Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers.--John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture

Monday, January 11, 2010

Give me your brain! Advise me...

Right now—when I am not lashing my daughter to finish her college applications or doing the FAFSA or meeting my deadlines on the 15th—I am pondering the issue of poetry book marketing.

Yes, marketing is boring and is easily left to marketers. But don’t go away! I need you! If you’re not a poet and not a marketer, I still need you because you’re not in the box. If you are a writer/marketer, tell me what you think works.

Yet it seems an impossible thing, doesn’t it, the selling of a book of poetry in these hard and quickly-changing days? The editor at a mid-size house told me recently that they have dropped their poetry line because none of the books broke 200 copies. 200 copies! And the names on that list were known names.

I have a book of poems coming out in 2011, probably somewhere from March to June. (That’s The Throne of Psyche from Mercer University Press; you can peek at the title poem here.) In terms of planning, that means now.

But we’ve all noticed that things have changed in the past few years. Publishers don’t fork out the money for book tours—and certainly not for poetry! And who can blame them? The free promotion in newspapers and other outlets has slipped away. Book pages have slipped away. The selling of a book of poetry is now the most daunting sell in Book World.

If you want a copy of my book when it arrives, great—leave a comment to say so and I’ll put you on my list. After all, Samuel Johnson often fed himself and Lily and Hodge the cats and the rest of his entourage with a book subscription service. Maybe we ought to revive such things.

But what I’m wondering is, what else can be done? Please put on your crazy, magic outside-the-box hat and speculate. People have done all kinds of antic things to sell novels—have flogged them on the subway, have been recipients of enormous book parties, have corralled people to help sell, have done blog tours.

Unfortunately for the marketing side of things, I am a rather modest person, the kind of person who—with an eighth book coming out—is still having good acquaintances in her tiny village find out that she is a writer. I dislike asking people to do anything for me for various reasons that are probably in the a-bit-mental category. This is not good when it comes to marketing! So I am venturing out of my doorstep to ask for advice, a first step.

One of the many things I’m considering is a book trailer. (Worthwhile? Worthless?) After all, I could hire my future film major daughter—get some use out of that great money-sluice, college.
I’m perfectly willing to do the traditional things—I’ll go where I need to go, but my children are three and my time is limited, and I need to make every event effective. I’m willing to go a distance, but not if I can’t sell books. (Sell enough books for me, and I’ll be there… For that matter, if you want my e-self, I’m always glad to visit blogs, answer serious and ridiculous questions, etc.) But I’m also interested in ideas about how to do things differently, and I just imagine that you (whoever, whatever you are) might have a quirky or brilliant idea. If you have a thought, please leave it.

Picture credit: Rebecca Beatrice Miller, 2009

***
On book tours:
http://indiereader.com/zine_article.htm?id=31
Dispatches
Author Book Tour Turns Endangered Species

By John Douglas Marshall
“But the economy alone is not responsible for turning book tours into an endangered species. What delivered an equally severe blow to book tours was the concurrent implosion of the media business. Small turnouts at bookstore events could be justified as long as a book tour resulted in significant coverage in the local media. Newspapers, television and radio could extend the spotlight on a book and author well beyond the folks who actually turned up at a reading. But the local media landscape was rocked by a 6.0 earthquake of change. Newspapers cut book features and reviews, just one of their short-sighted desperation moves, a suicidal impulse since book readers were loyal newspaper readers. Local television talk shows were replaced by syndicated offerings from afar.”

15 comments:

  1. Hello friend!

    It won't hurt to do a book trailer, but I'm pretty sure it won't help either. Back when I was still in book marketing, I examined this road and found all the trailers out there to be lacking - both in quality and in views on YouTube - even the ones for huge, well-funded bestsellers like Jodi Picoult and Dean Koontz.

    I believe the one instance where you might get some book trailer heat is if you treated it like a piece of video art, with beautiful animation, and if you layered your written imagery over the visuals in a voiceover or with some lovely effect of floating or morphing typeface. If R. is up for that, engage her to try it! People do make viral hits out of things that are weirdly beautiful or have a "how'd they do that??" effect.

    Poetry's tough. I think you can Tweet some lines. You can make a Page on Facebook and ask people to become a fan of your book or of yourself, the Writer. You could do a podcast and read a few selections aloud and put them on iTunes.

    Or look for poetry podcast in the iTunes directory and find out if any will do an interview with you. That's how I learn about new poetry these days - listening to the Poetry Foundation's podcast. But there are probably others.

    Good luck! And reserve me a copy.

    ; )

    - Kristen

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  2. Excellent advice from Kristen!

    I've heard good things about blog tours but I suspect that the novelty of those has now worn off.

    I sold a lot of books by travelling around and sending out letters offering talks. Maybe, as a poet, you could offer workshops. I found it exhausting and somewhat demoralising, but I'm contemplating doing it again.

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  3. Oh, and reserve me a copy, please!

