getting the word out

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Jeannine Hall Gailey has a wonderful post about what’s expected of a poet–in terms of finding your audience, setting up readings, doing promotional emails or invitations. It’s a good question: When you finally have that book in your hands, how do you get it into other people’s hands?

I was especially struck by her quote from Tim Green, of Rattle: “In five years, Red Hen Press has sold 105 copies of my book. This doesn’t include my own copies that I’ve sold at readings, around 200, but still—105 copies, despite the fact that it’s a fairly good book, and that I have a fairly large “platform” within the poetry community.” (For the rest of the quote, see Jeannine’s post.)

If someone is going to publish my book, I need to support that effort and investment by setting up readings and otherwise letting people know about the book. (Plus, I want to get my poems out into the world. If I didn’t think they were worth reading, why would I be trying to get them published?)

It’s also important to support your poetry community–get out to readings and book launches by people you know, poets whose work you enjoy, to celebrate their successes, or even to host a reading series. (True confession: I am not great about getting out at night, but I am working on that. Once I achieve escape velocity from the gravity of the house, it’s always invigorating and inspiring.)

My first chapbook, A Steady Longing for Flight, had a entrance. In the first year, the first run of 300 copies sold out. A second run of 200 copies eventually sold out. So I thought poetry books sold pretty well. Back to regular Earth with my second chapbook, Weathered Steps, from Rose Alley Press (David D. Horowitz, the publisher, has been steadfastly supportive, setting up many readings over the years).

Later, I thought that Into the Rumored Spring would do pretty well, because it has a happy ending and I’m donating author proceeds to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. And now I’m taking both it and In Both Hands into the poetry community.

In our family, we say that it can be hard to sell wine–but it’s harder to sell poetry.

So if you see those emails or invitations from me, and see links to my books on every page of this website, please know that I’m not trying to be annoying, but I am trying to support my publishers (and I hope that you will enjoy the poems). That said, I’ll put in another plug for my reading with Oliver de la Paz on September 14, at 3:00 pm, at The Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle.

And at the tasting room, we have wine and poetry.

How do you promote your books or your readings or any other projects? What are your expectations?

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In Both Hands is at the printer’s, and I’m focusing on getting the word out. Yesterday, I made postcards to hand out (this was also part of the work transition–a way to create something for my “I’m learning Adobe Illustrator” portfolio), and I picked them up today. It’s amazing how happy a stack of postcards can make me feel.

Today, I sent out press releases for the launch reading (Feb. 9, 3:00 pm, Open Books in Seattle). Soon, I need to set up an event on Facebook and send out an email message.

And this is where it gets tricky: If you want my book or you want to come hear me read, you’ll be glad to find out about the book launch. If you aren’t interested–for whatever reason–it’s just spam (no one wants to send spam, that’s why we put the “take me off your list” instructions at the bottom of our messages). It’s all part of finding our audience–finding those people who read our messages and say, “Good to know!” without irking the rest of the world.

Or does this fall under the general category of “It’s hard to ask for things”? Does it depend on who you’re asking?

(Someone has been spamming me for the past couple of days. I looked the person up on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and am not connected with him anywhere. That leaves me unimpressed. But the unsubscribe link looked fishy, so I’ll just keep deleting the messages, a little more annoyed each time.)

Then we have the question of reviews.

When I went back through my acknowledgments page for In Both Hands, I realized that most of the journals that so generously printed my poems don’t publish reviews. Then I happened on this list of publications that do review poetry books. In some cases, you can send a review copy and they’ll decide whether they want to review your book. Other journals will accept unsolicited reviews, which brings me back to square one: How do you find reviewers?

This somewhat older article says maybe not. Matthew Zapruder, of Wave Books, says, “I don’t think reviews are particularly necessary to help people decide if they want to buy the book or not, since anyone who has access to the Web can Google an author and find a pretty good sampling of someone’s poems on on-line literary magazines, especially from recently published books.”

But it’s all about finding your audience, or reaching a wider audience–and it’s easy to think that if someone finds an enticing review of your book, then they might Google your work to decide whether it’s really for them. As always, Jeannine Hall Gailey offers helpful advice in her post on getting press for a small-press poetry book and her interview with Midge Raymond (I need to pick up a copy of Midge’s book).

Looking for even more guidance, I asked Jeannine directly, and here’s what she had to say:

“First, make sure you have been giving back to your community. Have you been writing reviews? If not academic or commercial, at least on Amazon and Goodreads? People do notice these things, and I think they like to support someone who supports others. I’d also recommend not leaving all the hard work of sending out review copies to your publisher, who does not have the personal connections you might. When you send a review copy out, make sure to include a nice note to whomever might do the review. I know it helps me when I get my stacks of books in the mail if someone says ‘Oh, I’m so and so, remember our discussion about thus-and-such at x conference? I hope you like this book because it’s about x.’ Just getting the anonymous copies with the PR sheet doesn’t really help me as a reviewer connect with a book, and I get so many that a lot of them just never get reviewed. (It’s probably worse for other reviewers than me, in terms of numbers–I’m not that well-known!)”

