Selling your poetry books is just one way to make money from poetry, but publishing a collection opens other doors for poets. This month’s poetry podcast draws on ALLi’s 11 business models for authors, as Orna Ross and Trish Hopkinson discuss the opportunities beyond your poetry books.
Trish Hopkinson is a poet, blogger, and advocate for the literary arts from Utah, USA, where she runs the regional poetry group Rock Canyon Poets and folds poems to fill Poemball machines for Provo Poetry. Her poetry has been published in numerous literary journals, online and off, including Tinderbox, Glass Poetry Press, and The Penn Review, and her most recent e-chapbook Almost Famous was published by Yavanika Press in 2019 and is free to download here.
You can find her online at trishhopkinson.com.
Tune in for discussions on a different theme each month with a focus on developing prosperity for poets through community building and self-publishing.
Listen to the Podcast: Money for Poets
Subscribe to our Ask ALLi podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Player.FM, Overcast, Pocket Casts, or Spotify.Selling your #poetry books is just one way to make money from poetry, but publishing a collection opens other doors for poets. @OrnaRoss and @trishhopkinson show you how. Click To Tweet
Watch the Video: Money for Poets
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About the Host
Orna’s work for ALLi has seen her repeatedly named one of The Bookseller’s “Top 100 people in publishing.” She launched at the 2012 London Book Fair, after taking her rights back from Penguin in 2011 and republishing her books herself, with the titles and treatment she’d originally wanted. Orna writes award-winning poetry and fiction, runs a Patreon page for poets and poetry lovers as well as an active author website. She is on a mission to help eradicate creative poverty through digital publishing and enterprise. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram: @ornaross.
Read the Transcript: Money for Poets
Orna Ross: Hello everyone, and welcome. Welcome to the AskALLi podcast and live stream about self-publishing poetry. I’m here with Trish Hopkinson again. Hi, Trish.
Trish Hopkinson: Hello, happy to be here.
Orna Ross: Great to have you as always. This evening, Trish and I are going to be talking about all the different ways that poets can monetize, to use that term that some of us don’t like very much but is handy to describe our poetry. So, obviously selling our poetry books is what we’re all about as publishers. We are publishers of our own work and our primary job is to sell books, but publishing a book also opens lots of other doors and lots of other opportunities for poets. So, that’s what we’re going to be talking about this evening.
But before we get to that, we always talk a little bit about what we’re doing ourselves, and I know the Trish has been adding to her wonderful website, trishhopkinson.com. She’s been adding a self-publishing section. So yeah, how’s that been going?
Trish Hopkinson: It’s going great. It was really fun. It was something that I dabbled in a little bit before, but hadn’t focused on much, and then when I started working with Orna and the AskALLi podcasts, I thought, well, this is an opportunity where I could pull some information together in a more organized way for poets to access and get ideas around self-publishing their work.
And what I really discovered about it is that I think too many folks see it as either you self-publish or you traditionally publish, when really there’s no reason why you can’t do both, and there are purposes, potentially, for both; different ways of self-promoting yourself, whether it’s with a traditional publisher or with your own work, like on Instagram, or if you self-publish your own books to sell at readings and events, and things like that, broadsides. I mean, there’s all kinds of fun things that you can potentially do for your poetry to share with your readers and followers. So, really the idea behind this page is to say that you can do all of those things and potentially all of those things can help promote your voice and add to your community. So, really building your poetry network.
So now on my website, if you go to Poetry Writing Resources at the top menu, there is a separate page for self-publishing poetry tips, and that also works for promotion with traditional publishing as well, so it’s really for everyone, but there is a huge list of different articles, and tips, and all kinds of links to tools and resources and other things to really get you started.
Even if you’ve been doing it for a long time, like Orna and I both have been looking through these articles, and there are new things for everybody, even if you’re a seasoned pro, there are great ideas and suggestions and more creative ways of really sharing your work. So, it was a lot of fun to research, and I’m really excited about it. I hope folks will check it out and leave messages and notes of other resources that they might have or things that they’re using that are helpful, so that we can just continue to build this list up.