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  4. I like all of Kristin's comments, and I too would like to reserve a copy of the book. But I am alas also a writer and probably even more prone to hiding my light under the proverbial bushel than you are, so I don't know. I'd love you to visit my blog! What a nice idea, though I don't know if it would help because there are so few people who read it (bushel again).
    Readings and lit festivals are also a good idea, and a gimmick, like my yoga series. If you can get people who are not usually readers of poetry interested enough to buy books, that would be good.
    So since you are a fantasy type person, get the fan groups interested in your fantasy poem series, get people with blogs and sites catering to those fans to interview you, etc.
    Sorry I can't be more useful.

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  5. Thanks, everybody! 3 copies is a start!

    Kristen,

    That was very helpful, very interesting. Intractable problem meets knowledgeable person...

    Clare,

    I'm with you on the exhausting and sometimes demoralising bit--it's great when it's great, not when it's not.

    Robbi,

    Good advice. I don't think I am a "fantasy type" person though--I am a writer who does exactly what she wants, and I doubt very much that muscular formal verse is what the people who read the two young adult fantasy books or some of the short stories I've published are looking for. I guess that's one of my problems, really, that I am so unpredictable--I lack tidiness when it comes to categories. I've been called a literary writer, a writer of historical fiction, a fantasy writer, a poet, a novelist, a million things...

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  6. OK...got a couple of crazy ideas...you told me i could.

    i do believe we have to take matters into our own hands.

    will send crazy thoughts in an email.

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  7. Okay, sold five books-to-be. If that could only happen every day, I'd be ready for books to come out...

    Vicki J and Paul T,

    Thanks for the perfectly brilliant ideas via email. Feel free to post any you want to share!

    zephyr,

    The horticulture ideas are sheer genius.

    Paul,

    That's a lot of ideas. Shall have to mull the implications... I especially like the "You got gin?" part.

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  8. Marly,
    I am very curious about these ingenious ideas involving horticulture and gin, but the parties seem to me promising. People will come to a party if you feed them, rather like selling Tupperware or those cooking implement parties. You can do a reading at someone's home, make a salon of it, and sell books that way, but it's less effective and more labor intensive than doing it technologically, so you can broadcast it far and wide.

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  9. Robbi,

    zephyr (blogger-photographer-gardener) gave me a lot of very specific ideas relating to the fact that my books tend to be (do they tend? sometimes I think they don't) to be curious in regards to flora (as "Val/Orson" set in and sometimes under trees). So the interesting thing about that is the idea of taking a non-normal track, to find something else of interest in your book and pursue it.

    And Paul (composer and bespoke framer and much else) suggested a jillion things, including parties with g-i-n, poetry forums, schools (but I have no college links any longer), and so on. People have offered to do parties for me in the past, and I have always been so bend-over-backward-don't-want-to-impose... Must start agreeing with a little imposing?

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  10. Yet another question7:33 PM, January 11, 2010

    Make that seven.

    And another question...

    I got a letter in response to this from a friend down South whose poetry book is doing very well. He did 15-20 events for that one and thinks events are still the thing to do. Does anybody else have experience with recent events (versus going with internet events, etc.)?

    There seems to be a gulf between people who lean toward internet and people who lean toward events...

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  11. Why not both events AND Internet? And I wouldn't say you had absolutely NO college links. First of all, I think Hollins would always be glad to have one of its own. I'm at a college, but unfortunately, they don't have money for lecturers, or hardly any. I could ask R about the University, but he doesn't really have connections in the creative writing department, and I have only very weak ones.
    I had a friend who ran a wonderful reading series in San Juan Capistrano (by the ocean in a Spanish villa with the railroad running in the background), but that series is ending the end of this month.
    How about online events? I think there are people who do online workshops using Paypal; why couldn't you do a reading like that?

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  12. Oh, I'm not adverse to both. I'm just figuring out where to put my eggs, how to divvy up my time.

    Yes, and I am doing the summer thing at Hollins and one at Wofford, so there's two college links...

    A reading using Paypal? Who would come? I guess maybe you could tie it to...something.

    Good thoughts!

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  13. Read Write Poem is conducting a mini blog tour with eight participants for qarrtsiluni's chapbook by Pamela Johnson Parker next month; I'll let you know how it goes. I suspect that Pamela herself has done the bulk of the selling so far.

    200 copies, eh? Depending on how many of those copies are going to libraries, it sounds as if my approach of publishing poems in a blog reaches way, way more readers than the conventional route would. Of course, it doesn't bring me the prestige of book publication, much less that fetish object the book. There is that.

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  14. Dave,

    I have no doubt that the poets in "qarrtsiluni" and other online magazines find more readers than any paper publication.

    Things may develop in such a way that there are multiple paths to poems--eventually you will no doubt have a fetish object of your own! I wouldn't be surprised if we have more limited edition, beautiful books accompanying online versions... For that matter, you have been so active on line that you certainly know enough artists of all stripes to produce some beautiful books, whether your own by others.

    You know, I feel that the "fetish object" is more appropriate to poetry than almost any other form. I carry poetry books around, read poems over and over--and I like the feel and portability of that object!

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  15. I have sent you an email, Marly.

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.