This is part 3 of an 8-part series on what I've gone through to get my debut full-length collection of poetry, Solving the World's Problems, published by Press 53 (click here to learn more). The first week covered assembling and submitting the collection; last week, I discussed the revision process after it was accepted; and this week, I'll be covering the promotion side of things.
Okay, so here's the thing about promotion: I think there are a few ways writers (poets included) can handle promoting their work and themselves. Here they are:
- Field of Dreams Approach. That is, some writers believe "if you build it (or write it), they will come." This approach makes for a really cool ending in the Kevin Costner film, but it usually results in unsold and dusty books in real life. And here's the reason: If no one knows the book exists, they (readers, in this case) won't know to come. I think some people take this approach, because they think the only other approach available to them is the...
- Used Car Salesman Approach. I don't blame writers for avoiding promotion when they think this is the only way to go about it. While I hate to generalize about a profession, I think of this approach as the in-your-face approach and the trying-to-trick-you-into-buying-something approach. It's an ultra-aggressive and sometimes deceitful approach. It's not palatable to most folks (for a reason), but that's okay; there's another way between these two extremes.
- Respected Business Owner Approach. This approach is the one I favor in my marketing and promotion. In this approach, respected business owners focus most of their energy on the goods or services they provide. They believe in quality, and they believe in treating their already existing customers with respect. While they believe "word of mouth" will help grow their business, they also believe in raising awareness of what they're doing too--without making outlandish claims or bullying.
What I'm trying to say is that I think doing nothing is kind of lazy and a disservice to potential readers, because they'll never discover the work. If writers can take the time to submit their work to publishers (which is a form of promotion in itself), writers can also share their good news on social media at the very least. That said, don't scare off all your friends by trying to bully or trick sales out of people.
Promotion is a career-long endeavor that builds steam over time. Most successful writers took multiple books to build that success one reader at a time.
Types of promotion
The thing about promotion is that the sky is the limit, and I'm still surprised and delighted by innovative ideas writers develop--even after more than a decade on Writer's Market. Here are a few obvious options:
- Social Media. Make connections to other poets and lovers of poetry on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Google+, Goodreads, etc. When I read a poem I really love in a literary journal, I'll hunt for the poet on Facebook and send a friend request. I want to know what good poets are doing, when they're getting published, and how to get their collections.
- Speaking Events. There are the big events like the Dodge Poetry Festival and AWP, which is supposed to be for writing programs but is actually a huge gathering of poets and literary types. Beyond the big events, there are local gatherings of poets at libraries, coffee shops, bookstores, retirement homes, and other locales. If you can't find one, you can start one.
- Blog. Blogs are great for sharing your love of poetry, and they're great for sharing your poems. Heck, I share more than 100 poems on this blog every year. But your blog doesn't have to be poetry-related; it could be about parenting or beer (though I would suggest not mixing the two).
- E-mail. I think e-mail is super powerful, and I'll get into why later in this series when I write about pre-selling the collection (part 6).
So those are a few types, but I still haven't shared what I did. Sorry for taking so long to get to my specific process.
Here's what I did to get the promotion ball rolling
The first thing I did after learning my collection was going to be published by Press 53 was to broadcast the news on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and anywhere else I could imagine. I'm sure my WritersMarket.com newsletter included a mention, and there's probably a blog post (and/or a mention in a blog post) about it.
In these mentions, I was promoting the collection--even though I was making absolutely no effort to sell copies. Instead, I was raising awareness of my excitement and letting people know: There is a book being assembled and it's coming your way.
In reaction to that news sharing, I even received some offers to help me promote the collection further--by offering me speaking opportunities, interview opportunities, and guest post opportunities. If I kept my excitement bottled up, those opportunities would not have been offered.
Then, I sent an e-mail out to my list of connections, and again, they sent congratulations and further promotion opportunities, including new people to contact about possible speaking opportunities, places to stay while on the road, and more.
When to start promoting
In my case, I started promoting the collection from day one. Sure, I wasn't selling copies or anything, but I was excited and sharing my excitement. I know from experience that opportunity will come if I open myself up and share.
Throughout the year, I've tried to share highlights of the experience. While I didn't write a status update or tweet every single day (or week, for that matter), I did share when I felt like something cool was happening.
As I mentioned earlier, I consider promotion a career-building exercise. It's not just about sales (part six will cover that somewhat), it's about raising awareness and building excitement for what you're doing.
If you build it, people will want to come. They'll want to support you--even if it's only a handful of folks. But they won't know to come unless you take that first step to let them know that you've built something.
Next week, I'll tackle securing book blurbs for a poetry collection.
Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer's Digest Writing Community, working specifically on the Market Book series (which includes the 2014 Writer's Market) and poetry-related projects. Voted the 2010 Poet Laureate of the Blogosphere, Brewer's debut full-length poetry collection Solving the World's Problems will be released by Press 53 on September 1, 2013 (learn more here). He's married to the poet Tammy Foster Brewer, who helps him keep track of their five little poets (four boys and a princess). Follow him on Twitter @robertleebrewer.
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