Orna Ross: Fantastic. Yeah, you’re absolutely right. I mean, I expected to recognize most of what was there, and I have to say about half of the stuff that was there was new to me. I’m constantly looking for resources and you are the queen resources poetry-wise, really, I don’t know where you find this stuff. Your website is a trove, and I think what you said there is so important, and it’s the reason that you and I worked together on this podcast, in more than any other genre, I think, there’s a huge crossover in poetry between trade published, traditionally published, and self-publishing. It’s almost impossible to draw that line. I think it’s going more shadowy everywhere, but in poetry it was never really there, I think, because a lot of the indie presses are really, kind of, micro publishers, just like self-publishers and, yeah, okay, they’re not publishing their own work, but that’s the only difference. They’re using the same tools and they’re reaching their followers and stuff in the same way.
So, yeah, I do encourage everybody to check out the resources, and if you’re looking for a resource that isn’t there, both we at ALLi, and I know Trish, would be really interested in hearing what you need as self-publishing poets, what do you need to know more about, and also to say that we will be, I know you’ve quite a few resources about Instagram on your page, and that later on after this session, we will be running our #IndiePoetryPlease! session over on Instagram live, if any of you are around for that.
So, let’s talk a little bit then about making money from poetry and how one does that. So, at the Alliance, we’ve put together business models/money models for authors of various kinds. The first two of those models are selling books and we divide them in two. One is selling on one platform only in one format, so generally eBooks on Amazon would be the typical of that model, and also selling wide in multiple formats. So, lots of platforms, basically getting the books out as widely as possible on as many platforms as possible. They’re, kind of, the two book sales models.
Trish, you’ve worked with a few people on publishing your books, third party publishers, can you talk to that a little bit in terms of book sales and how you promote your work and how you get it out there?
Trish Hopkinson: Yeah, the first chapbook that I ever did, I had my children do the artwork, they’re both artists, so it was just my very first stab at a collection, and I literally just had that chapbook printed. I had a hundred copies then. I had the covers done separately in color and had them saddle-stapled for me, basically just did it at the local copy shop, but those were really inexpensive to produce. They just cost me a few dollars apiece, and so I was able to take those to readings and just sell them for $5 and just have something handy that had my work in it.
People who were interested, who had been supporting me, so they went to audience members at open mikes, or they went to friends and family, of course, and I think that’s a great model, honestly. So, I just wanted to mention that, if you’re just getting your feet wet, there’s no reason why you can’t do very simple chapbooks that you can sell for $5 or, as you mentioned, electronically, you could do similar things where those folks that see you perform or read your poetry online, or what have you, can get some more, and can feel like they’re supporting your work at a nominal fee, just to, kind of, get those followers in and give them something in return.
So, I wanted to mention that, but yes, in working with poetry publishers, the other two books that I have out, well, there’s another, but anyway, the other two that matter, one was print, and one is online, and is free. So, I have my chapbook, Footnote, that came out in 2017 through Lithic Press. It was printed by a traditional press. So, I submitted work to them, they accepted it, and they gave me a few copies. I think they originally gave me 25 copies to sell on my own. So, those were completely my responsibility, and then any profit from those was mine as well, and then I could buy them from them at cost, at basically 50%, to sell.
And I think I’ve bought a couple more sets of 25 or so from them. I think I’ve sold about a hundred of those on my own, just through my blog and website, and sharing on Facebook, and going to readings. So, that certainly was a good way for me to sell books myself, but then they, of course, sell them on their website. So, they’ve sold several, they sold some at AWP, they had a table up there which was really fun because I got to do signings at AWP at their table, which was a fun way to promote the book.
So, other than that, getting reviews is really great. If you have a community of poets and writers around you, then you can get poetry reviews written about your books, and that helps promote it. And a lot of different literary magazines are always looking for book reviews to publish in their issues. So, that’s another great resource. And there are a couple of sites too that really focus on that. Poetry Café focuses specifically on chapbook reviews, which is really cool. Risa Denenberg runs that site, she does an exceptional job. Then there’s also a site called The Bind that publishes poetry book reviews specifically. But many lit mags do have those, and some won’t care if they’re self-published or traditionally published, they’re just looking for those book reviews. So, that’s something to consider.
