Getting your poetry book published (or self published) was the easy bit. Now the real work begins – trying to get people to buy a copy!
It’s about now I should be saying do you want the good news or the bad news first but unfortunately there isn’t much good news. It’s really difficult for even the traditional publishing houses to sell poetry books let alone self published or unknown poets.
In fact, of all the genres of literature out there poetry probably sells about the slowest and potential readers are especially hesitant to buy books if they haven’t heard of someone, or at least read some of a new poet’s work. So marketing is the big challenge. It’s not impossible to get sales of course (just think of the millions of copies sold of that really awful, child-like collection of three and four-liners about sexual abuse a few years back) but if you want to be rich don’t become a poet!
OK, here are a few suggestions for selling your book:
• First of all the book must be well-produced; good quality and nice cover
• Sample poems should always be available to a potential customer, either as a ‘preview’ on Amazon or free poems posted on your website and/or social media
• The price should be reasonable too, minimum £5 but probably no more than £10 or £12 (unless it’s a large collection of ‘Collected Works’ or ‘Selected Poems’ etc.)
• Tireless self promotion (online and offline) should also be done
In mainstream publishing there’s a small market for poetry books. Even large houses like Faber, Bloodaxe and Carcanet don’t sell thousands of a particular poet, so lowering expectations is important.
Established (or famous) poets don’t sell thousands of books, maybe not even hundreds. The exception might be Pulitzer Prize winners or celebrities / writers / rock stars that also produce a ‘poetry’ book. Getting on a school’s reading list / exam board’s selected reading would also help of course but these slots seem to be tied up by long dead poets or new, trendy poets who are part of the establishment.
If you’re a new, unknown name then selling 50 copies is a good result. If you have a huge family that might buy a few copies that might help as well of course. So, please keep your expectations reasonable. Even if your book is terrific & you do everything right, you may not sell that many.
Right, where do you sell your books?
I would suggest that it’s much easier to sell your books offline than online, because people will have an opportunity to flick through the pages of your book and read as many poems as they like before purchasing. Plus if it’s at a book fair then the audience probably likes books and may want to support a local or struggling artist. They may also want to talk to you about your work.
A good place to start might be local independent bookstores to see if they will buy a few, or (most likely) take a few copies on sale or return. (The big chain bookstores, like Waterstones, won’t touch you I’m afraid.)
Local gift shops or other retail may take a few.
Book signings can be arranged at local bookstores, or another local venue (a library or pub even).
Doing poetry readings is also a great way to showcase your talent and books. You could also organize an event and invite other local poets (and musicians) to entice a bigger crowd and get more sales opportunities.
If you have your own website then you can always sell your books there, or at least link to Amazon or another online bookshop.
If your book has been produced by a self-publishing or print-on-demand company, they should be happy to link to your book on their website, or even market it for you.
You could try eBay to sell your book.
Promoting your book
Try the local newspaper – maybe they will write an article about you.
Get some flyers & business cards printed. Put up flyers on bulletin boards at your school, library, church or place of work. Leave business cards everywhere.
Send out press releases to local newspapers, newsletters & bookshops.
People will read for free (online, social media or a printed book) than will buy the book.
Getting published in literary magazines & other publications (even other websites) is a great way to build up a following.
Ask websites, bloggers, social media groups if they’d be interested in reviewing your book. Maybe ask if they’d like a review copy. They should then publish information about how your book can be purchased.
Take part in open mic poetry reading nights.
Is there a local radio show that would like to interview you?
Keep a copy or two of your book with you (in your car, or bag…) in case you run into someone who’s interested!
Put your website’s address (or the link to your book) in your email signature.
You could enter a competition and if you do well then a few sales are bound to come.
If you participate in online forums or blogs, use your web address in your signature.
Create a Facebook page for yourself as a poet or just your book.
Update your website content as often as you can.
OK, that’s probably enough to keep you busy and hopefully it’s not too discouraging. It certainly takes a lot of work to market a self-published book but just remember being a really poet is all about suffering for your art so why are you complaining lol.
Seriously though, being a poet is not about the cash, it’s about sharing your innermost feelings with the world. Yep, it helps if the world knows you exist but a passion for poetry should really be about you and the words.
And like I said if you want to be rich, don’t be a poet. Write children’s books about wizards or superheroes or something, that usually works. Unless someone has already done it of course…