You might be saying to yourself, “I’m not a PR professional. Isn’t my publisher supposed to do this?” – Jeannine Hall Gailey, author of PR for Poets: A Guidebook to Publicity and Marketing*
Relying on a publisher to promote a book isn’t enough!
Several years ago, when I signed my contract for my first trade book Tarnished Trophies (Black Moss Press 2014), I knew marketing a poetry book would be a challenge. I was a PR professional, college-trained (back in the days when there were no public relations courses taught at the university level in Canada). I had mastered the basics and honed more advanced skills while handling marketing and communication assignments in the visual arts and university/college sectors. I worked with the media and knew how to pitch a news story, plan an advertising campaign, and prepare a marketing strategy.
I also knew that wasn’t enough. I needed more research, more inside information about the book industry especially how to attract a poetry-loving-buying audience. I had heard enough stories to know that small press publishers relied on their writers, especially first time authors to help promote their work. The truth was that most publishers wanted their authors to succeed but the reality was that publishers had limited staff and financial resources to help everyone.
As one experienced writer once warned me, “if you think it’s challenging to find a publisher for your first book, think about how difficult it would be to get another publisher when your first book flops.
Yikes! That would scare any new writer into action.
But where does a poet look for help?
Wouldn’t it be simple and handy if every new poetry book came with a marketing manual? (I still feel this way.) Actually, it would be more effective for the promotional manual to arrive with the signed contract because the prep work for a successful campaign should be completed months, even a year prior to the book’s launch date.
So when no “secret to promoting poetry” manual arrived, I searched the internet for one. To my surprise, I discovered there were NO Canadian books and almost NO American books aimed at helping poets to promote their work. Instead, promotional advice had to be extracted from short chapters buried in books focused on self-publishing.
Eventually, I discovered this amazing U.S. resource: Author 101: Best Selling Book Publicity: The Insider’s Guide to Promoting Your Book (Adams Media, 2006) by Rick Frishman and Robyn Freeman Spizman. At the time, in my opinion, it was the best book available, even though it had limitations. It focused on promoting fiction and non-fiction work; no mention of poetry collections. Because the book was published in 2006, some of the information was dated and with Facebook still in its infancy stage, the role of the internet and social media in book promotions was restricted to websites and blog posts.
For example, who could have predicted that almost a decade later, social media would be the driving force behind the unexpected rise of Canadian poet sensation Rupi Kaur and her debut poetry collection Milk and Honey? According to the author’s website, the book “has sold over 1.5 million copies, remained on the New York Times bestsellers list for over a year and has been translated into over 30 languages.”
In order to find success, should all poets now follow in her “social media savvy” footsteps? Absolutely not because even if you are prepared to sacrifice your own voice and try to imitate the thoughts and words of this young woman, it just doesn’t work to be following behind in someone else’s shadows. Fads and reading trends change so it is best to find your own voice, carve your own niche, and seek out readers who appreciate your own style. Every book is unique and that means adapting your promotional strategy for each poet and also for each collection of poems.
Since I’ve always enjoyed promoting other writers, I was pleased to recently discover two new publications aimed at writers interested in learning more about book promotion.
Start with these books
For best results, I would recommend reading these two books at least a year prior to your poetry book launch.
Below are my reviews:
PR FOR POETS: A Guidebook to Publicity and Marketing (Two Sylvias Press 2018) by Jeannine Hall Gailey
Bravo, finally a promotional-themed book that speaks exclusively to the poets! PR FOR POETS knows how to engage the reader by sharing relevant secrets from and for the poetry community. For example, “poetry sales and prose sales are different animals. A poetry book doesn’t “age” on the bookstore (virtual or actual) shelf at the same accelerated pace as a prose book.” (p. 178)
Published in 2018, the book includes 212 pages of up-to-date information in 33 easy-to-read chapters followed by additional online and in print resources. Topics include setting expectations, partnering with your publisher, PR kits, getting into libraries and bookstores, social media and blogs, book tours and launches, the sales secret, pacing yourself, and so much more.
Expect some cheerleading from Gailey, “some poetry books, even contest-winning books, will only sell 100-200 copies. But don’t despair. I’m here to say it’s possible to sell 1,000 copies of your poetry book (over even 10,000 –it happens!)”. (p. 121).
Quoting her first publisher (Steel Toe Books), she wrote, readers are “more likely to buy a book from you at a reading than from a bookstore”. ( p. 181)
On the topic of social media, she outlined the pros and cons of several on-line sites. “Facebook has become a good way to connect with the over-40 crowd, while Twitter is better for connecting to the under-40 crowd. Goodreads and LibraryThing target avid readers and amateur book reviewers.” (p. 84)
One of the most useful sections was “Chapter 32: PR Calendar” which provides a check-list timeline for possible action items starting at one year before the launch and continuing one year after the event.