I did something fun last year with a fellow poet, her name is Dana Patterson, and we both had chapbooks come out in the last year or so. My e-chapbook, that is free to read online, and she had a chapbook come out with Pork Belly Press. We were chatting about it and just thought it might be cool to exchange reviews. So, I reviewed hers and she reviewed mine, and then we actually had those published with full disclosure saying we did a review swap, and there was a literary magazine that published both reviews, called Tinderbox. So, a really great experience for everybody, really fun to cross promote and help each other to add fellow followers to each other’s networks. So, that was really a great experience.
So, definitely encourage reviews, interviews, all of that stuff that you can do to talk about your book, what you put into it, what you’re getting out of it, encouraging other writers. That type of giving back to the community will help you sell books. I promise.
Orna Ross: Yeah, definitely. And again, poetry more than any other genre, I think readers and writers are almost the same thing. We are our own ecosystem and that, sort of, what goes around, comes around kind of thing is even more prevalent in poetry publishing than elsewhere.
While we’re on the topic of that chapbook, could you please tell people the name of it and where they can actually get it?
Trish Hopkinson: Yes, thank you.
Orna Ross: She mentions everybody else’s book and forgets to mention her own.
Trish Hopkinson: Yes, thank you so much for reminding me. Sometimes I do, I get a little carried away and excited about giving suggestions. But, yes, it’s called, Almost Famous, and it was published by Yavanika Press in 2019, toward the end of 2019, so it was basically a 2020 book, but that’s downloadable on their site for no cost. And, of course, you can find that on my site too, under my poetry, you can find links to all of my publications that are available online and two books that are available to purchase.
Orna Ross: Fantastic, and just circling back to what you said about your first book being a chapbook and putting it together yourself, my first ever self-published book too, was a chapbook because, well, it was electronically done, it was an eBook, and it was me dipping my toe into the eBook waters, and into the self-publishing waters, for the very first time.
And I still bring out, every 10 poems, I just put them together into an eBook and put a cover. The cover is the same, just in different colors each time, so it doesn’t cost me any money to make a change on that. And why not? It keeps people up to date, those who are interested, it keeps people up to date with what you’re doing.
It allows people to just have a little taster, if they don’t want to commit to buying a full collection or a larger bulk, essentially. They can just have a little taster and 10 poems at a time, I think, is the perfect amount of to give you a sense of the poet while having a bit of variety. So, I think chapbooks are just fantastic, and I can’t say enough for them really as tools to open all sorts of doors.
So, let’s talk a little bit about some of the other things that happen when you do publish a chapbook or a larger book. There are other ways that you can benefit from that, aren’t there, besides the obvious thing of selling the books? So, yeah, talk to us a little bit about that.
Trish Hopkinson: I think certainly just being part of the community and building that network is especially key. So, you can build some other greater relationships with literary magazines and other publications, as far as, you know, we talked a little bit about getting book reviews done, but also there are opportunities for author interviews, to talk about your process, you can write guest blog posts, you can do other things that will promote you, but also introduce you to other folks that will, you know, pay it forward, pay it back to you. So, I can’t speak enough about my interaction with all the editor interviews that I do for my website, just really getting to know people in the community, then things like Orna Ross says, Hey, Trish, do you want to be on a podcast? And you’re like, yes, I would love to do that.
Those types of opportunities don’t present themselves unless you’re participating in the community and unless you’re really consistent with it. So, getting a book out there, having something so that folks can interact with you, get a signed copy, have something of yours to keep, because they want to support you, because they enjoy your work. That’s one aspect of it, but also just really consistently growing that network and making sure that people remember you’re there, you know, be consistent with your social media posts.
I think all of those things really show that you’re ready for the opportunities, and then those opportunities will start to come to you. So, from my perspective, the only way to make money with poetry, or any writing, is to get the word out and to be consistent and to show that the reason why you’re a poet or writer is to be part of this greater community and to be an artist, to be a literary artist, that’s really the most important aspect.
Of course, we all need to get paid. That’s a real true thing. But contributing back to the community and to literary arts in general is how you really make progress and continue to show up so that those opportunities will keep coming back to you.
Orna Ross: The creative on the commercial are so intertwined. We have this habit of breaking them out as if they’re two different things, but actually, certainly on the far side of publication, those two things become very entwined and the more we can integrate them, as you say, the better we do, the more progress we make.
