Friday, September 7, 2012

Machine Gun Poets

In a recent article, Main Street Rag Editor M. Scott Douglas defends a new policy of his press to put, in their book contracts, a stipulation that the author will not publish with another publisher for at least nine months after publishing with Main Street Rag. His reasons for this can be found here.

It's always interesting to get a publisher's point of view, especially if that publisher is a poet themselves, on the business end of poetry and poetry sales. Also, I think Douglas makes some good points--trying to get a manuscript or book published everywhere as quickly as possible, especially when it comes to independent presses, not only hurts the poet, but also hurts the presses themselves. Douglas explains this more thoroughly than I can, so check out his article.

However, I think there are some things that publishers can do on their end as well. I remember speaking with a former teacher of mine who had been offered a contract by Knopf, and was debating leaving Greywolf. His issue was that he would get lost in the shuffle at Knopf, and while the money was there, the investment in the poet wasn't. I think independent publishers have this same issue, and it's pretty clear that for many publishers, there's a "here's your book, no go read and sell it" mentality, with little concern for how to advance the poet, the book, the readership, etc. Even something as basic as sending out press releases to local newspapers or information to bookstores seems to be lost on a lot of publishers, much to the detriment of the poets and the press itself.

An alternative to this is limited runs, but this brings up a different set of issues. How does a limited run affect the poet on the long term? Once they churn through that initial batch of 25, 50, 100, etc.--an easily accomplished task with tools like Facebook and PayPal these days, what happens? Is there a second release? Do they call it quits on that book until a "New and Selected" comes out? Do they collect three or four chapbooks and try to cobble them into a manuscript? Do limited edition chapbooks encourage machine gunning more than long term investment in a poet and their work?

As many readers of this blog are published poets, I'm curious to know how their publishers went about promoting their books, and the sort of relationship built up between publishers and poets. What do you think could be done to increase book sales? What do you think poets need to start doing? What do publishers need to start doing? What do the two of them need to start doing TOGETHER to change the game itself?


Dianne Borsenik said...

I can't tell you the number of times I've gone to readings and asked the poets if they had chapbooks of their poetry for sale, only to be told they didn't bring the books with them. I think it's the responsibility of both the publisher and the published to advertise and make the books readily available. I know that most of the chapbooks I buy are from poets at their readings.

pottygok said...

Dianne, you're both a publisher AND a poet. What responsibilities do you feel you have to market said books beyond readings? How do you market your books or those that you publish? What has worked and what has failed for you, in either position?

I ask because part of me insists, or firmly wants to believe, that if people just knew the poetry was there, experienced it, knew it was worth reading and/or listening to, they'd show up, buy more, etc. This would give poets and publishers more money to use in advertising, promotion, etc.

Rob said...

I think Dianne said it quite well. We all want to believe that our work stands by itself, but the truth is that the poet/author has to be willing to become the "face" of their work.

The punishment for writing is having to sell! As for advertizing and promotion by small presses, again the burden falls to the writer. Do people realize how expensive print ads are? I've used some and get very little return. $900 is a bargain for a small ad in a mid-size magazine. It's less expensive and more effective to actually give away books in order to create a reader base. (I'd rather have 100 people who might read my book than 45,000 who skipped over my ad!)

The poet's best friends are coffee house readings where their work can be heard in public. (Always keep a stash of your books handy!)Novelists have a whole different challenge.

bwordpoet said...

I wonder these same questions myself...When I publish my poetry book - I was gonna do a bookstore/library tour. But I don't have a following so I was just gonna make it a collaboration with other more popular Cleveland Poets. I never thought about press releases; that's a nice touch. Other than those two things, there isn't much a poet can do to promote themselves (especially if their unknown like me).

pottygok said...

So far, there are two things that have been discussed:

1) Openmikes/readings to promote and sell

2) Print ads.

Obviously open mikes and readings will help build a base, and appeal to an audience already interested in poetry. My issue there, of course, is that it seems a little incestuous--poets sell to poets at open mikes to be read by poets who will then sell their poems to poets etc. Nobody new is brought into the fold.

Print ads, I understand, are expensive, but I'm wondering if these can't be used better. Instead of publishing an ad in a general literary magazine, what about an ad in a specified venue that connects to the theme of the book?

The other obvious choice that hasn't been discussed is a personal website. Lots of places offer portfolio style websites for low prices (even FREE) to promote work, but again, you have to get people to go to the site.

What else? Anything?

Geoffrey A. Landis said...

Blogs, I think, but only if you are able to build a readership. The key to building a blog readership seems to be regular postings of new content, and aiming the blog at an audience that isn't saturated with other blogs doing the same thing. And, of course, posting a lot of content to a blog for free makes one think, hey, wait, is giving away my work for free really what I mean by being a writer?
How to capture a readership in the real world-- well, that is an exercise for the reader.

bwordpoet said...

To gain followers Poets could write other things like articles or short stories. With luck, fans of your other works could become fans of your poetry as well. That's what I'm attempting to do as well.

Dianne Borsenik said...

AS a publisher, I've advertised my poets' books on Facebook (an enormously wonderful way to spread the word among the online poetry community), on the press's official website, and on Amazon; I've placed them in local bookstores (Visible Voice and Mac's Backs); I've had several "press readings", featuring recently-published poets and their chaps; and I've carried books I've published to every venue/reading I've attended. While I agree that most of the poetry books are bought by poets who hear other poets read, I disagree that no one new is ever brought into the fold- I've had several "new" people buy books lately. A lot of it is in the presentation. If you are excited about the poetry and the poet, then it transmits to others, and they become curious and interested.

pottygok said...

Okay, so the following things work:

*Poet Readings

*Print Ads

*Facebook Ads/Updates/Events

*Local bookstore placement

This still seems to be a "reading" and "ad" based promotion, and I'm wondering if there's more that could be done, or if anyone has thought of a creative way to attract NEW readers.

VertigoXX said...

Well, NEW readers has been my goal of the past year or so. The booth at Ingenuity Fest last year did well. The booth several of us presses shared at Hessler, not so much (but that was largely a matter of a poor location). Last week, I shared a table with Azriel (Writing Knights) at a craft show. Sales were all but non-existent, but we went through a lot of business cards and PoetHaven.com has seen a 300% increase in traffic this week.

Main Street Rag's new policy isn't a bad idea. The fact is, no matter how many book stores we get our titles into, no matter how big of an online presence we can establish, most of the books will be sold by the authors at readings. When an author has more than one "new release" item at a reading, sales suffer. I'm doing my best now to coordinate my releases with other local presses, so that we don't have our books competing against one another. (Several of the books on next year's schedule are being deliberately pushed later in the year because those authors have books coming out this year on other presses.)

pottygok said...

Okay, but again, that's a fairly limited market. Yes, it's a concentrated market (Ingenuity and Hessler both appeal to artists), but I'm wondering if there isn't a larger audience that could be reached, if not for a profit, then for recognition and notice. For example, The Lit used to put poems in the RTA--how many people did THAT reach? What about Omni Media and their kiosks downtown? What would it be like to have a broadside in those?

I find poets tend to limit themselves based on what's been done and what has worked before, and soon pigeonhole themselves into ONLY using specific strategies, limiting their exposure.


The poet doesn't invent. He listens. ~Jean Cocteau