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Poets and Self-Promotion: A Necessary Evil?

Do you get fed up with poets’ efforts at self-promotion? Well, you’d be in good company because many poets find doing it awkward, which perhaps explains why their efforts are often clumsy and sometimes ill-considered.

Poets these days are expected to do more than write poems. As well as doing readings, many poets are on Facebook and Twitter. They write blogs, make videos of their poems on YouTube, and post to online discussion forums. They network, make contact with festivals and reading series, and publicise their books – if they don’t, no one else is going to do it for them (well, publishers do their bit, but what they can do is limited). Stephen King and Jodi Picoult have massive publicity budgets to get their books in the public eye and shift millions of copies. That isn’t true of any poet. In among all this frenetic activity, poets must write poems. If they have a family and paid employment, the time to write poems will be further curtailed.

I don’t suppose any of this is conducive to the creation of great literature and yet, somehow, terrific poems are still being written. They’re not terribly visible though. Some of the best poetry collections I’ve read in the past few years have sold only a few hundred copies, despite all the efforts authors have put into self-publicity.

I know poetry is never going to have an audience comparable to a Stephen King novel, but it surely has a potentially larger audience than exists at present. I know some writers are almost invisible on the Internet, but they tend to be poets who have already established their reputations before the Web became the dominant force it is today. A degree of Internet self-publicity is generally necessary for a new or emerging poet, but are there less tapped ways of gaining audiences? Also, is it true that certain kinds of self-publicity are more acceptable and effective than others?

How can we make poetry more visible, without making people fed up of the self-promotion that accompanies publication of an average poetry collection?

This Post Has 89 Comments

  1. This is a very interesting topic indeed. Self-promotion is something that I struggle with, largely because I’m not great at blowing my own horn or finding the time to keep up with blogs, etc. A less invasive way to get work read is perhaps to distribute poems to interested friends, family, colleagues and associates who will in turn pass it on, and hopefully recommend you and the work to others. Although granted, this method isn’t going to gain the readership of millions.

  2. I am rather more the shrinking violet kind of poet. I braved a very low-key launch of my first poetry collection last year. I’m on Facebook. I’m trying to make a video of me reading one of my poems – and that’s about it. Whether a bit more welly from me on the publicity front would make a significant difference to the handful of books I’ve sold, or whether I’d become better known in important poetical circles is a moot point. Mostly, as you point out, the only effect is to dilute the meagre time I have for the actual writing. I too would love to have the answers!

  3. It’s no use getting ‘fed up’ with trying to publicise one’s work. It just has to be done, so just get down to it. If you’re fortunate you’ll have the help of a publisher, if you’re unfortunate you’ll be on your own. I’ve been in both situations and although the publishers who got out my second book recently is a small outfit, it made a huge difference. One doesn’t feel so confoundedly ALONE. It’s like when you give a reading and have to introduce yourself, and when you give one in which you have someone else to introduce you. And I’ve been in both situations. The second one is better. However, the bottom line is: if there’s no one to do it for you or even help you do it, it’s down to you. So gird your loins.

  4. I don’t regard it as an evil, necessary or otherwise, but I think that perception is a factor in some poets finding it awkward and difficult. There’s nothing evil about it at all; it’s just a reflection of the way society has changed, and in particular how writing and publishing have changed. Electronic communication provides significant new channels which poets can and should use to connect with potential readers.

  5. We are too insular as poets – how can I promote MY book? – and not generous enough – how can we promote poetry in general, and therefore create more opportunities for poetry (including mine) to be heard? Being immersed in it, it’s easy for us to forget what a tiny proportion of the population actually reads poetry. One great way to promote whatever you are doing at the moment is via the http://www.nationalpoetryday.co.uk website, where you can add any events that you’re doing in the next six weeks or so, and hitch yourself to a readership of thousands.

    As another model of promotion, consider my own Bugged project (www.bugged.org.uk). We wanted to raise the profile of good contemporary writers, especially poets, who can’t yet get published in their own right. We wanted to print quickly and cheaply, distribute widely and yet avoid the pitfalls of self-published titles (often poorly designed, under-edited and poorly promoted). Bugged has brought together hundreds of participants, each of whom will help us to sell the final book. There are plenty of anthologies produced by local groups – what hopefully makes ours different is that we have professional editors in myself and David Calcutt, as a sort of ‘this book has been endorsed by….’

    I say this not just to advertise our project but because I think it may be a good model for promoting early and mid-career poets – in particular, harnessing the marketing skills of a wider body of participants. Too often we complain that poetry books don’t sell, without going out of our way to help them sell. Go forth and read – and have high aspirations, looking beyond the merely local. I’ll shut up now.

    Jo Bell

  6. I’m not sure there is a problem. I don’t know many poets who write for the “velvet curtain calls” and the bank balance – they would be fools if they did. However, most seem able to achieve a level of interest in their work that is satisfying and provides critical feedback. Local poetry scenes seem thriving and I think the web is good here – Neopoet for example. Poetry currently seems to have a vary large share of the public mind though this is related, perhaps to major poets like Carol Ann Duffy and Seamus Heaney – nevertheless we all benefit from the penumbra.

  7. I spent the year after my first book was published waiting for the world to come to me. It didn’t of course, and the fact that I lived in the middle of a field in Norfolk and didn’t really see anybody to talk to except chickens from day to day didn’t help.

    Ten years later, following the publication of my third collection, I am starting to get the idea that I should perhaps promote myself a little, and be less ‘British’. There is a fresh wave of younger poets coming on the scene, demanding to be listened to and read. They seem to have the hang of networking and self-promotion.

    I do get a little tired of receiving self-promoting material from the most over-zealous and have actually de-friended people on Facebook because they have asked me to become their ‘Fan’ of have suggested to me that I ‘Like’ them or their book. I hasten to add that the only people I would de-friend are those who I have never met, and those who have only selected me as a friend so they can
    promote themselves.

    There is so much information thrust into our faces every day, and I would welcome somebody telling me how I can self-promote without being annoying or sharp-elbowed.

  8. It’s a cultural thing maybe; in Britain people tend to get damned for selfpraising themselves, and what is considered ‘good manners’ is self-effacement and the polite self put-down. This is not so in other cultures. So, short of emigrating, the solution is to grow a very thick skin and do your trumpet-blowing and put up with the inevitable backlashes. Self promotion is the only real route available to those who do not have contracts with publishers or who have not (yet) won national competitions.

  9. As a performance poet self promotion is part of the game. It’s a bit easier getting across to a wider audience now that we have Facebook, but it’s a hard slog getting gigs, especially at festivals, which requires tracking down the promoters. I now sometimes spend more time on the self promotion thing than I do writing – even with ten years under my belt and some high profile gigs to my name. The pay is lousy too, so you’ve got to just love it. You can’t be a shrinking violet if you are a poet, especially if you are a performance poet!

  10. The way to get max. publicity is to pretend your a politically correct,
    multi-cultural left-wing poet and suck up to State-controlled bodies,
    local council officials, arts bodies that think they are a social services
    unit etc. But who wants to be untrue to oneself?
    Geoff Stevens

  11. Having just had a small collection out I’m pleased that I’ve not got something to promote rather than just random poems, or the idea of me as a poet. Because I’m quite tangential to existing poetry scenes, not an established, performance or experimental poet, I’ve always found the need to self-publicise a little tiring, but am really happy to do so now I’ve got a book that can back it up. Like a band touring an album, I feel these are the poems I should be reading if I get opportunities to do over the next year – they’ve passed the first test, they’re in print.

    I’d agree that publicising yourself doesn’t help create great poems, but I’m not sure it detracts from it either. Meeting people like Helen Ivory (hello, Helen!) has helped me feel that its possible to do the self-publicity thing, whilst concentrating on the work. Really, just saying “hey, here it is,” rather than “hey, its really great.”