So, some of the kinds of opportunities that poets are getting, lots of stuff around performance and teaching, and with the pandemic, of course, a lot of this has moved online, which has been a very good thing for those who are published in eBook and audiobook form. Sometimes a poet will make more money and reach larger audiences in their performances, and maybe teaching as well, which is also something that’s moving online a lot.
For the people who are the slam poets and the performance poets generally, having a book, and the way in which those two kind of work together, can be really productive too, right?
Trish Hopkinson: Yes, absolutely. I think regardless of whether you’re known as a performance poet or a page poet, you can certainly have audio recordings available and you can certainly have a Patreon. We talked about that a little bit before the show, where you can offer extras to your followers who subscribe to you on a regular basis. Patron can be great because people don’t mind committing a few dollars a month. I have a lot of those, because there are a lot of folks that I want to support, and maybe I already have their book and I still want to support them.
So, being able to contribute or donate toward an artist, whether they’re a performance poet or more of a page poet, I hate that distinction, but regardless, if they’re a poet of any type, I think that’s a great way to garner additional support and also keep your followers updated on what you’re doing and be able to offer them little tidbits that maybe aren’t open to the general public.
There was something else I was going to say too about, you mentioned-
Orna Ross: I’ll talk a little bit about my Patreon while you have a think, because I’m on Patreon and, like you, support lots of people there. I love it as a supporter, as a patron, because you keep in touch with the evolution of the person’s work, and you’re in touch in a compete to different way than receiving the finished book product. It’s a really live and ongoing thing, and I really enjoy it.
As a creator, I love it because, well, first of all, I have to produce an exclusive poem. So, I do a stream, a reader stream. I have a Patreon for poetry at three different levels. So, print book patron, eBook patron, and just reader stream; and that’s one exclusive poem a month. That goes to readers and is exclusively just for patrons for three months. So, for three months, nobody, else has read it, it’s hot off the creative presses. It’s the poem that month that I’ve worked hardest at and means the most to me, and I really love the fact that people are waiting to receive it. It makes me more productive, that’s one of the reasons. It keeps me accountable; I have to do at least one reasonably sized poem a month.
So yeah, it serves all sorts of functions. And then you get this feedback and a much more personal level of connection with your readers. They really take an interest, and you get a different level of engagement, I think. Just that few dollars makes a difference, even though it’s not a huge commitment, it’s not just about the money, it’s also about the attention that it brings with it. And that’s the hardest thing to get, I think, in our noisy world, at the moment. We have all these wonderful tools for putting our work out there, but it can be hard to actually get attention and Patreon’s great for bringing in close to you, the people who really get it and really care about what you’re doing. So, I love that, and I really would encourage anybody to get involved, because it forces you to think about what your value is to the reader. What are you actually offering and why should they be interested, and all that kind of thing.
Trish Hopkinson: And it adds to that consistency I’ve been talking about, because if you have a system and you think about, what can I really commit to long-term? If you’re going to offer it to someone who’s paying something, contributing to it in some way, then that consistency is super important. So, when you do start something like that, make sure that it’s something you can stick with, because you don’t want to disappoint your followers. While a lot of them are going to be very understanding, you know, if I had to skip a month, I was on holiday or this happened, life happens, everyone knows that and you have to be willing to be transparent about that, or you have to be willing to never miss your commitments and to be really consistent.
So, I love everything that you just said around that.
I did remember the other thought. I actually have two. One that you mentioned was the creative and the commercial intertwining, and I love what you said about Patreon and the consistency, and how that drives you to apply craft and really work hard on your poetry and your work, and you’re always looking to improve and to do something new and fresh for your followers. So, that certainly can be a great source of inspiration. It can be a little bit of pressure, but like you said, make sure you give yourself plenty of time, you know, what are you willing to commit to? Can you do something monthly? Do you need to do it quarterly? Do you just want to do one big thing yearly? What do you want to do? And work that into your plan and make sure that it fits the value that you’re trying to give those Patreon supporters.
Along those creative lines, we also talked about how poets make, you know, some of their best money comes from teaching, for providing workshops, or from performance sometimes. There are paying performances that are excellent, different poetry festivals and other performance opportunities. I certainly have been paid, before I moved to Colorado last month, there were a couple of different humanities organizations out here who sponsored me, even gave me a travel stipend, and a paying performance fee, which was lovely to come out and read my poetry, and then an opportunity to sell books.
