08/01/15 – FIVE TIPS FOR MARKETING YOUR POETRY
“I wrote this for myself. Would you mind taking a look at it?”
One of my students at a poetry workshop asked me that recently. I asked, if she wrote it for herself, why did she care what I thought? She said, “Well, I might publish it someday.”
There are as many reasons to write poetry as there are poets. I’ve heard people say they write to express their inner feelings. Some say they write to “deal with” their depression, or understand their romantic relationships, or to heal after a loved one’s death. What I rarely, if ever, hear, is that their goal is communicate these feelings to readers.
When I started to write poetry in earnest a few years ago, I found many wonderful books filled with great advice about how to write better poetry, but none about what to do with your poetry once it was finished. After all, if we’re taking the time to write poetry in the first place, we ought to spend some time helping our poems find their audience. I’ve outlined five tips to help you get started marketing your poetry for publication.
Tip One: Organize
Can you easily find the poems you’re revising and the ones you’ve finished? Do you have an “ideas” or story folder where you keep favorite images and/or ideas? If not, get organized. If you can’t find the poems you want to publish, you may as well have not written them.
Keep a running record of any poems that you submit for publication. I use a simple Excel spreadsheet that lists each poem submission I’ve made, the date sent, and the result. I save it to the cloud so I can access it anywhere. Submittable.com is a service for authors that many poetry magazines use to manage their submissions. The site tracks the poems that you submit to magazines that use it, but can also help you track all of your submissions for a fee..
Tip Two: Learn to perform
One of the best ways to market your poems is to read them out loud. There may be several poetry open mic nights in your town that can help you get started. In Orlando, Florida, where I live, there are two weekly open mic nights and several monthly ones. If you’re nervous about reading your poems in public, practice by joining a writer’s group or a chapter of your state poetry association.
Open mic nights attract poets and people who like poetry in general. In my experience, this audience is particularly generous and encouraging to new poets. The first time I read my poems in public my heart was pounding so fast I thought I might have a heart attack. I didn’t. I did, over time, learn to read my poems in public. What’s more, I sold some poetry books to people who liked the poems I read. When you have achieved popularity as a poet, you’ll be invited to give readings of your work to help you sell books, too. You better be ready.
Tip Three: Compile Your List
Every time you go to an open mic, or any poetry-based meeting, bring some paper with you. Ask the people you meet if you can add them to your mailing list. Sure you may not have a book yet, but if you keep writing you will some day. Compiling a list enables you to have access to fans. Your list will start small, but as it grows so will your ability to market your poems. There’s a truism in sales and marketing called the 80/20 rule: 80% of your sales come from 20% of your customers—those that are your biggest fans and supporters. Start identifying who those people are for you today.
Tip Four: Research Your Potential Markets
There are over 1,000 literary magazines based in the United States and hundreds of poetry and other literary contests. Not every magazine or contest will be right for your poetry. Research potential markets for your work to find out which ones should be most interested. I hope you’ve looked at some of these outlets in the past, but if you haven’t, start with a general search and narrow it down as you learn more about your markets.
Poets and Writers Magazine compiles an online data base of literary magazines (in print and on line) as well as a contest data base. Check them out at www.pw.org. Writer’s Digest Books publishes the 2015 Poet’s Market (updated every year), which aims to provide a comprehensive list of all markets for your poetry, as well as advice on writing and marketing. You can find it online and/or at a bookstore near you.
Tip Five: Submit your work
You organized your work, read it to an audience, compiled a list of your fans, and researched your potential markets. Now it’s time to send your poems out into the world—with your name on it, remember—to see if they’ll find a home. I’m sorry to say that if you’re like most poets, you’re likely to receive a lot more rejections than acceptances at first. That’s all right. At least you’re in the game.
You will find that many publications run contests that require you to pay a fee to enter, but reward winners with cash prizes. Many non-profit magazines and small publishers fund their publications with these contests. Before entering any, make sure that they are run by legitimate poetry publications. There’s no harm in entering—you just might win. But the bigger the prize and the more famous the outlet, the more poets will enter. Keep track of your budget, and don’t enter more contests than you can afford to lose.
It may take you a while to become known for your poetry. Just like with your open mics, you may find more success at the beginning if you stick with small, local magazines, and new online outlets. They receive fewer submissions than larger circulation, more established outlets. Less competition may enable your work get published sooner. I attended a workshop and reading in Orlando a few years ago with poet laureate Kay Ryan. She said one of the advantages of the position was that a lot more of her poems were being published. Keep following these five marketing tips and you’ll find a home for them.