The book’s only weakness was its repetition. The author sometimes repeated herself like an excellent teacher reinforcing the material to enhance the learning process. This works well with a novice promotor reading the information for the first time. For someone more experienced in the field, the extra reinforcement would be unnecessary.
Overall, I gave the book a five star rating on Goodreads:
A quick read filled with valuable hands-on advice and action items to publicize and market a poetry book. What makes this non-fiction book unique is that it is aimed at poets and/or publishers of poetry books. If you don’t think that makes a difference, then you don’t understand the importance of targeting your material to a specific audience and seeking ways to reach those individuals and/or groups. Several of the author’s examples are based in the U.S. but Canadian poets will still find the material useful. Is social media important for the marketing mix? You bet! If it wasn’t for social media, I may never have discovered this book. **
SELL YOUR BOOK: An Author’s Guide to Publicity and Promotion (Writers’ How-To Series The Writers’ Union of Canada and the League of Canadian Poets, 2017) by Suzanne Alyssa Andrew***
Timely! This detailed guide available through The Writers’ Union of Canada “Writers’ How-To series” is the best Canadian booklet that I have found so far to help writers to promote their books. At 44-pages, it is concise, informative, and invaluable for book promotion. For poets, the guidelines are more general as the material tends to cater more to fiction, non-fiction, and memoir authors. However, there is still plenty of excellent advice to pull from its contents.
Organized in a logical fashion, its eight chapters address such topics as creating a publicity and promotion plan, building a presence, campaigns, getting out there, and fine tuning as you go. Several chapters have workshop sheets to fill out. I especially liked the samples and examples from other Canadian writers as well as advice from the Canadian book industry.
My favourite quotes from the book: “Your intimate knowledge and infinite passion makes you the best person to market your book.” (p. 4)
My second favourite: “Here’s the secret to a successful book promotion and publicity plan. Ready?//DON’T TRY TO DO EVERYTHING”.” (p. 8)
Well done. Professionally-written. My rating for the booklet: five stars.
More resources to consider
I’ve added two more resources to my list of books to read.
The first is dated and published in the United Kingdom but it may still shed some light on marketing your work in that area of the world. However, it is unlikely social media strategies will be mentioned.
101 Ways to Make Poems Sell: the Salt Guide to Getting and Staying Published, 2nd Edition (Cambridge: Salt, 2006) by Chris Hamilton-Emery. According to the on-line description, this book “is an insider’s guide to the poetry business, focusing on the issues that matter: building profile, finding readers and selling books. Hamilton-Emery offers practical and hard-earned advice about marketing poetry and driving sales.”
The second resource is timelier and is based out of Long Island, New York:
Selling Your Poetry Book: Marketing Tips For Published Poets (Local Gems Press, 2017) by James P. Wagner According to promotional information: “The publishers of Local Gems Press have sold tens of thousands of copies of their poetry books and are here to share their secrets. Learn about what goes on behind the scenes with poetry books published by academic presses…” and so much more.
Have you read these books? What did you think? Are there any other PR books for poets that I may have missed? Scroll down and add your comments in the section below. Please note: I monitor all comments before they are posted. Inappropriate topics or discussions will be deleted.
The communication business has changed so much since media releases were first typewritten and snail mailed to the media in the early eighties. I expect the business to continue evolving as social media takes over more traditional forms of promotion.
There are three things I would like to share:
1) The product (in this case, the book) must be the best that it can be, because no matter how brilliant your promotional campaign may be, it cannot sell a bad product or a product that the audience does not want. Word of mouth is powerful. News about a poorly written book can often spread quicker than a best seller. Make sure you work with a qualified editor and your publisher has a solid reputation and is not a vanity press.
2) Know your audience. Who are your readers? Where can you find them and what message will you share to reach them? (Did you know the youth market has moved from Facebook? Where did they go? If you’re selling to this youth market, where can you find them? And where will they be 10 years from now?)
3) Book promotion is work but you can make it fun! Don’t expect anyone to do it for you. If you do plan to leave it up to the publisher, well….the times are certainly changing…you could be left in the dark ages.
Thanks for stopping by my blog.
Readers of this post might also enjoy the blog feature on “Three Ontario Publishers Offer Advice Spiked With Harsh Reality” based on a 2017 “Getting Published in Canada” panel discussion with representatives from Palimpsest Press, Buckrider Books (an imprint of Wolsak and Wynn), and Biblioasis.
*from the book PR FOR POETS: A Guidebook to Publicity and Marketing (Two Sylvias Press, 2018) by Jeannine Hall Gailey (p. 40-41) Reprinted with the publisher’s permission Copyright © 2018 Jeannine Hall Gailey
**my review of PR FOR POETS posted January 7, 2019 on Goodreads.
***quotes are from Sell Your Book: An Author’s Guide to Publicity and Promotion ((Writers’ How-To Series The Writers’ Union of Canada and the League of Canadian Poets, 2017) by Suzanne Alyssa Andrew Reprinted with permission © The Writers’ Union of Canada and Suzanne Alyssa Andrews, 2017.