    I actually still think poetry does a terrible job of promoting itself on the web – mainly because of fear of “giving away” poetry. You’ll find very few poems from shortlisted collections/poems of the year – yet the poetry fan will probably buy Don Paterson or whoever anyway, whilst the casual observer will think, well, if I can’t read it, how am I going to know I’ll like it?

  12. Jo Bell has it right. It’s no good just promoting yourself; you need to be thinking about promoting the idea of poetry as a normal part of life. Otherwise you can pass out as many books as you like to friends and family; they won’t talk about or recommend them to outsiders, because as often as not, if you tell someone British that you read or write poetry they edge away and say “good God, is that the time?” I have been at an SF convention where a man told me “Poetry has nothing to do with real life” (he was dressed as a giant green space lizard at the time).

    The blogs that get read are those which don’t just promote the author’s own work but feature work from and interviews with other writers (eg Michelle McGrane’s Peony Moon) or reviews (Todd Swift) or wider questions from the writing world (Emma Lee, Emma Darwin, Elizabeth Baines). Blogs can be a lot of help but we need to get together and make them a real network, linking to each other and commenting on each other’s content. And we ALL need to write more reviews. I try to review most books I read on Amazon, goodreads and sometimes my blog. I wish to God more folk would, because not only does it help one’s amazon ratings, if we don’t review poetry nobody else will. Broadsheets don’t do it much any more, and in poetry mags I’m afraid I get the impression that very many reviewers are more concerned to show off their own cleverness than read and analyse a book properly. Blog reviewers tend in my experience to be better and more useful to the reader, but I wish there were more of them.

    Above all, poets need not to think that any review, notice, sale etc for Fred’s book is one fewer for theirs. It’s the other way about; the more people buy Fred’s, the more may consider buying Jack’s or Jill’s.

  13. Jo Bell wrote:

    “We are too insular as poets – how can I promote MY book? – and not generous enough – how can we promote poetry in general, and therefore create more opportunities for poetry (including mine) to be heard?”

    I agree, Jo! One thing I’ve been doing lately is visiting local book groups (who read lit. fic. but not poetry) and giving them a taster session on poetry. I read them poems I like (from a mixture of historical and contemporary authors) and some of my own poems, with some general introductory chat in-between. I also recommend anthologies (e.g. “Staying Alive”) that they can use to explore further on their own. I don’t charge for the visits, but take along a few books to sell.

    Book group members (being readers already) seem a natural potential audience for poetry – and a friendly and encouraging intro from a local poet can make all the difference.

    I’m contemplating setting up a more structured system (e.g. a website) for linking willing poets to book groups in their area; if any of you would be interested in being involved, don’t hesitate to get in touch. Or better yet, go and talk to your local library and volunteer yourself!

  14. I totally agree with what Jo said too.

    I find promoting others much easier than self-promotion: Ink Sweat and Tears for eg:http://ink-sweat-and-tears.blogharbor.com/ See! We post something new on this site every day.

    I also think that it is easier to promote yourself if you are part of a group of poets. I enjoyed the Utter! Salt evening in Edinburgh, and was interested to learn they had organised this among themselves.

    (And Hello Adrian!)

  15. I wish I had the time to self promote for my own writing, and do agree it’s necessary to help poetry sell. Most poetry books sell in the lower hundreds and publishers just about break even on 200 copies (I’m not the financial expert in Ward Wood Publishing but that’s how it looks to me!) Selling 200 copies is normal, so that shows how tight a business it is for publishers.

    On top of that poets and other authors hope that the publisher will work on promotion, press and media relations, and will help to arrange reading tours and book signings. I’ve listened to this, having heard author complaints about their experience, and I’m struggling to find a way to manage it all so your discussion is a timely one.

    The answer is partly that publishers do have to help, and yet this is tricky because, with little or no profit margin, it means a massive commitment in time and effort on each book and with each author.The only answer I can see is to form a collaboration and communal internet resources that will make this less time consuming and easier for everybody. At the moment I’m starting to put together a Wikipedia page which will have a listing of venues all over the UK and Ireland where authors and publishers can ask to give readings. Some venues will only book authors if the publisher contacts them, so we need to make this simpler. The effort will go into actually building the list, but with it being a Wikipedia page everybody can collaborate and add venues and details on how to book. Giving readings is one way poets and other authors can promote their book in a way others (hopefully) enjoy.

    Now we get on to what is more or less acceptable. Just setting up fan pages and constantly trying to draw attention to our books and sell them can actually put people off. I enjoy videos and audio readings and will click on them if people post them on Facebook, so I think they’re a good idea although some people don’t like them. As a publisher it also lets me see and hear a potential author.

    I enjoy seeing the opinions of other authors in discussions, so I think that genuine interaction on the social networks is also an acceptable way of drawing attention to yourself. If authors are actively taking part in projects that help other writers and publishers and don’t just promote themselves I find that especially sympathetic. A blog that discusses writing and publishing issues, or one that involves other writers and showcases them is more likely to draw a reader in than one that just talks about ‘me, me, me’.

    Another way I think the internet can really help is that authors can offer signed copies of their work, and I buy my books in this way. Signed copies are special, and make a great gift too. Because of this I’ve been compiling a list of authors who would like to offer signed copies of their work. Again, an Author Signed Copies project will work better than individual authors saying ‘Buy a signed copy of my book’. Instead we can have a listing of authors who provide signed copies, and that would attract readers and customers.

    Royalties are all well and good, but authors make more by selling their own signed copies so this is well worth doing as a communal effort. Online sellers can ask for a discount of up to 60% from publishers, which means little or no income. So I’m all for authors selling their own books and would really promote our authors to help them do that. Buying directly from the publishers’ website is another way of helping these small businesses survive.

    I agree with you that poetry could appeal to far more buyers and I strongly believe that we can sell more than 200 copies of poetry collections if we all work at it. People love poetry. It’s just that some people don’t realise what they’re missing and we have to reach out to them.

  16. I organise Tongues&Grooves Poetry and Music Club in Portsmouth. Our programme of featured poets is full now until October 2011, and I appreciate that I no longer need to approach anyone to come and read. Most poets wanting to promote their new collection make contact by e mail and/or send a copy of their book. If a poet has a profile on Poetrypf I always take a look at that. I’m less inclined to listen on You tube, My Space or Facebook as it’s too time consuming. Most of the poets I’ve already heard of, or know – but not always.

    When my own book came out in 2007 I did so many readings that I got fed up listening to myself. I enjoy promoting poetry, meeting poets, turning people on to poetry, but it tends to divert the imagination away from one’s own writing. Perhaps this is not such a bad thing – by the time I have enough poems for a new collection I’ll be ready to face the world (and myself) again.

  17. It depends on how you approach it. There’s nothing more annoying than someone who has nothing to talk about other than their own work it can become boring and counterproductive. The poets I most like to follow on their blogs, Facebook or Twitter are those who have something to say about themselves or interesting issues or who share links to interesting articles or to other people’s creative work.

    In my blog and on Twitter I talk about environmental issues and crafts as well as poetry, I often review other people’s poetry and other books. I have a lot of readers who aren’t necessarily poetry fans.

    Another point is though, I think that any poet who signs up to Twitter or Facebook or who has a blog and who never markets their own work is missing a huge trick. (I know people who do this!). It’s all about balance and thinking about creative approaches.