Important points.

I’ll confess right now: I haven’t written reviews of poetry books. They’ve made me nervous, but clearly this is a good time to start building that skill set (it makes me think of building new writing muscles). I believe that it’s important to support the community by going to readings (and I could always improve in that department, as I look out the window at the dusk rain and prepare to go listen at Beacon Bards tonight).

How do you get the word out? How do you find reviewers?

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When do you click a link?

My next book is coming out in February, so I’ve been thinking a lot about marketing–or getting the word out, finding your audience. (If it’s your audience, your messages don’t sound like marketing. They sound like information–helpful information.)

There’s the message, and then there’s that call to action. Subscribe. Start now. Sign up today. Buy my book. For Into the Rumored Spring, the message is Buy my book because author proceeds go to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. I wanted to make that opportunity more available, so I put a picture of the book on every page of this site (look to your left) and over on the sofa. The cover photo links to the book’s page on the Ravenna Press website.

Not a lot of clicks.

I thought that maybe the picture by itself wasn’t enough, so I added a text link, my value proposition, my explanation–my call. Still no clicks.

Maybe it’s being in that left-hand column. I’ve been looking at new WordPress templates to update my site and get that call-to-action in a more visible and appealing place.

Maybe I’m not reaching all of my audience, or all of my audience has already read Into the Rumored Spring (and I thank you heartily for that).

Maybe it needs to look more like a button. Jeannine Hall Gailey made a bright button for her special promotion and put it inside the blog post. Brilliant!

Then I looked at my site’s exit link stats, and even the inline links don’t get much action. Even the not-at-all-marketingy link to the gravity-powered light and the soccer ball generator, which I thought were super cool.

What piques your curiosity enough to click? How do you capture people’s imaginations and encourage action?

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Book clubs are a good way for a book to spread by word of mouth. I remember reading that’s how The Kite Runner became so popular. It was a good book, but it didn’t sell so well until it came out in paperback and people began to read it in their book clubs.

I’ve thought that if my book could get picked up by a couple of book clubs, that would help it find an audience, help it spread.

But I’ve wondered about two things.

People might worry about poetry

Sometimes, people have reservations about reading poetry. Maybe it’s going to be hard or maybe they won’t understand it.

Or maybe reading a book of poems doesn’t feel like you’ve read a whole book.

But you could think of it as a continuum: You have your novels and your nonfiction, an then you’ve got your short story collections (they’re books!) and then you’ve got poetry (like very condensed, compressed short stories).

People talk about the book

People in a book club don’t just read the book, they discuss it.

Have you noticed that many recent novels even include suggested book club questions in the back, ways to spark the discussion? I confess I’m not a fan–when I’ve scanned the first few questions, they’ve rubbed me the wrong way.

But those canned questions made me ask: How would you talk about a book of poems?

In a novel, the questions might ask about characters and their interactions or about plot twists. Some poetry books have characters and plot twists, too.

Spoon River Anthology is all characters (with some references to previous interactions). What the Ice Gets, by Melinda Mueller, has characters and what a plot–Shackleton’s voyage. Plume, by Kathleen Flenniken, also explores historical events and places–this time from both history’s vision and a personal perspective. Names Above Houses, by Oliver de la Paz, has characters, and its sequences provide a plot (things happen). What are some others?

And what about books of poems that don’t have a set cast of characters, a plot? How would you frame, or even start, a discussion? “My favorite was…” “I liked…” “I didn’t like…” “I didn’t get…” Okay, that’s fine, it’s fast, and you can pour some more wine.

But can you think of a better set of questions? If asked, what questions would you suggest for your book–or for your favorite book?

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Sing for Me coverMy friend Colin Wilcox recently published his first novel, Sing for Me. He spent years and many drafts writing this book—fierce and fearless revising to get the characters and their story just right.

Now he has a book to share with the world.

After the Facebook posts and page creation and a launch party, Colin’s trying new ways to find his readers.

He’s been posting fliers on the kitchen bulletin boards at work. That’s a great place, because people stand around in the kitchen waiting for coffee, and anything to read is more likely to be read. That’s six kitchens in our building alone—but we have a lot of buildings, and Colin’s been coming in on weekends to post his fliers, to get the word out.

He said, “If you’ve done it and you believe in it, you should speak up.” Even though that can be scary. Colin points out that speaking up despite your fears can be exhilarating, so let people know.

He’s right. And because it’s easier to speak up about someone else’s success, I’ll tell you to read Sing for Me. You can find it for all the e-readers, and in paperback, at www.colinwilcox.com.

That feels much better to me than telling you (over and over again) to buy my book. But I should speak up, too—so here goes. I’ve sent another check of author proceeds to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. When you buy a copy of Into the Rumored Spring, you get poems and SCCA gets some cash. I believe in that.

What other ways do you get the word out? How do you encourage yourself to speak up?

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