Poetry Inc. – Part One

Being a poet sometimes feels like running a manufacturing business – but without the use of Swarfega to wash your hands at the end. From the normally cleaner raw material of thoughts and ideas a production line extends through drafting, editing, reviewing, and workshopping to the delivery of poems to magazines, literary journals, and competitions. This is a manual production line with poems rolling off the line on a regular basis. Your quality control department is staffed by trusted readers, workshop colleagues, and friends. As well as the supplier of raw ideas, you are also the designer, constructor, and project manager. You could feel an employee of some imaginary United Verses Limited. But so far, we have overlooked an important function or two: marketing and sales.

For example, when you are putting together a collection you will really have to think about marketing and sales. In terms of marketing, you will have to consider aspects like readership, cover, blurb, encomiums, outlets, reviews, communications and promotional events to be organised. Then there are sales to be made, invoices sent, books signed, and copies dispatched. There are also financial aspects to this, such as secondary royalties, taxation, etc. but I will not be covering these.

In this two-part blog we will look at the marketing and sales side of things in a little more detail. All of this makes the role of poet a lot richer and rewarding than just the task of writing. I cannot think of any of these elements that are inessential to becoming a successful poet. I have had to learn all this on-the-job, so I apologise if there is anything missing or incorrect. As always, this is just a personal view of this wonderful activity.

You will need faith in your “product”. I understand there is sometimes a reticence amongst artists to promote themselves, preferring to focus on the creative aspects instead, but this effort is going to be necessary. Getting as many poems published individually will greatly improve your confidence to launch into self-marketing.

For me, one of the joys of poetry is that I am always learning. The publication of my collection by Dempsey & Windle last year was such a rewarding experience. I took away a couple of lessons from that experience that I will share here.

One cannot make real money from poetry; it must be a labour of love. When it comes to selling copies of your book no one else is going to do that for you, however reluctant you may be to do this yourself. You must get out there and promote yourself. A poet reading their own poems is the most effective way to sell.

A striking cover does help. Consider using a professional designer or asking whether the publisher uses one. I have heard a number of writers who have ben disappointed with this most central element of presentation. It encourages passers-by to pick up the book at least and then either the blurb will have to sell it, or, if you are on hand, you can direct them to a particular poem they might like. Gatefold or French flaps on a book cover are a good idea too, allowing more room for blurb and offering a reader an inbuilt bookmark.

Obtaining a good blurb on the back or inside cover is the next step in enhancing the saleability of your book. Some of my contacts very graciously offered to write one for my book, and I have also been asked to write an encomium or a blurb for another poet’s new book. I can attest to it being an involving and not so easy task. A review would be easier. An established poet may be asked to do both. Always pay-it-on, you never know when you might need a favour returned.

Secondly, building contacts is essential. You should contribute to the poetry community. You can make these acquaintances through workshops (critical and creative), events like readings, open-mic sessions, and book signings. Some journals like Reach Poetry and Orbis create their own communities through monthly feedback from readers published in their next issue.

Next time, I’ll look at some the practicalities of all this.

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