  18. I assure you that some of us Americans also have an aversion to self-promotion or anything that might smack of bragging. Before the advent of the web, it was really difficult for us to make ourselves heard, but now that’s changed: we can set up a blog, start an online magazine, start or join a blogging network, submit to the welter of new online magazines — all without really ceasing to be shy people in real life. I’ve been blogging for seven years now and have a daily readership in the mid-hundreds — not spectacular for a blog, but GREAT compared to the audience I’d reach through literary magazines or live readings — and I strongly agree with the comments already made here about the importance of generosity in blogging. I wince when I see a writer’s blog with no title other than the name of the writer, no blogroll or links section aside from links to her own material elsewhere on the web, and the clear message that the blog is in service to her real work, which is elsewhere. That’s a perfectly valid way to use a blog if you’re already an established writer and just want to update fans on your latest activities. But if you started a blog to launch a reputation, you’re not going to succeed unless you comment widely on other blogs and link to them often from your front page. There are several weekly writing-prompt sites that attract some top-notch poets (and a bunch of learners, but don’t worry, poet-cooties aren’t contractible over the web). Involvement in discussion lists and other social networks is important, too.

    All this seems fairly intuitive, but I’d like to add two further, related suggestions:
    1) Don’t just blog ABOUT poetry; include actual poems!
    2) Consider blogging about more than just poetry and writing-related stuff. Anything you do or think about might be of interest to fans of your work. But more than that, if your blog gets a reputation as an interesting destination for discussions of art or culture, personal reflections on being a single mom, cooking techniques, photography, sketching, or whatever it is you’re also good at or interested in, you have a real chance of enlarging your readership beyond just other poets — who, let’s face it, are not always the best and most attentive audience anyway. Yes, we have to support each other, together we rise and all that. But a lot of us, shy or otherwise, are self-absorbed bastards. And who wants to live in a world where only poets read poetry?

    A lot of online writers will advise against posting unpublished poems on your blog, because this will spoil your chances of publishing them elsewhere. Some compromise and post them for a short time, then take them down, or put them in private posts and give out the password to anyone who asks. If you’re already published widely, you can simply share poems a month or two after publication, though this won’t have the excitement and immediacy of posting working drafts, and you won’t get as much benefit from reader feedback.

    I have a couple responses to this. First, we need to be louder in telling journal editors to make an exception in their submission guidelines for previously blogged work, because in general, I think, publishing the work of popular bloggers who will link to their magazine is something editors should want to do if they care about enlarging their readership, and in any case redundancy of content can’t be prevented since rights in most cases revert to authors after publication, and nothing prevents them from re-posting. That’s our attitude at qarrtsiluni, the online journal I help publish. But I also advise writers to think about their blog as a destination rather than just a way-station. If you’re a socially active blogger with a diverse readership, chances are very good that you’ll develop a larger readership in a year or two than all but the most established of journals — certainly larger than most print magazines. But even online magazines have a struggle getting as many readers as a reasonably popular single-author blog, because I guess online readers are attracted to personalities and to social interaction (and very few literary magazines allow reader comments).

    Through blogging, you can cultivate a relationship with readers more like what you might get at a good coffee-shop reading than through publication in a magazine, and it can help you grow as a poet. Poems published to the blog can be edited at any time, or you can post new drafts separately and link back to earlier versions — there’s no more wincing to see that earlier, imperfect draft that you submitted a year ago printed for all the world to snigger at. As for whether this ultimately translates into more sales of traditional, printed books: I don’t know. I do know my own first pamphlet-sized print collection (by a friend I met through blogging) has sold somewhere around 150 copies over the past seven months with little effort on my part beyond announcing it on the blog and on Facebook and Twitter. I’m grateful to have it available for those who like such things, and glad that I can still mostly avoid the odious job of self-promoting, but for me, the blog remains my primary outlet and the focus of my energies as a writer.

    Don’t listen to people who tell you it’s all about building a personal brand: they’re full of crap. The world is already saturated with brands. People are hungry for meaning and for connection, and as a poet, you are uniquely qualified to give them that.

  19. I am glad that self promotion will become the norm in the next decade. It is something we all have to grasp. Remember you have produced something that needs to sell, that is probably worth selling, so shout about it. Writing is no different from any other industry, you have to sell, you are no better than someone who works a 9 to 5 job, they have to sell to. They have to sell the fact that they can do the job. Shrinking violet or not, remember what you are selling is you as a product, you are not selling your soul, you are not selling you, you are selling your book, collection, magazine. Think of yourself in the third person. I have been a publisher, editor and promoter and if you do not believe in yourself enough to promote it yourself then how do you expect an agent, a promoter or even a reader to believe in you? I know that sounds harsh but this is a competitive industry. I have been a publisher and a promoter, I know how frustrating it is to have a writer who won’t promote their book, it is hard then to target a new audience. Being a writer has always been more than just writing, Shakespeare was a self-promoter, Dickens, Thackeray and all of the Bloomsbury set, Dylan Thomas was relentless, so don’t be ashamed to promote something you think is good.

  20. This is a really interesting discussion. I agree. Poets have to promote themselves, and it’s increasingly expected. Readings, blogs, networking, etc (but it can get annoying and it doesn’t come naturally to some.) I don’t know what the exact answers are. With the increase of the amount of ads for books and authors I wonder how long it will take till we get desensitised to this because there isn’t enough time in the day to read everything we receive ads for.

    One thing I’ve found, is there is a lot more pressure to be an excellent public speaker. There is a rise in performance poetry and the standard of their reading skills are extremely high. I’ve noticed an increase in performance poetry nights and the amount of poets reading in one night. This is all well and good, I’m not crtiicisng this one bit, but there are some poets who just aren’t good readers (I’m one of them.) I have worked on this area, but when I’ve done readings I’ve found it hasn’t helped with promoting my work because I can never come across as well as skilled performers. I found comedy poems always go down better at events, but this isn’t necessarily what I personally write best or want to write. I love the idea of making poetry more accessible and relevant and poets supporting each other, but sadly on many nights I’ve been to (perhaps because they are lengthy and people don’t have time) many poets will come and read their work then leave without seeing the other writers at all. It’s difficult for some poets because many events have lost funding and can’t pay performers even expenses (nobody becomes a poet to make money, but it can get expensive going to events to promote work. I’ve been to many where no one sells a single book.) (For me, in the end after years of trying and events becoming more performance based I began to suffer from anxiety about public speaking altogether and was unable to read my work at all. I did suggest doing an event to sign copies of my book where other people would read my work but was told by a writing organisation people would find it too weird.)

    I have to love the post saying the world is full of enough brands. But I think people may expect one. A publisher is looking for good work, but that’s no longer enough.Some publishers now need to sell 500 plus copies to break even I believe. The poetry book needs to sell more copies than ever before. And with more writing courses popping up there are more good writers than ever. Ultimately publishers may be looking for writers as a package- good writing, yes, but they will also look into what the writer is doing to promote their work (do they have a website?, how many readings, how good are they at reading,what networks and profession are they involved with will promote their work and sell copies, etc, etc.)
    I’m not sure what the answer is. I still haven’t found a way to find a readership and come up with a way that works to promote.In some ways it sounds easier now we have the net, but I’m not sure. With more zines, blogs, ads for books and events coming in daily even poets can’t possibly give them all our attention. Poetry is becoming in some ways more a part of our daily life, but perhaps not always in the best way. I don’t have an answer (though what dave said about competitions and magazines considering permitting work that has been on line on a personal blog etc is something to consider.) I like the idea of poetry being part of our lives more, but to do this I wonder if we need to consider finding new ways of fitting it in. One thing I considered was short events. Events in my area tend to run from 8pm till pub closing time (it’s a large commitment of time, and a long time to listen to words i think.) I’d like to see events that are no more than an hour long, maybe on at 7 or 7.30 or after work, where people can hear poetry briefly on their way home and ahve time to digest it. Unfortunately everytime I’ve suggested this everyone has said ‘great idea’, but lets do this, then that, in the end they defeat the whole point and end up with something three hours long! 🙂

  21. Good conversation here and good ideas – thanks.

    As a poet, writer, and somewhat reclusive person who was taught not to toot one’s own horn, the need for self-promotion has been a difficult aspect of the writing life. Ironically, the Internet makes it easier since we can present ourselves through the written word, rather than, say, workshops or speaking engagements.

