As today is National Poetry Day, it’s the perfect occasion to pay special attention to the challenge of the promotion of poems and poetry books.
To many people, buying a book of poetry means stepping outside of their usual habits and comfort zone. Many people profess to love poetry but don’t buy anywhere near as many poetry books as they do fiction. This means you must work harder than writers of other genres to sell your books. Here are a few ideas to help you on your way to greater sales.
Be Clear About Your Goals
Even books by the most popular poets do not sell as well as top novels. Therefore be realistic about what you should expect to achieve, and do not be too harsh on yourself. Of course, it may be that the purpose of your book is not to persuade the nation to love verse but to preserve someone’s work for posterity. My friend Bill Fairney produced a book of his ancestor’s poems for fun, not expecting it to sell well, although the cheerfully self-deprecating title he’s given it, Just My Doggerel, intrigues people to pick it up! Poetry books such as the one on the left, published by the late poet’s husband, can be a beautiful and moving way to commemorate someone’s memory. Selling hundreds may not matter. But it’s a bonus if you do.
Target Poetry Lovers
If selling more books is your goal, increase your chances of sales by aiming most of your promotional effort at people who love poetry. They will naturally be more likely to buy your book.
If you’re not already a member of a local poetry group, seek one out. You don’t have to join it, if you don’t want to, but don’t rule it out. It’s worth asking whether the group would be happy to have you – a published poet – come to talk to them, read your poems, and tell them how you came to be published. Afterwards, they’re bound to be interested in buying some signed copies, and they’ll tell their poetry-loving friends about you too.
Seek Out Poetry Events
Poetry lends itself to public performance much more easily than fiction, not least because poems are generally bite-size, small units that stand alone and can be read out effectively in a short session.
Attend all the poetry events that you can to see how other poets handle them. Check out your local library. Last year I went to a poetry night at our local library with the brilliant and delightful performance poet John Hegley. It was wonderful. It was also short, modest and small scale in approach, in a room with a capacity of around 50 people, so not as daunting as a theatre. I have been enthusing about it ever since to anyone who’ll listen. And what was the first thing I did when I got back home? Fire up Amazon to order some of his books! Not just for me, but also for Christmas presents for friends and relations too.
Approach organisers of local art, literature and drama festivals to offer a reading. Chat up your local library. When you get a booking, invite friends and family to ensure you have a core audience of enthusiastic supporters. Take books to sell and sign at the end!
Look out also for specialised poetry events that you could join. The organisers of National Poetry Day kindly allow poets to input their events to their website, and the events already listed there may give you ideas for an event of your own.
If you’re creative about it, you may find opportunities at other kinds of public event too. “Tea Poet”, Elizabeth Darcy Jones, managed to secure the unlikely position of Poet-in-Residence at the Ludlow Food Festival. Well, how could they resist offer to read her “Fifty Shades of Earl Grey”?!
Going to the other extreme now, if your poetry is aimed at a young audience, try going into schools and running a poetry workshop. To encourage children to express themselves in verse, you don’t need to be a teacher or an expert, just an enthusiast. Children will be much more open-minded and less self-conscious than adults at this kind of workshop. (The day after the John Hegley event, I took my nine-year-old daughter there again for a children’s poetry workshop, which we both adored. He must have thought I was some kind of poetry groupie!)
Linking To A Cause
Can you think of any charities or good causes that might welcome your offer to hold a fundraising event? There may be a charity that is particularly appropriate to your work, or you may just have a special attachment to a cause for which you’d like to help raise funds. Knowing that you are helping a good cause may give you the extra courage to go public with a reading! Donate say £1 to the charity for every copy sold at their event. If you want to do more, you could also organise a raffle with your book as one of the prizes and sell refreshments. That way you might still make a decent amount of money for the charity without having to sell an unrealistic quantity of books or sell them at a loss.
Run a Poetry Blog
Lots of people look online for poems about particular subjects. Consider setting up a poetry blog to make your poems accessible on line so that you can tap into this way of reaching a new audience. This can be a useful way of gaining exposure without putting yourself personally on show. This is a great option for poets who really don’t want to do public readings and events. This need not mean giving all of your poems away for free – just a few free samples or loss leaders. The website should also make it very easy and tempting for readers who like your poems to order your book online. Any poetry blog should tag each poem with suitable keywords so that anyone searching at random for a poem on its subject (e.g. “tea” and “Earl Grey” for the Tea Poet!) will be more likely to find yours. I can advise further on websites if you click here.
Optimise Online Presence
Even if you don’t have your own poetry website, track down any online mentions of your book and maximise their impact:
- If your book is listed on Amazon – and it almost certainly will be – encourage your friends to press the “like” button. You are allowed to “like” your own book too, of course!
- If you have received good reviews from your readers, ask them to post them on Amazon, GoodReads, and anywhere else they have a presence.
- Again, if your book is listed on Amazon, take advantage of their free AuthorCentral option to set up your own author page.
- Make sure that the right “tags” are applied to your book on Amazon, which are words or phrases used to describe a book to act as a kind of index. Anyone can add book tags, and anyone can agree or disagree with tags already given. Scroll down the page that shows your book and you’ll find the option about half way down.
To understand how helpful these little extras can be, put yourself in the reader’s position. Supposing you had decided to buy a poetry book about flowers, for example, and had input “poetry about flowers” in the search box and several came up. Which book would you be more likely to buy – one that had been “liked” by lots of people, had a string of favourable reviews and an appealing author page, or one that just showed you the book?
Pay Special Attention to the Cover
Finally, a piece of advice to bear in mind when you are creating your next book of poetry. Make sure that whenever you publish a book of poems, you make it look really appealing. Many people are shy or nervous of poetry, worried that they won’t understand or enjoy it. Your cover should make people want to pick your book up and flick through it. Give it an accessible title, an explanatory sub-title if you think it’s necessary, and a gorgeous cover illustration. The inside content also needs to be carefully laid out to make it easy to read and to show off the carefully chosen words to best effect. Appropriate illustrations, elegant typography and graphic devices all help add point to the text. Your book may already pass all these tests, but if not, bear it in mind for your next edition or volume. Click here to view a selection of beautifully produced poetry books on a wide range of subjects to see what I mean.
If you have any book promotion tips for poets that you’d like to share, I’d love to hear them! I’m also always happy to host guest posts on this blog, so if you’d like to write one, please don’t hesitate to contact me.