How (much) do you get your book into the world?

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?

2 Replies to “How (much) do you get your book into the world?”

  1. Hi, Joannie. As a poet-publisher, I appreciate your supportive approach. Let me note several figures to illustrate how daunting marketing can prove. In the United States last year, approximately 600,000 new titles were published; this figure includes both new print and e-book titles. Hundreds of thousands of additional titles were published in the UK, Ireland, Australia, Canada, Jamaica, New Zealand, and elsewhere in the English-speaking world. Also, world-wide the Web currently hosts about 800 million websites and 200 million blogs. These kinds of numbers help illustrate the magnitude of marketing challenges facing poets and small-press publishers. Poetry books still sell, though, and some quite well. So, poets: keep the faith, and stay at it–but for five to ten years, not five to ten months, per title. Thanks again, Joannie, for your supportive approach!

  2. Wow! Thank you for those numbers, David. Some quick math: To read all the new titles would mean reading 1685+ books a day. Or a 100 people reading about one book an hour. I also realized that Poetry Daily receives many more than seven books a week, and that doesn’t even include journals. The good news: There is no shortage of poems to read.

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