    Although I try to keep a low profile locally, I’ve become more accessible on line where I focus on drawing people to my blog and website, The Poetry Editor. I keep thinking that by discussing ways to read, write, edit, or revise poetry more effectively, I’ll help poets to help their poems, thereby increasing their readership and encouraging poetry as a whole.

  22. I have found the best way to deal with the self promotion versus humility/anxious inner dialogue is to think about my publisher struggling to survive in a harsh economic climate. For me it helps assuage any anxiety about waving to people as I then feel I am trying to help them rather than me. All small presses are not just waving but drowning so the more of us that wave the better. The more I sell the better it is for the publisher . This, as I say is merely a psychological ‘trick’ to stop my toes curling.
    Never underestimate what chance throws your way and be prepared. Once happened to talk to a total stranger on the train about the book they were reading. She turned out to be someone who trained nurses in accident and emergency units in Canada and as my collection in part deals with reaction to trauma I slipped her my details and my e mail address and she later bought 20 copies from me to use when training her nurses how to deal with traumatised realtives etc. You never know when that little business card with details on about how you can buy a book or contact you can come in useful. So apart from all the social networking on the web the good old business card ( you could fit a haiku on it even) always pays dividends.
    I Facebook, twitter ( via computer rather than phone which is still allowable I think). I also write a blog in which I actually don’t name myself but you could find out who I am by clicking on a few links and ‘hey presto’ there is my Author page on the salt website. I write about poetry, fiction and lots of other things that just happen to crawl inside my headspace. I post links to other poets, poems on the National Archive etc, review some books ( unbidden and unasked I hasten to point out, not as a ‘you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours’ scenario) and generally just try and promote reading books, especially poetry books. I mingle this in with real life happenings and what is happening out there in the world because poets are real people in a real world coping with the same sort of everydayness as others. I get a nasty shiver up my spine when some people see poets as someone ‘removed’ from the hurly burly of life, artistic commentators rather than participants in all the great things and the crap that binds us together as human beings.
    So in short how I cope with it all is
    A) I think about your poor publisher who has believed in you enough to publish your book to help you get over self promotion performance anxiety.
    2) Get business cards you never know when they can come in handy and a more portable than your actual book when out and about!
    3) Blog, tweet, status post if you are up to the technology but be human , you have to give something of yourself and not be just some steam rollering publicity machine.
    4) If I only sell one book at a reading when I hoped to sell five or six or more just tell yourself that, that one person may show it to several people and who knows where that could lead in terms of sales and publicity.
    5) Contact venues and anywhere books are read . Do not turn your nose up at readers groups, church groups, the good old WI, mothers groups, etc as they can be eager purchasers. If you ask for a reading and they turn you down or put you on a waiting list of 200 other hopeful readers at least you’ve tried and you should pat yourself on the back for that.

  23. I am a grumpy old guy who saw early on that Bob Dylan and allem Ginsberg ruled outside the academy and “whoever” ruled inside. Self promotion goes to goals and stages of desperation. It is a real high getting published and a real low
    having to put up with the chatter that follows. Poetry is best never seen as a career.
    Very good people exist in the publishing field, in the academy and out. In America, we are provincal in an odd way. We know a few Irish, and some of the elder Brits, but we are more like likely to get eastern Europe, Asain, and South american poets in translation. Poems same enough to be like migrating birds.
    As long as a poet is poeting, that is enough. It is joy not fame that matters.

    Best thing about self promotion is small audiences who care and meeting friends
    who share the twiasts and turns of 21st century bardisms.

  24. Andrea, thank you, thank you for saying what you just did about small publishers! As Dave’s co-managing editor at qarrtsiluni, and also a small independent publisher of (mostly poetry) books, I especially appreciate your words. When wearing those hats it’s easy to champion and help the writers we publish. But I’m a writer and blogger, too, and when it comes to my own work I know all about the reticence about self-promotion. It helps to be able to see both sides. What I would like to emphasize is that publishing poetry in today’s market – if we can even call it a market! – is far more successful when the author and publisher see it as a collaborative partnership. Writers must learn to promote their own books, hopefully supported by excellent graphics and P.R. materials generated by the publisher, and publishers have to be far more nimble and innovative than ever before. We need to embrace this not only as individuals with (or hoping for) relationships with publishers willing to put their money and time into promoting poets and poetry, but as a community of creative people committed to the continuance of poetry as a vital, living artform with much to say about all aspects of life in the modern world.

  25. Lots of great ideas here, but one to remember is that promoting one’s poetry collection is a superb way of creating new, and often powerful, friendships.

    In a world that’s increasingly insular with non-talking heads glued to computers,
    the poet who makes the effort to put herself out there will benefit greatly.

    Take some acting or elocution lessons so that when you read your work you’ll give the audience a sense of excitement. Nothing kills book sales quicker than a
    boring monotone.

    Embrace the worlds of twitter, facebook, poetry readings collectives, and bringing poetry to places where no one visits (retirement homes, prisons, schools in iffy areas, businesses/corporations) is vital to elevating people’s
    spirits and reminding people of poetry’s potential to thrill, to soothe, to enchant.

    Broadsides are as effective today as they were centuries ago; post them where you want them seen, with references to your contact info, of course.

    NEVER send anything out to anyone without some contact info. It is the most common error in self-promotion and the simplest one to correct.

    Good luck!

  26. If it’s good, it’s best shared with a live audience, let’s face it 0.1% of us will make a name for themselves and even less will make a good living from writing poetry, so why not just enjoy the buzz of creating stuff to share with a live audience? Poetry is all about communication and the best communication is face to face. All that time spent proposing, promoting, and toting your work to publishers could be spent enjoying your love affair with words. Blogs, etc., who has the time it takes? Not me. That’s why this is short and sweet!

  27. If you have time to write, you have time to blog. And while I agree that live readings are great, as Angela says above, not all poets are born performers.

  28. I agree with what Dave and Juliet had to say (and am so glad they elaborated because now I can keep my post short.)

    I like the interaction that happens with blogs and with the online journals which allow for comments. Are we just reading our own poetry in the journal we were published in or are we reading the poetry of others and responding? Writers and poets are somewhat on the outside looking in. This craft of writing creates a bit of an outside-the-circle-sensation. We observe more than we participate. But I have found through online participation in blogging, online journals,and FB, that a circle of outsiders (aka writers/poets) are bonding and reading each other’s words more and more. Blogs that do more than speak of poetry business are drawing readers.

  29. There are many excellent thoughts to consider here, and I am grateful to Matt Merritt (Polyolbion blog) for pointing me to this discussion.

    * I found Adrian Slatcher’s approach of “hey, here it is” rather than “hey, it’s really great” a good one.

    * I would endorse Juliet Wilson’s views on ‘creative approaches’ to publicity and blogging.

    * I like Sheenagh Pugh’s idea of forming poetry blogs across the web into a network. If wildlife enthusiasts can form networks (and I enjoy belonging to Nature Blog Network), then surely more writers can, too. As a start, I intend to follow some of the links to the contributors of this discussion.

  30. Some wonderful and interesting answers. In response to the idea that face-to-face is best, I can see that to some extent, but also know that many people have performance anxiety to the extent that they can’t read. Others have illnesses and disabilities that can mean they are housebound or unable to get to events. I know many people like this as I’ve been involved in projects for writers online. The internet has totally changed the lives of people who want to be involved in writing but can’t get out or can’t perform.

    I was left on my own with two small children and couldn’t get out to poetry events for 10 years as they’re all in the evening. Now my kids are getting bigger and I can get out, and I really enjoy it. But for those 10 years the internet let be keep in communication with other writers and readers.

