Nobody Ever Buys Poetry–Ever

Okay, so maybe that’s not technically correct. For instance, I buy new poetry collections about once a week. And I know poets who purchase collections of poetry on a regular basis. People do buy poetry, but it’s not easy finding a good selection of poetry to buy.

There’s a chicken and egg problem with poetry collections in the marketplace. Booksellers don’t stock too much poetry, because poetry doesn’t sell well. Potential poetry buyers don’t buy poetry, because there’s not a good selection (or sometimes, in my personal experience, I’ve had trouble even finding a poetry section in bookstores).

Would poetry sell better if it had more shelf space? I’m not sure we’ll ever know, because it doesn’t make good business sense for bookstores to take a chance on poetry. I don’t agree with it, but that’s how the bottom line works.

“Local poetry publisher BOA rises to national status,” by Matthew Daneman for Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, profiles prominent poetry publisher BOA. Of particular interest, BOA estimates 43% of its revenue comes from book sales and 37% from grants and donations–illustrating just how hard it is to sell poetry.

Despite this despicable state of the poetry publishing industry, I feel very certain that poetry will never die. Readers do go out of their way to find poetry in the nooks and crannies of bookstores and flea markets and Web sites and anywhere they can find it, because those who read poetry are passionate about poetry.

So anyway, I just sometimes get discouraged about the lack of shelf space devoted to poetry. I’m sure other poets do too. However, I just want to remind everyone (myself included) that we don’t write poetry for the money or fame; we write poetry, because we can’t stop ourselves. What’s wrong with us anyway? (Just kidding, I think.)


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6 thoughts on “Nobody Ever Buys Poetry–Ever

  1. Glenn K.

    I think we can bring the public back to poetry if we provide interesting and enjoyable material. I have just published my third book, all of which are for sale only in central NH and southern Maine. I have sold about 2300 copies, and al three are still selling very well.
    The key is to make it readable and get out and show it to the public. Nothing sells if it just sits on a shelf in a bookstore. Especially given the placement they usually assign for poetry.

  2. Usiku

    Poetry doesn’t need national attention or bookstore space online or in a brick and mortar. Poetry, once found and appreciated will survive if passed on. If we’re not in a rush or seeking a public splash, we can make a living by reaching one person or small groups at a time. This is the approach I’m taking with my new book, Eloquence: Rhythm & Renaissance. Although I am seeking publicity, I’m not going to stress over it to feel like I’ve accomplished something.

  3. Nancy B.

    Hi, LinnAnn. I don’t think length, especially where short poems are concerned, is a problem. Ultimately, quality is the deciding factor. I don’t often see editors state a minimum number of lines for a submission; it’s usually a maximum (30-45 lines per poem, typically). And there are some magazines that specifically look for short poems. So don’t despair!

  4. Rachel

    for me i think it is self correction. it doesn’t keep me on the straight and narrow, but maybe it keeps me from falling off cliffs. or plunging into the ocean. so maybe i can’t help it, but i am glad. enjoyed reading this. thanks.


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