Whether you just published your first book or your tenth, whether you write poetry, fiction or non-fiction, the key to book sales is marketing and promotion. Poetry is not going to make a writer rich. However, being recognized as a published poet can lead to paid gigs. There are a number of things you can do as a poet to market yourself. Many of these tips also apply to writers of all genres.
I know of a number of authors who “say” that they never make an appearance, write an article, etc unless they are paid for it. I don’t know whether this is true, but if it is, these people are missing out on some extraordinary opportunities. As in any profession, it can be difficult to get your foot in the door as a writer. Once your foot is in, you can generally manage to sneak in your whole leg and eventually your entire body.
If you know where to look, there are many opportunities for poets to self-promote. Take advantage of them all, because one can often lead to another, more lucrative one.
For example, I started a local poetry writers group in 2003. No one pays any fees and I don’t earn a single penny from it. In 2004, someone in the group referred me to a local library that participates in the Inside Writing & Publishing series for the North Suburban Library System. In March and April every year, they sponsor 10 or so local writers to present a variety of writing-related workshops. They pay the writer $50 per hour for each workshop. The library contact called me and asked if I would present a poetry-publishing workshop.
I developed a 2-hour workshop, presented it at four libraries in March/April 2006, and earned a total of $400. I put together a flyer stating what was covered in the workshop, listed a number of the comments from the workshops (which were all extremely positive), and added a new workshop I was asked to develop – an introduction to poetry writing. I started sending that out to park districts, writing groups and other places that teach writing classes in the Chicago area, and already have commitments to present my workshops to various places starting this fall.
Below are a few ideas to get you started. Some of them do not pay, and some of them do pay. Remember, doing something you are NOT paid for can easily lead to something you ARE paid for!
1. Start and run a poetry-writing group.
2. Host poetry reading open mics.
3. Join the local arts council.
4. Give away audio books to visually impaired people and organizations – word of mouth may lead to book sales.
5. Sell audio books of your poetry book that you create yourself.
6. Lead poetry-writing workshops.
7. Become a teacher for middle-school through college level classes.
8. Teach an online poetry course.
9. Become a book editor, offer to proofread/edit other author’s books.
10. Write a column for a newspaper or a writer’s magazine.
11. Write a column or articles for a writer’s magazine (print or internet).
12. Network, network, network! Join writers groups, arts and other literary organizations, both online and in person.
13. Offer to host a poetry reading for your city’s next Arts Fair, Festival or Taste of the City event.
14. Offer to set up a table and sell your books at local community, school or synagogue/church events. In lieu of paying a fee, tell them you will donate $1 to them from every book you sell.
15. Make good use of press releases. When you have a new book coming out, promote it with a press release. When you are going to host a poetry reading, send your local weekly newspaper a press release. Eventually they will see you as an upcoming presence in the local literary scene and will interview you!
16. Contact local radio stations that have talk shows about local literary/arts events and people. Offer to talk about your new poetry book and other literary activities.
17. Do poetry readings at libraries, schools, senior/retirement centers, nursing homes, etc. and do not charge a fee for these, with the understanding that you retain the right to sell your books after the event.
18. Go to as many poetry readings as you can to read your work and sell your books
19. Participate in local literary festivals, book fairs and other events where you can read your work and sell your books
20. Participate in multi-author events where you can all read your work and sell your books
21. Use your email signature as a marketing tool – list the names of your poetry books and your website, which should have purchasing information and links to any sites where people can purchase your books.
22. Make the most of your website – have links to all the websites where your books can be purchased.
23. Offer personally autographed copies at a 10% discount when bought directly from you. Set up a PayPal account to make it easy for people to buy from you.
24. Forty percent of all poetry book sales occur in the fall. In September, offer discounts on your books for the upcoming holidays.
25. If you have more than one book, offer a 20% discount if people buy all of your books instead of just one.
26. Offer free gift-wrapping year-round.
27. Leave a copy in your doctor or dentist’s waiting room for patients to read while they wait. Put a library card “checkout” pocket in it with some business cards so they know where to order their own copy.
28. If people buy books from you to give as gifts, offer to gift-wrap them and also to ship the books directly to the person for whom they are buying it.
29. Leave printed out copies of your poems (either individually or stapled together) on tables at coffee shop for customers to read – make sure to staple business cards to the front page so they can pull it off and be able to order a copy.
30. Have one page devoted to links to other writers’ websites and do link exchanges. The more websites that link to your own, the more opportunities you have to make a sale. Do not limit it to just the genre(s) you work in.
31. Subscribe to writers newsletters and authors newsletters. They are often a wealth of marketing and promotional ideas.
32. Create a newsletter of your own – send out not only recaps of your recent writing achievements, upcoming appearances, etc., but include tips that other writers will be interested in.
33. The more you get involved in, and the more you network, the more opportunities you will have to tell people about your books and this will lead to more sales.
34. Always help other writers when you can and if you can. It will somehow come back to you.
35. Carry your business card everywhere, and pass it out to everyone you can! Leave it on restaurant tables, on bus seats when you get off. Hand it to cashiers when they give you your change and/or receipt. Hand it to the person at the post office, the car repair shop, the clerk when you pick up your dry cleaning, the delivery person the next time you order in pizza or Chinese. Leave some with your doctor, dentist or veterinarian. Put them in envelopes when paying your bills.