    Not being able to get out, and not being able to perform, doesn’t stop you being able to share your work and gain a following. I didn’t have time to promote my book but it sold out and it must have been due to people seeing me involved in other projects online. Another great advantage of the internet is that it lets us share our writing with international readers and writers. That’s a massive change.

    For those with performance anxiety I can say that publishers don’t necessarily expect you to get up and give readings. I know the internet can be just as effective and probably more so. I also recommend recording your readings using Audacity (free download) or webcam and YouTube. You don’t get performance anxiety when you record and broadcast in this way and it can give you the confidence to try getting up in front of a small audience.

    Bookshops will have author signings without a reading. You could also combine it with music and/or an art exhibition. I see nothing wrong with an author doing a signing and having a ‘professional’ reader doing that part for them. Why not. Do what you’re comfortable with.

    Adele

  31. I think I have to disagree with Dave about putting stuff not directly related to writing on a writer’s blog. If I go to a writer’s blog I’m interested in his or her views on writing; I don’t really want to know their views on religion or politcs unless these are directly relevant (for one thing if they turn out to be on the other side of politics I might have to stop liking them so much) and if I find mumsy stuff on “cooking techniques” and suchlike subjects that would be a turn-off for me anywhere else, I may well go away and never return… I do sometimes put more personal stuff on my blog (about my cat, mainly), but I friends-lock it so that nobody who just comes there for the writing will have to put up with it.

  32. I agree with Sheenagh, although this may be different for others. I’m mostly attracted to blogs that concentrate on posts directly related to writing and publishing. Although I’m a dedicated mother and adore my dog the two subjects that most put me off a blog are parenting and pet-loving. I think the reason for this is that, although our children and our pets are so special to us and the most important experience in our lives, it’s an experience that’s surprisingly similar so it would take quite a story to make it interesting. Discussions that concentrate on parenting and pets have got me involved in the past but people always end up arguing on them if you want to use them for advice!

    Having said that, the blogs that do interest me are varied in subject matter. To give examples of favourites: Pascale Petit’s blog is visually stunning at times with her artwork, photographs, videos, and pics of her travels to places I’d love to go to. This is all relevant to her writing of course. I’ve always read Todd Swift’s blog, which also shows a writer’s life but mainly concentrates on news and reviews of interest to writers, publishers and readers.

    With my own blog I decided to write about the experience of setting up a publishing company, mainly because I want to look back on a diary of all the steps I took as I took them. These posts have drawn more interest to my blog than any others, and this surprised me. Saying a blog is ‘just about writing and publishing’ is a bit misleading as a writer/publisher’s life makes so many themes relevant.

  33. It’s not about self-promotion – it’s about joining in. Let’s be honest – most of the people who read poetry write poetry. Doing readings, being at readings, talking to people via the internet is part of the fun, as well as targeting your ‘market’. And there’s an awful lot of generosity in the community towards people who take the trouble to join the gang.

  34. I agree, Elizabeth. One of the best things about being a poet is that we socialise by going to open mics etc, and we also support each other. Whether it’s face-to-face or online this is a real bonus. Fiction writers would love to have a similar way of sharing their work both on and offline.

    I organise online open mics in the virtual world of Second Life and typically have audiences of about 30-40 at weekly events, which is fantastic and it’s wonderful to show how popular poetry can be. In the virtual world poetry events compete against hundreds of other events daily (including everything from music to games and porn). Poetry is described as ‘massively popular’ in the virtual world – I’m talking about open mics using 3D environments where we move around as characters and speak into a headset while standing on stage or sitting in the audience. If it’s so popular when competing against porn, games and internet dating activities, then I think it should be just as successful in other online places and in the ‘real’ world.

    For this reason I feel it’s essential to champion poetry on the internet as much as possible. When some of us started trying to get interest in poetry on Second Life we were pooh-poohed as not likely to succeed in an environment where relationships and erotica ruled. The porn has been removed to a separate virtual world now (because it puts people off setting up and attending other projects) and art, poetry and education are thriving. ‘Believing makes it so’ is a motto I like. People love poetry – we just have to let them know what they’re missing.

    I don’t recommend coming on to Second Life, by the way. It’s incredibly time-consuming and will stop you writing if you have an addictive personality. However, to answer a question that’s probably in your minds, the talent of the aspiring writers on there and the standard of the poetry is impressive. Many of the people can’t get out of their houses for various reasons, including disabilities, so I know very well how important the internet is for social interaction regardless of promotion. Promotion comes as a by-product when you use the internet to mix with other poetry lovers, and it’s international.

  35. I find self-promotion difficult but promotion of poetry itself easier, and more rewarding. I love attending readings and open mics, both to take part and to listen to others’ work, and also to meet people, 99% of whom are generous and supportive of everyone “in the gang”.

    Whilst self-promotion is needed, as it’s supporting the publishers who have invested their time, effort and money in the poet’s work, it’s worth remembering that everyone who buys a copy of either your book (or someone else’s for that matter), has made a choice to spend some of their hard-earned money on doing so. Treating audiences with respect and treating them as people as opposed to just potential buyers. Whilst FB etc is a good networking tool, as other posters have mentioned, it should be a part of a supportive network where possible. I get frustrated at posters who just expect FB to be another marketing option, just for self-promotion and never any mention of other events etc.

  36. Wow- what an amazing discussion, but how odd that people who want to publish their work to a wide audience say they’re not interested in promoting their words.
    New media creates a direct relationship between readers and writers which seems wonderful to me and allows writers to take direct control of how they share their work with an audience.
    We have lots to learn about how to operate in this new landscape, but surely everything to gain.

  37. Worth noting what has just happened on the Guardian’s Not The Booker Prize exercise at http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2010/sep/07/recount-not-the-booker-prize. They asked people to vote for a shortlist, then recoiled in horror on finding that novelists had – surprise, surprise – tweeted their friends to ask for support. The paper’s reaction seems to be to reject the resulting list, as if this were somehow cheating. Writers can’t win….

  38. Now this is another interesting point, Sheenagh. I get constant messages from people asking me to go to a site and vote for them. I don’t really agree with people asking me to vote for them because we’re friends, slight acquaintances, or maybe just in the same online group of thousands.

    I want to vote for the best entry in any contest or awards. It seems to miss the point completely if I’m bombarded by people asking me to quickly go to a link and vote for them. I don’t think I could ever bring myself to send messages to people asking them to do that.

    However, I think it’s fine to say that your up for an award and that people can vote for you if they feel so inclined. You could Tweet this and put it on your Facebook status. It’s all the messages with a direct link so that people can click, vote and log off without even seeing if they prefer the other contestants.

  39. @Sheenagh I should clarify that I too enjoy reading some writers who blog regularly if not exclusively about writing and the po biz, including such poets as Diane Lockward (Blogalicious), Ivy Alvarez (Ivy is here), Nic Sebastian (Very Like a Whale), Sherry Chandler, and a number of others. I’m glad these blogs exist. But we are poets; naturally we want to read this kind of thing. What I question is whether the rest of the reading public — the sort of people who will stop and read a poem in a general-interest magazine or newspaper if it’s there — share our all-consuming interest in matters of craft, poetry book reviews, etc. I’m suggesting an alternate way from the usual book-and-magazine route to build up an audience. Obviously it’s not for everyone. I don’t know about Britain, but in the U.S., publication credits are vital to the tenure review process for poets employed as college professors, so treating one’s blog as one’s primary oevre might not be too good an idea! I didn’t mean to suggest that my way of blogging is the best, but I do think non-academic or tenured poets should seriously consider it. My outlook is really very similar to Roy Exley’s above: life is too short to spend trying to crawl to the top of the heap, especially if you’re driven to write. You’re better off to find your audience where you can, be it in the blogosphere, in a pub with a regular reading series, or in Second Life.

