Note: The following is written for hounds trying not to bay like the Baskervilles. It explores Aristotle’s philosophical conundrum: Can you self-promote your work without looking like you’re self-promoting your work? Heed, then, the “sound” of trees falling in the wilderness….
I’ve written before that a part-time poet (full-time poets, like unicorns, are rare beasts indeed) needs to be talented in more ways than one–chiefly as a marketer/business person in addition to the obvious as a writer/artistic person. I always considered “marketing” to be a matter of just sending out poems to journals and presses, but it’s more complicated than that. Marketing also means being a publicity hound, an aspect of writing that makes me a little queasy as a necessary evil.
An example is in order. Before my poetry manuscript was accepted by a publisher, I was just another humble reader (without an author page) on Goodreads. As a GR participant in those days, I was often annoyed by authors seeking to promote themselves and their books in hamfisted ways.
Sometimes they would barge into groups with spam-posts to promote their books. Sometimes they would try to friend every warm body in sight NOT because they shared reading tastes and/or had any interest in readers’ reviews, but to (surprise!) promote their own book. And sometimes they would point-blank message you privately or publicly to request that you (surprise!) read and review their book.
In the immortal words of Daffy, all of these come-ons led to a single recourse: “Duck!”
Like others, I learned to avoid these (mostly self-published) author requests and demands at all costs. Thus, when authors sent friend requests, I usually demurred on the assumption that another shoe would drop if I dared to say yes.
Still, I was conflicted. And in many cases I said “yes” anyway, especially if I had some interaction previously with the author as a fellow reader and book-lover.
Now the shoe is on the other foot. Now I am probably viewed in the same manner by some GR reader/posters wary of all authors due to a few overzealous ones. Now I am the one with books in need of publicity but in a classy way.
The question, though, is this: Do “classy” and “publicity” mix?
The answer depends on who you talk to, I’m guessing. I learn from other authors in situations like mine. Some are cool about it, and I seek to emulate their subtle self-promotional ways.
Many use blogs, where readers are welcome to visit, read, and follow links or not (as opposed to charging like bulls into Goodreads china shops shouting, in so many words, “Me! Me! Me!”). And, most importantly, some remain as much fellow readers as self-promoting authors, thus presenting their Goodreads biblio-social graces in the best light.
As for Facebook and Twitter, I still haven’t figured out a classy way to self-promote in those venues. All the experts say they are a must, but experiences in both places were negative for me, so I’m on the sideline contemplating, leaving that turf to the Russians, who are much better at it than me.
Meantime, the blog and the links leading to my books. If you’ve come this far, you probably have a genuine interest in my work and will read a new poem that recently hit the web (warning: self-promotion ahead!). Called “It’s the Fourth of July,” it can be found in an e-zine that deserves promotion for its support of prose poetry (or poetic prose, or however you want to call it), Unbroken Journal.
Bottom line? The best promotion–for authors and journals alike–comes in the form of promotions from others as opposed to ourselves. That much is obvious and goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway.
Still, “self-” comes before “from other sources.” It is a necessary part of the game. Why? Because, in poetry, where the field is so crowded and the general readership so low, you could grow old and die before promotions come in from other sources.
Better to keep writing. The more there is to publicize, the better the odds of something taking.
No Comments “Publicity Hounds from Hell”
Yeah, it’s tuff to flog your book and not look like a flogger. I’ve found Facebook to be a veritable goldmine
of potential customers. Friends and family all respond to FB announcements. I have enough poet friends too that ask about the book or buy it when I’m pimping it on FB. A really good “marketing technique” is to read and comment on a poet friend’s work. When I flog a book to any individual, I ALWAYS say, “Don’t worry. You won’t hurt my feelings if you don’t buy the book. It’s selling well and I’m pleased.”
The problem is, of course, what happens when friends and family have all bought the book. The well may have run dry. However, I persist: I’ve read at benefits for the environmental group I volunteer with, donating all profits from book sales to the group. That works well and keeps me from feeling like a pimp. Also, I read at private political benefits for politicians I support, again donating book-sale profits to the cause. For me, it’s not about making money from the book but emptying out that carton of copies in my closet, whining to be adopted.
I’ve been reading a poem or two during breaks between sets with a band I’m friends with. That opens up an unusual market. A typical reward from putting my work out there in public venues like bars happened yesterday. At the theater, a man came up and said he liked my poems, which he’d heard in a bar where the band was playing. Sometimes, that single thank you fulfills.
Good points, all. And yes, it’s not about the money (no one makes a lot of money in poetry, unless of course you’re one of those Thurber unicorns), it’s about the readers. What’s a poem without a reader–Nobody, too?
I’ve been shamelessly flogging my forthcoming book, and frankly am sick of it! At this point I don’t care if anyone else buys a copy. Arghh!!!
Ah, I feel better now, having ranted. But yeah, it’s difficult to push sales. I’d rather just write the stuff, and provide links to publications. Much easier on the soul.
Understood, Robert, but the pachyderm in everyone’s room is the poor publisher, who EXPECTS their authors to flog. Still, figuring out “the way” is almost as complicated as translating the Tao Te Ching….
The real elephant in the room is the Creative Writing Industry’s propagandizing the idea that it’s GOOD every American over the age of 6 is writing and trying to publish his/her own poetry. The market is flooded with mostly mediocre books published by prestigious presses and by desperate self-publishers.
How does one find the golden needle in the monstrous haystack, the bits of nutrition in the inedible potluck? Maybe it’s time to stand up to the Creative Writing Industry’s shameless pandering to our
self-love and need for attention. Look at me, ma, I’m a poet!
As a well-known poet complained, 80% of all Americans are writing poetry, 15% are reading it, and 5% are buying it. (Of course, we ALL think our own poetry rocks and deserves to sell like hotcakes.)
Oh, yes! But finding that way while keeping one’s head above the water AND maintaining a semblance of dignity is difficult. 😬
We are warned against envy but can dream about having a publicist who hounds for a living!
But what a dream!
How many professions are there where in the worker has to sell his own piece one at a time?
Quite a few, all of them in the arts….
See “Muses comma Nine.”
As art, a fair price for the first edition book (original copy) would be upwards of $104,000. compared to a painting which can be done in a week being worth $2000. Maybe the secret is to hand scribe the first signed copy (one of one) and sell it at an art auction? While that has been done many many times, the price was achieved long after the artist (writer) died often in poverty. 10 lifetime books or 520 lifetime paintings? You just have to love what you do and build a dry hut because it’s going to rain.
AND then there’s always that question of poetic quality/reputation. A first edition Wallace Stevens might bring the price you quote. A first edition of my latest collection will bring $11. As long as the poetry market is flooded by established and self-published versifiers, no one will be making money from this art form.