mostly up to you to get it out. But here’s the thing: we live in a time that is simultaneously the best and the worst time to be publishing. When we consider how many people are writing and submitting and publishing these days, it’s the worst. So many are submitting, and the competition is so wide that it’s easy to fall into the trap of becoming discouraged and allowing pessimism to talk us into giving up. As a result, it’s easy to overlook the upside of the situation: that we poets are now living in the best era ever in terms of access to publishing. Never before has it been easier for a poet to see his or her work make it’s way to the masses. Unfortunately, we aren’t living in a time with a concomitant demand for verse.

What this means is that when we have successfully published a volume of our work, we need to sell it ourselves. How do we do that? First, be pragmatic. Barnes and Noble isn’t going to be getting their 30% discount on your book by ordering them by the thousands. While it’s likely they will be willing to stock a few copies, it’s going to be up to you to schlep a handful of copies (or a whole box if you’re really optimistic) to your local store(s) and press the flesh with the manager. (Oh, and when you do, here’s a tip: inquire about hosting a local reading or signing. Often managers will jump at the opportunity to host a captive audience to whom they’ll sell books.) This has been a tried and true method for local authors and publishers for decades.

Now, of course, it’s not only de rigueur to want to stock your favorite Barnes and Noble and/or Borders book stores with your book, it’s a fatal oversight if you don’t. But I want you to take it a step further. Far, far too often new and inexperienced authors fail to utilize one of the most vastly overlooked and underutilized sources of publicity in their towns: the independent book store. If that isn’t you, BRAVO! Keep it up! But if you’re not sure what I mean, PLEASE educate yourself! Check out the American Booksellers Association at www.bookweb.org and the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America at www.abaa.org to see what your missing and why independents might just be the best thing to happen to your book.

Once you successfully get your book on the shelves of your favorite stores, your work is half-done at best. Now you need to get the word out. It should go without saying that social media is the cheapest and among the best ways of marketing yourself. Facebook allows you to create a page just for your book (and yourself as an artist apart from your “true” identity) and, if you haven’t already, you should wrangle yourself a Twitter account. Use it. Instagram too. Post your book’s cover as much and as often as you can. Don’t worry about being obnoxious. Post.

From there, a savvy author will take his or her Internet presence a few steps further. Sites like WordPress and Blogger.com offer a free web presence should you decide to invest a little time putting together a website for yourself as an author or one solely for your book. Nothing says you have to blog regularly, but it’s absolutely in your best interests to take the time to establish space on the web that is all about you and your work. Think of it like this: have you ever tried to buy something on ebay or craigslist? Which ads did you prefer, ones with photos of what you were trying to buy, or ones without? It’s a no brainer. Pictures sell. So do websites. Get one, especially if you’re a poet. I promise you it won’t ever prevent someone from buying your book.

In 2015, the world can be as small or as large as you want it to be when you’re trying to market your work. Depending on what you’re willing to learn and how hard you’re willing to work, you have the opportunity to reach readers that were utterly inaccessible just a decade or two ago. Selling your work and selling yourself is hardly different than selling anything else. It involves passion and legwork and dedication and confidence and, yes, sometimes a little luck. But no one else is going to do it for you, right? About the only mistake you can make in marketing your work as a poet is, quite simply, not to do it.

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