  40. Elizabeth said “Let’s be honest – most of the people who read poetry write poetry. ”

    Now, if only most of the people who wrote poetry read poetry…

  41. I suppose this kind of voting is perhaps an impossible way of doing things on the internet for this very reason. There’s no fairness in who would win. It would be based on who could nag most people to vote!

    The other real mistake is using a forum asking for recommendations of best writers or books to get all your friends to recommend yours. That always backfires and is really embarrassing. I don’t speak from experience here! I have seen it done though. Everything becomes so transparent and obvious on the internet and you’re always found out.

  42. I would probably tend to separate blogs or other websites I have into those that specialise in poetry and publishing and those that do something else. Not that I have time for this at the moment! Sheenagh – there is an audience for poetry beyond those who write it. You can see this from the fact that many people enjoy poetry on the radio and on television. Even my parents finally heard some of my poetry when it was on the radio and like it on television too – and they never read or wrote books of any sort. On Second Life the audience includes those who write and those who just enjoy listening to poetry, plus those who enjoy going to the shows with their friends.

  43. What I’m saying in a nutshell is: with so many great ways to connect with listeners and readers these days, we don’t need to keep ghettoizing ourselves.

  44. The best publicity I have ever had was when the YA novelist, Cornelia Funke, used my poem “What if this road” as an epigraph to a chapter of Inkdeath. That was unsolicited, but we all know some novelists so maybe we should team up:) Or we could maybe try to interest businesses in poems vaguely related to their area. I did once think of going to the Wetherspoons pub in Cardiff, about whose building I’d written a poem before they took it over, and suggesting they might like a copy on their wall, but of course in the event I was too embarrassed to…

    Adele, writers aren’t too adept at internet skulduggery, are they – the words “Oxford Professor of Poetry” and “anonymous amazon reviews of rivals” come to mind….

  45. Oh you really make me laugh, Sheenagh. We all make fools of ourselves on the internet sometimes so I’m usually very forgiving unless something is malicious.

    Actually the idea of teaming up with novelists is excellent. They don’t always give credit though. Some of the best publicity I’ve seen was that mention in Ian McEwan’s novel Saturday about a poem set in a laundrette which the main character felt his daughter had inadvertently copied. She writes about washing a relationship away by washing the sheets. Ages later I read on a poet’s website that she had written the poem he was talking about, but he didn’t credit her and she only found out via a friend. Now I must find her name and the poem – she didn’t use it to self promote and probably should have done.

    The idea about offering poems to other places, like the pub you mention, is also an excellent way of ‘not ghettoising ourselves’ as advised in another post. My local gym asks me to set up an exhibition of poetry and art on the wall and I’ve never taken advantage of that offer. I bet they’d offer the books for sale on their counter too. Some surprising places can be very supportive.

  46. But how do we get over the embarrassment factor? i mean, I know the pub would have been a great idea but I could never actually go in and suggest it (actually I come from the last generation where women didn’t go into pubs unaccompanied and I still feel uncomfortable doing so). Could we maybe get our nearest and dearest to act as agents?

  47. Hi Rob,

    I’ve just very clumsily blogged my feelings on this. In short, my feeling is that I’m pretty new at all this. I do blog, and in part it’s so that I can have some kind of Internet ‘presence’, but it’s poetry I’m interested in promoting, not myself. I hope that doesn’t change. The balance might be tipped slightly if and when I further my one single publication — Magma, as it happens — especially if and when I have a book to ‘push.’ So far though, I’m happy just flying the flag for poetry in whatever way I know how, whether clumsily or not.

    Basically, the whole thing terrifies me, but you either let that stop you, or you do it anyway.

    Anyway, that’s my 2p. Thanks for the post, Rob.

  48. Sheenagh – again I’m glad you said this about pubs. Have women become more comfortable walking into pubs on their own? I’ve never felt comfortable doing that. Nearly all poetry events used to be in pubs when I was younger and I just couldn’t face walking in. From what I read they were very male events. There’s a lovely description in one book about men in steaming raincoats at them!

    A male friend of mine has set up an open mic in a bar and keeps complaining to me that people don’t turn up. He insisted that people would really want it to be in a bar. I told him it would make me feel uncomfortable walking in the first time – and that’s an all-important time. It’s all very well for his wife and other women going in with a man. But the main people who have expressed interest to him are women and they don’t turn up.

    I don’t think pubs are a great idea as a venue and I would only go to open mics in pubs if I knew I was meeting somebody. Just a thought.

    As for feeling scared when you start using the internet – don’t worry as we do all support each other and we’ve all been through it. The internet was a lifeline to me when my husband left 10 years ago and I was at home with small children. You soon get used to it and learn with loads of support from others.

  49. I have a friend who runs events in Ireland who says she gets far better participation from women when it’s in a cafe with tea and cakes! If it isn’t a noisy pub, it’s so often an arts venue with nasty paintstripper wine….

    I’m not happy walking into pubs alone but I think most young girls are.

  50. Agree very much with Jo Bell’s post. I also think it helps to think of publicity as a creative exercise. Going through the motions just because it will theoretically increase sales or awareness is just the kind of thing that will lead to more people getting fed up with you. Much better to think of something to do which is an interesting and engaging exercise in itself and make it tangentially related to what you’re trying to promote.

    And Geoff Stevens is talking crazytalk. You’d get much better publicity trying to be a controversial, ‘politically incorrect’, borderline misogynist/racist poet than you ever would by intelligently addressing things like multiculturalism. It might not all be good publicity but still …

  51. Hi – some thoughts, for what they’re worth!

    1. If you are shy or awkward about “self-promotion” or “networking”, don’t call it that, just think of it as “meeting new people” or “socializing”. Agree it is horribly awkward sometimes!

    2. I don’t like it when I meet a writer and they are badgering me to buy their book. If the person comes across poorly, and is only interested in me as a human being simply because I am a potential customer, it is not likely I would spend money to buy their book. So do avoid hard-selling!

    3. A good tip I received once from the corporate world, that I’d like to pass along: “If you feel like you’re “prostituting” yourself by networking or selling your work, it’s probably because you are marketing to the wrong people, people you don’t actually respect. Find the right crowd of people and that feeling goes away.”

    Good luck you guys!

    P.S. I love hearing poets read their work live – the Spoken Word rules!

    Wena

  52. As several of you have mentioned, I think it’s a matter of reaching out — of not being afraid to use the Internet/social network tools available to us, and of keeping in mind the importance of interaction and generosity, as opposed to mere self-promotion, which is off-putting and boring.

    I am a Uruguayan writer (based in Buenos Aires and Montevideo) involved in various poetry translation projects. I have translated several English-language writers into Spanish, and vice versa. I’d be happy to hear from anyone interested in this ‘international cooperation’.

  53. Here in Portland Oregon coffee shops have taken over most open mics- The bars closed us out because we didn’t spend enough money. The libraries sponsor some open mics at the library which seems to get a range of ages – these are listed as “family friendly” so modification of language is sometimes required. I continually have to remind myself that these poems need to be trotted out and around, otherwise what are they worth. If Longfellow left his work in a trunk, would it have gotten the attention it needed. I have finally built a following but it has been years. I try to read in areas that I don’t live in and events out of the ordinary. I recently took part in a comedy club, and am booked for a reading at a sorority event, hmmm. I have also printed my poems on sticky paper and posted them in bathrooms in the area. Self-promotion is like bragging about your grandchildren, people will tolerate you if they don’t like what you’re do ing.

