United Verses Limited – The business of writing

Welcome to your first day at work as a writer. A long time ago, I imagined that poets just wrote poems – that the work of a poet consisted of waiting for the muse to join them in some chic café and whisper mellifluous metaphors to them. Not correct. Oh, how wrong I was. Poets are writers like any others; and writing is a job like any other. The writing job has tasks, schedules, deadlines, customers, end-users, suppliers, contracts, finances, research and development. Just for amusement, let us look at these corporate terms within the business of poetry.

The customers are kings, so we will start with them. Your readers are principal customers of your poetry. When a poem elicits a positive emotional or intellectual response, they should feel they have had their money’s worth for whatever price, subscription or tickets they paid. Customers often form a chain, just like supply chains and one can talk about direct or indirect customers. At the end of the chain are the end-users, your readers, both now and into posterity.

You may reach them through one direct customer and several indirect customers. So, for written work, your direct customers may be your publishers, while readers of that published work will be your indirect customers. Whereas, in spoken word poetry it is your listeners that become your direct customers.

A publisher would establish a contract with you to regulate such interactions. There is also an unwritten contract between the poet and their readers balancing some consideration in return for entertainment or insight.

As well as the music of your performed words, you going to need some products to put on that little trestle table in a reading room, whether it be pamphlets, collections or anthologies featuring your work.

Your suppliers are those who supply everything from your writing materials, such as notebooks and pens, to your reading materials, such as books on poetry and literary magazines. I say writing materials, knowing that many of you use computers or smart phones, but I will discuss this more in my next blog.

I have already covered several roles in these blogs: a poet is at once a reviewer, orator, reader, organiser and, of course, creator. The diversity of skills required make it seem like running a one-person business.

There are more terms still to explore, such as scheduling. Schedules are not difficult to envisage. Whether as a full or part-time writer, you should adhere to a routine. Fiction writers often set themselves a daily word count. For a poet, it may be something less concrete, even just a habit of doing something each day, whether editing, writing or communicating. Pick up minutes in each day like a magpie, find words of all colours under the bushes of mundane tasks. But do something.

Even as a beginner when entering your first competition, close reading of the terms and conditions will reveal that there is a closing date, or in business lingo, a deadline. To meet that deadline, you have to impose some interim milestones. This may mean identifying dates such as:

  • a target date to get some trusted friend to read through and comment on your draft;
  • allowing time to address their comments;
  • last posting or electronic submission date.

Some writers keep a specific diary for these dates.

Finding a suitable competition to enter will be the fruit of research, and you could easily spend several hours a month looking for competitions or independent publishers or craft books, etc. An important part of research is also networking, where you share ideas and references with other writers or artists. So many times, artists of all media spark off each other. Cultivate these networks.

You will now see that development of work is only one of many tasks of a poet. Writing this blog is not a poetic task I had originally imagined when starting out jotting down verse, but here I am, basically a non-fiction writer in addition to my imagined role. With all these different aspects listed above, being a poet takes up a significant amount of time. This means I must carve out the time to create new work and not be overwhelmed with the other tasks, otherwise I’ll end up with no product to sell!

The bad news about this job is that it is likely to be loss-making. And yet it is surprisingly competitive. This suggests there is something more to gain from poetic endeavour than just commerce. Well, you know already that don’t you?

Do you still want to be a poet?

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