Recently I read a sad statistic. The average print-on-demand book (the typical publishing model for poets who do not self-publish and who do not have the name recognition of the big boppers) sells only 35-40 copies. Why? Because that number happens to match the average number of friends and family members in the POD poet’s circle.
This is why so many poets are ambitious about their readings. There are better chances at augmenting sales–however minutely–by barnstorming the reading circuit.
As any poet will tell you, reading crowds can be as small as zero (try reading to THAT) and, even when there are numbers, there are not always buyers, especially at affairs with open mics where most of the audience consists of others waiting to read their poems.
Here’s the thing, though. Many POD poets I’ve read are talented, indeed. The trouble is, POD publishers do not engage in any marketing on behalf of these writers. It is totally up to the poet, who really doesn’t have the means to reach the masses. No book editor at a major paper or magazine or e-zine is about to review their collection. No podcast by The New York Times will come within a statute mile of discussing it, either. Meanwhile, the few readers (discounting other poets) who DO read poetry are out buying the usual suspects–poets published by major publishers with an ample marketing budget.
To use a food metaphor in this era of foodies, the little companies-that-could have little chance against the giant food corporations (read: Big Food) because the grocery store is stacked in favor of… Big Food.
But wait. In recent years, Davids of the food world have successfully made inroads on the seemingly-impregnable Goliaths called Big Food. Under the banners of “non-GMO” and “organic,” they’ve charged more money for a quality product that consumers have been willing to pay for and consume.
Why does the equivalent not happen in poetry book sales, then? Most readers would argue they cannot part with the $12-$18 your typical paperback, POD collection of poetry costs–not for an unknown name who might have little talent.
The operative word? “Might.”
But what if your non-GMO, organic poet is pretty damn good? You need not roll the dice to find out by buying the book on a hope. You need only search the internet with the poet’s name. Chances are good that some of the poet’s work is published by on-line ‘zines in addition to paper ones unavailable on the web. OR, go to the poet’s web page (this much most DO have), where sample poems are almost always waiting to be sampled via links created for your convenience (think of the free food stations shoppers gobble up on Friday nights at Whole Foods).
Look. Readers are good people willing to put their money into something they believe in–the arts. All it takes for this paradigm shift, from always BIG guys to sometimes LITTLE guys, is a little research and, most importantly, a casting off of assumptions.
Meaning: You can’t assume that the only poets worth reading are familiar names published by familiar publishers. That’s like saying Nestlé, Kraft, PepsiCo, Unilever, Kellogg, and General Mills are the only food and beverage companies worth buying because they are the only ones supplying quality foods and beverages.
Readers of poetry are the only ones who can break the monopoly on readers held by Big Bopper Poetry Presses. You don’t know what you’re missing until you look into some POD poetry books that have been vetted and accepted by a small press publisher or even published by the author herself.
Bottom line: Do a little research and reading on the web. Go panning for gold. Then support some up-and-coming poets for readers on your holiday gift list. The recipients may just feel like they are on the cusp of something penny-stock big as opposed to chasing yesterday’s hot blue chipper.
Nota Bene: I considered posting links to POD poets’ books here by way of recommendations, but then I realized doing so was sure to offend someone whose book I left out. Therefore, I leave the search to poetry readers who otherwise would only buy books–as gifts or for themselves–with names like Mary Oliver and Billy Collins on them. Enjoy your samples!
Unlike major publishing houses, small, independent publishers have no marketing budget to speak of, so they depend upon word-of-mouth enthusiasm among their readers. Help keep the word-of-mouth momentum rolling for Lost Sherpa of Happiness by visiting Amazon for a copy of this grassroots favorite today.