  54. Having only just read these comments I would like to make a late comment. It is possible to self promote, go into the pub on your own as a female, even at 64 to open mic sessions, talk to fellow writers/poets/artists; get massive support and feedback. It can be scary to start with but every single person has been in the same position at one point in their life.
    We started what was an accidentally female poetry writing group five years ago, which has spread roots into a now monthly totally open to all, meeting at THE QUEENS HEAD, MONMOUTH, WALES.
    We call it the ‘Writers’ Showcase’ and would be delighted to see anyone who has words etc they wish to share.
    P.S. I am actually useless at self promotion but I guess I’ve just started!

  55. I think the thing with going to an open mic in a pub is that I’d do it if I knew I was going to meet people I knew there. If it’s a room above a pub it’s also easier. If it’s just in the pub it does feel awkward if you go on your own and especially if you don’t feel like drinking. Pubs have that atmosphere of ‘you can’t sit here unless you’re buying a drink’ and that does feel uncomfortable.

    I actually asked to go to a poetry reading in a pub once and the organisers themselves told me it was awkward if I wasn’t going with someone. If it’s organised in a way that means you can comfortably go in, drink or not drink, be on your own or in company, it must be possible to advertise it in that way so that people know what to expect.

  56. I think self-promotion is one of the most vomitous things poets have to do. I am *trying* to do it via Twitter/etc. but it isn’t easy. Am trying to do readings, and find that being part of a writers’ group that meets in a nice cafe (Spoon in Edinburgh, and we are the really noisy bunch of women there on Wednesday nights) helps a lot. Not having to do it alone makes a big difference for me.

  57. The poet I mentioned in an earlier post, whose poem was mentioned by Ian McEwan in the novel Saturday, is Pat Jourdan. The original poem is on her website. She didn’t know her poem was mentioned until a friend told her.

  58. I put ‘tweeting-your-friends-for-support-in-a-competition’ in the same category as those competitions where you pay an entry fee and then find the named judge doesn’t read all the entries him/herself: It’s just plain dishonest.

  59. You’re right, Eamonn. That’s not winning. It’s not worth entering, and I won’t go and vote for people who ask me to do it. I do understand people make these mistakes though, so I can’t really blame them for joining in with a trend.

  60. Over the last five or six years I’ve heard different opinions on how to promote yourself as a poet and what no one ever asks is: “why is the idea of promotion somehow equated with being a poet?” Coming from the other side of the Atlantic I can’t comment on the pub thread but often what I hear about “what being a poet is” simply comes down to getting attention and very seldom does anyone mention writing as the singular act of what makes a poet. All the rest – self-promotion, a rock and roll lifestyle, endless bling and groupies – is nice but it doesn’t make you a poet any more than a book tour makes Stephen King a novelist. As they say, poets write poetry because they have no other choice, they’ll perish in flames regardless if anyone else ever reads it. Everything else is a distraction.

  61. I don’t think anyone is saying you need to promote yourself to “be a poet”, only to be a poet whom other people read.

  62. Zachary – I think the words ‘self promotion’ are a bit misleading as this isn’t really about having bling and a rock and roll lifestyle. I know from my American friends that some poets can have that lifestyle and are stars in the US, but we don’t really have that here.

    I think the main question in the UK is how to help publishers at least break even on the print run. It’s very hard to sell poetry – about 200 copies is pretty good and more than that is excellent. A bestseller is still in the hundreds rather than over 1,000. 200 copies only really pay for the print run, so publishers and editors are often doing all the other sides of the work without any income at all.

    If poets are to keep finding outlets for their work – if they want it to be published – then they/we do have to find ways to make people aware of our writing and to tempt them to buy a book. Publishers also have to help with this and it’s all very hard with so few sales to pay for the time needed to work hard at trying to promote poetry…. I do believe that it’s possible to make people aware of what they’re missing, and I also believe more copies of certain poetry books should sell. So we’ll all keep trying.

  63. I agree Mark. It’s also not really about self promotion. It’s about championing poetry. We need to show people what they’re missing. If I believe poetry gives me such a rush when I read it, then I should also believe that I’m giving others something when I champion it to them and draw their attention to it. This isn’t just about promoting our own work. It’s about believing in poetry and believing there are more people out there who would enjoy it if only they knew.

  64. Dear Adele and Mark: Thank you for your thoughtful responses. Any conversation about poetry is a great thing, no matter what the issue at hand is, so let me just say I am certainly on your side of the fence, as it were, when it comes to talking about the state of poets (versus, say, dismissing everything off hand). Where I become hesitant in the debate over self-promotion is that often what I hear from other writers who have, consciously or unconsciously, bought into the whole “social networking is the only definition I’ll accept as to what ‘success as a poet’ means” and to me that is the same trap anyone who equates successfulness with “the number of Tweets or friends on Facebook I have” face. You can do that, of course, but it is very limiting as to how one sees their world and role as an artist.

    To be frank, most of the poets I read are both dead and not on-line, so there is very little self-promotion and yet they still find a way into my world. Perhaps in the UK it is easy for a poet to get a book contract, I don’t know, so the whole “how do I promote my book?” is a real issue for you. Where I live that conversation would be like “how do I spend the millions from my Lotto win?” It’s such a pipe dream it’s not even worth mentioning, since it seems to generate a lot of stress with my friends who seem to confuse marketability with success. If that were the case then I would have gotten a degree at university in Markets and Sales, not Creative Writing. Whitman said a great poet needs a great audience but I know there have always been poets writing in languages no one has ever read and just because they didn’t have access to the Western publishing world doesn’t take away from their awesomeness.

    Again, perhaps I am being naive about the whole thing. I have a blog. I post my writing for the world to see. Sometimes people comment. That’s always a good feeling. When I say I see the role of any artist as an exercise in non-attachment, it has nothing to do with Buddhism, rather, the moment I let go of the idea that self-promotion was part of what made an artist an artist, I found I had a lot more time and energy to focus on what makes me happy: my art. But if promotion is important to you, then I suggest reading Jim Behrle’s wonderful essay, “24/7 Relentless Careerism: How you can become the most important poet in America overnight.” (http://www.poetryfoundation.org/journal/article.html?id=238942) Not only does he point out all the pitfalls of self-promotion but he’s a lot more funnier than me.

  65. Zachary – it’s almost impossible for poets to get published here too. If we want to have publishing outlets for poets, and keep the independent publishers going that we already have, then we have to work really hard at promotion just to get the necessary sales to pay for the print runs.

    One of the great things about poetry is that we can share it even if it doesn’t find a publisher, and your experience shows that. You may also get spotted by a publisher and invited to submit one day – that’s how some authors get into print. We do need to keep the publishers going by buying their books and promoting poetry if we are to keep that possibility alive.

  66. Zachary –

    Where I become hesitant in the debate over self-promotion is that often what I hear from other writers who have, consciously or unconsciously, bought into the whole “social networking is the only definition I’ll accept as to what ’success as a poet’ means” and to me that is the same trap anyone who equates successfulness with “the number of Tweets or friends on Facebook I have” face. You can do that, of course, but it is very limiting as to how one sees their world and role as an artist.

    Yes, I think we’re in wholehearted agreement about this. 🙂

  67. Oh yes, I totally agree on that front. The moment poets stop being interested in other poets will be a sad day indeed. I leave tonight, actually, for the Dodge Poetry Festival. Perhaps not all the poets in America will be there, but a lot of them will be and I find such energy very intoxicating.

    The whole issue over publishers and independent publishing houses, though, are a mix bag to me. The fact that they create an artificial hierarchy within the poetry world has never sat well, regardless of their original motivations. I find it problematic that we, as poets, take this approach to our own art, since it values marketability over skill. I can usually find one or two poems I like in any given chapbook by a certain poet, but for the most part I question why 90% of poetry books by living poets were brought into existence. There are so few resources for poets that if we really wanted to promote poetry it wouldn’t be through creating a pecking order where certain poets get heard at the price of others.

