Thursday, July 14, 2011

Marketing Your Poetry Book

Recently Jeannine Hall Gailey interviewed Marie Gauthier as part of a series of summer interviews. Marie is Director of Sales and Marketing at Tupelo Press. She also co-curates a reading series, once worked in a bookstore, and is the author of a chapbook, Hunger All Inside, from Finishing Line Press, so she seems like just the right person to speak about marketing a poetry collection as she's seen it from several sides of the fence. She's also very smart and articulate. But I already knew that as I read in the series she co-curates—Collected Poets Series—a few years ago and had the pleasure of dining with her and some other poets after the reading.

When asked what she'd learned about being a poet from her various book-related activities, Marie replied: "How very difficult it can be to sell a book of poetry. At full price. To strangers. You can't take poor sales to heart. But all things being equal (quality of the work, etc.), I've noted that the poets whose books sell regularly tend to be active members of some sort of poetry community. Translation: poets who take joy in all aspects of poetry, who are interested in other poets and other poems beyond their own, who seek out ways to be involved. Theirs is not a passive love of poetry."

Didn't I just say she was smart! I think Marie is so right when she emphasizes the importance of being active members of a poetry community. We may write alone, but if we want our books to find passage into the world, we cannot make that happen if we remain in isolation. We need to do some work on their behalf. It is not enough to simply write good poems and have a good book—though that, of course, is essential and foremost. I like, too, that Marie mentions the "joy in all aspects of poetry" and does not dismiss marketing as mere "po-biz." Even more I like that she points out that poets who are successful in getting their books out into the hands of readers "are interested in other poets and other poems beyond their own. . ." How true those words are. Don't we all know poets who want us to buy their books but have zero interest in returning the favor?

Asked about promotion of one's work, Marie said: ". . . there's a balance you need to find. As in most things in life, you should be giving as much, if not more, than you receive." Right on, again. I don't want to hear a lot of moaning from poets whose books are doing poorly and haven't garnered any reviews if those poets aren't supporting books by other poets and writing the occasional review, even if it's just an Amazon review.

Marie also mentions the opposite mistake of doing too much on behalf of the book. We know that poet too—the one who sends you ten reminders to buy his or her book, six invitations to the same reading, and endless Facebook brags. Major turnoff, especially if this poet hasn't bought your latest book, has never shown up at one of your readings, and has never sent you a note of congratulations.

Marie suggests that you keep the personal touch in your efforts and that you seek out reviews and readings. That seems obvious, yes? And yet I know some poets who have given up on doing readings. I can sympathize. Who hasn't driven several hours to give a reading only to discover that the venue host forgot to do any pr or that the majority of the people in the audience are really just there to hear themselves read in the open? Still, if you don't ask for readings, chances are you won't get many. And if you don't do readings, chances are you won't be selling books, minimal or otherwise.

Finally, I was pleased to see that Marie advocated the salon—my favorite kind of reading, the one where a friend hosts a reading for you and invites her friends and yours. These are intimate and wonderful—and usually have some good snacks. And people who've come expecting and hoping to buy your book and have it signed. You go home feeling special.


  1. i like this nice posth , thanks for sharing

  2. Hey, Diane, thanks so much for spreading the word! Have I mentioned lately what a generous soul you are? :o)

  3. Thanks Diane! Not only does Marie have terrific ideas in that interview, she's also a terrific poet!

  4. Loved this! And was lucky enough to have just such a reading in a home. Thanks, Diane and Marie and Jeannine, for this good advice.

  5. Thanks for sharing this Diane. I'm so glad I found your blog. And I agree: Marie is super smart and also fantastically generous. And you both appear in Weave! Yay!

  6. Excellent. I'll be in good company. Looking forward to the issue.

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