    It is the hope of the Internet, for me at least, that poets can bypass the need for a middle man, a publishing house, and simply put what they want out to the world. I hear many critics bemoan the state of modern poetry in the world and I believe it is exactly because we allow a handful of editors and publishers dictate who gets heard that is problematic, especially since, as I find wandering into any bookstore in America, they don’t speak the same language I do. It is because of this approach that many readers are dissatisfied and ask “is this the best our poets can do?” Of course not, but as long as everyone is willing to abide by these rules you’re not going to hear anything else.

  68. There is that gap between writing poems and ‘being a poet’, isn’t there? It’s similar with music – you get these XFactor/American Idol hopefuls who may well enjoy singing and listening to music, but their real and obvious motivation is fame. They want crowds to chant their name, or (as one of them said the other night) to look at the clothes they are wearing and think, ‘I’ve got to have those.” They aren’t interested in the art, let alone in extending the art. Rather, they use the art as a vehicle for their narcissism.

    Some people are in love with the idea of ‘being a poet’ and will write poems to that end. Ruthless self-promotion is then necessary because ‘being a poet’ involves being recognised as such by as many people as possible. The drive isn’t due to any need to write poems. The stakes (and financial incentives) aren’t as high as in the world of music, of course, but the basic human drives are pretty similar.

    However, most poets, including those who care deeply about their art, need to help their publisher promote their books – whether they want to or are inclined to do so or not. I am published by Salt. Salt need to sell 420 copies of a collection to break even. Any fewer and Salt make a loss. If they make too many losses, they go bust. It’s as simple, and disconcerting, as that. So self-promotion is vital if the writing is to find an audience and if poetry books are to continue to be published by all but the big trade publishers.

    I read the Jim Behrle article when it came out – classic stuff!

    I think this comment, Zachary – “Perhaps in the UK it is easy for a poet to get a book contract” – will have received a few wide grins!

  69. When I say ‘break even’ I mean ‘pay for the print run’ and other necessary expenses like the postage to send off the required number of review copies. About 200 copies will cover that but that does mean the publisher and any editors and book designers working without an income. Sales of 200 copies is normal for poetry so that’s the problem – and that’s a normal sales statistic even with the poet helping by giving readings.

    I think ‘self promotion’ might be a bit misleading. It’s actually just a case of trying to sell the copies to pay for the print run. There’s no great glamour in it….

    I had never really considered social networks as a sign of success as a writer. I just enjoy the chance to talk to other writers – something that wasn’t possible when I was first writing. Having said that, it does remind me that I’ve noticed a few poets who are great reads and can only be found on social networks (sometimes with videos too). I think that’s a kind of success and wouldn’t say anything against it. If writing is really enjoyable it can find a following on social networks.

  70. To be more clear – the amount of sales needed to break even would depend on the size of the print run. So, as an example, on a print run of 200, the first 100 sales would break even by paying for the basic costs like printing and postage, and the second 100 would pay for the next print run. So there’s little or no income from it.

    You need to get into higher sales to do more than break even, and that’s very hard in poetry. I’m not the business expert in our company by the way but this is my simple understanding of how the figures work out!

    Some publishers have turned to print on demand, but we don’t use that method so we need to promote our authors to pay for our costs. Some publishers are using printers in other countries, such as Poland, but they tend to ask for large print runs of 1,000 at least.

    Publishers do need to be helped by some of their authors championing poetry. I do understand writers who aren’t comfortable performing though and it certainly wouldn’t stop me selecting them.

  71. Rob: I completely agree with your opinion that there is a wide gulf between those who write for fame and those who write for themselves and rarely do the two cross. Part of me feels I am highly unqualified to give my opinion on the need for self-promotion when it comes to books since it has yet to happen. And who knows? Perhaps I’d change my tune. It’s sort of like when rich people say money can’t buy you happiness. Let me be the judge of that, thank you very much.

    It’s not that I find there is anything wrong in the publishing world nor that once you have a product to sell a person shouldn’t do just that. Rather, what I find problematic is that we’ve come to a point where book publishing seems to be the only measuring stick we use to judge a poet. It’s like saying only real musicians are ones with contracts with a record label, obviously that isn’t the case. I am sure there is a middle ground to all this and since there seems to be more poets than ever writing right now my hope is that we are slowly moving away from the limited resources of the book publishing model and heading toward something where more poets can have an active voice. For me, at least, that’s what I am doing right now, exploring the Internet.

  72. The good thing about poetry is that you can share it whether you are published or not. Open mics, readings, the internet. Poets have all of this, whereas it has always been harder for novelists to share. I think the Internet is making it more possible for fiction too.

    People do like to have the possibility of trying for a book sometime though. So we need to help our publishers survive.

  73. Adele: Yes, I see your point with the needing to “pay for the print run.” And I also understand the desire to collect the works of writers I enjoy. It would be difficult for me to hide the small mountain of poetry books I’ve gathered over the years. And much like how “Slam Poets” use a totally different medium than poets who simply write, there is a lot to be said of using videos or whatnot as a way to create new art. I hope I do not come off as damning the publishing world, since I certainly would hate to see anyone’s joy and livelihood damaged and there is enough creative people in the world to make all styles of poetry viable. Like I said before, any conversation about poetry is a good thing, regardless the subject or the direction it goes 🙂

  74. I’ve always enjoyed all the voluntary projects there are for writers too, and luckily that has always existed for poets. The internet has increased our ways of getting to know each other and sharing our writing. I have a feeling we need to support not just publishers but also bookshops. I’d recommend going into shops and ordering books they don’t have on their shelves. This would get poetry into bookshops, costs less than paying Amazon their exorbitant postage and also helps publishers. Online booksellers can ask for a massive 60% discount so it’s worth supporting bookshops instead.

  75. Indeed! I adore open mic readings for that very reason. The ones we have in my town, at least, let anyone who wants five minutes in front of the microphone and everyone claps when the poet is done. Small town democracy in action, where everyone gets a voice. It’s sad to think that there are so few places where an artist, regardless of talent, will get some praise simply by participating. We tend to make everything a competition, and while that has its place too, knowing that there is at least one audience who’ll clap for you no matter what is a rather empowering experience.

  76. Fantastic! Even if I can’t see it in person it’s good to know open mics are flourishing elsewhere too. In your opinion, is there one open mic night or series you enjoy more than others?

  77. I like to choose one project and stick to it. The one I go to is the Camden and Lumen series and you can read about it on http://www.camdenlumen.wordpress.com There are two events per month that combine readings booked by publishers and poets and an open mic. Poems read are submitted for possible publication in an anthology at the end of the year. It all supports the homeless in the Cold Weather Shelters and as I can’t go out much as a lone parent I find it combines so many things in one evening out for me!

    I think face-to-face events combine well with social networks, and the Facebook group for Camden and Lumen does help it. It also provides a free place for publishers to launch books – and that’s really needed for all the above reasons….

    I think there are ways we can work together to support unpublished and published poets, and also the publishers and bookshops.

  78. Thank you very much, a whole new world is just opened up for me, and that is always a good thing! I agree that social networking sites do allow the sort of contact that was unheard of even just ten years ago. Poets I might never have heard of, let alone read and enjoy, are now possible thanks to the Internet. And, as I grow and learn, my attitudes are also changing. I think one of the dangers of blogging (at least for me) is I tend to get wrapped up in my own cocoon and thus many of my assumptions, while floating around in my head, might sound good, but they don’t translate very well when spoken aloud. It’s good to know there are people willing to fight not only for poets of all stripes, but for independent book stores and publishing houses as well. We might be able to survive in a world without them, but it would be a very colder life than the one we have now.

  79. Great post Rob. I’ve found that self-promotion gets a little easier when I identify my target audience first. Once I understand who might read my poetry, I can search for the people who are likely to appreciate my poetry rather than chasing individuals or groups that will never appreciate what I do. Social media and online communities can help raise my visibility as well.

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