So, performances are another way, but teaching classes, I think, definitely that is where I, by far, make the most per hour, teaching, or in some cases, and I haven’t done a lot of this, but I do know a lot of poetry friends who provide editing services or give feedback on poems to help other poets really work on their craft, and that’s where I think poets can monetize their talents really the most, unless you were just like really into performance, but even some of the biggest slam poets that are just known nationally and internationally, I guarantee you, they’re making the most when they go onsite and teach workshops, or even virtually, that’s where they’re seeing the most money.
So, part of that is being ready for those opportunities, looking for those opportunities, applying for different programs when it makes sense, and really just putting yourself out there. That truly is the fastest way to make the most, even if you do sell, like I said, I probably sold a hundred chapbooks the first year or so that Footnote came out, but I was making like $12 a book. Those little things add up if you’re doing a lot of them over time, certainly, but teaching and performing pays the most for our time, I think, and you notice that those things are giving back the most as well.
Orna Ross: Yeah, it’s so true. And we are seeing now a huge movement of people who have been teaching offline, moving online through platforms like Teachable, and Masterclasses as well. Sometimes courses, sometimes just individual classes, and they’re scalable. They can be run on a loop, and when the student comes along, it’s their first time to meet that course, but that course could have been running for years, and you don’t actually have to be physically present in the room now even to get paid and get paid well for teaching, and we’re seeing a lot of people, a lot of our authors, not so much the poets, but a lot of our fiction authors and nonfiction, particularly, you know, the how-to practical, sort of, stuff.
And for the poets, there is that whole, how to write poetry, how to publish poetry, how to teach poetry, you know-
Trish Hopkinson: How to edit, how to revise, how do you find new topics, what prompts gets you writing. There are so many really great topics and I’ll share, there’s one poet who just happens to be in Colorado, her name is Marj Hahne. She runs a terrific website, she teaches consistently, and she just uses Zoom and puts together programs, and offers so many seats, and she offers editing services and things as well. And I think that’s her bread and butter. She does a fantastic job. I would say she has some incredible ideas and certainly, as poets, we’re always working on our craft, I love going to her workshops, and it does give you a chance, if you can attend, because a lot of these are not super expensive, some workshops are like $15 for an hour or something. Some are more, you certainly can spend a lot if you have someone who is particularly well-known, but Marj’s workshops are really well-priced, and there are a lot of different platforms that offer well-priced workshops.
I’ve met some of my best friends in the industry through these workshops and met other editors and found other opportunities. So, it’s another chance for you to be in the community, working on that craft, blending the commercial and the creative, like you said. I love that by the way, I think that’s a really good way for everybody to look at it, that everything that you do to really work on your craft and build your network, it’s all intertwined, and one influences and promotes the other.
Orna Ross: Great. And we have a request for you to say that poet’s name again.
Trish Hopkinson: Oh, Marj Hahne.
Orna Ross: There you go, Wendy. Hopefully you got it that time.
Trish Hopkinson: Yeah, she has done some guest blogs on my website too. So, you can search for her there if you can’t find her on the internet, but you should be able to find her.
Orna Ross: Fantastic, and everybody that we’ve referred to will be in the transcript on the podcast post on selfpublishingadvice.org on Friday. That’s when our podcast comes out, and there is always a transcript and show notes with links too. So, there’ll be links to Trish’s website, and Marj’s, and anybody else that we have mentioned.
We are all about out of time, so hopefully that session gave you some ideas to think about ways in which you can expand on selling books, and of course, selling more books as well with the tips that you got from Trish at the top of the show, but also thinking about ways of, as we said, it’s the theme of the show today, integrating the creative and the commercial in a way that creates a, sort of, rounded, blended business really, that won’t feel like a business because it is so creative, but actually that’s what it is.
So, we are now heading over to Instagram where we are going to be reading #IndiePoetryPlease! It’s a hashtag that we run on Instagram where we invite emerging poets to submit their work, and every second day I post this work on my account, and then we choose some of the poems to feature them with a reading. So, we’re going across now to do the reading. If you want to join us, you’ll be very welcome. That’s at @ornaross.poetry, and we’ll be back next month with more poetry tips.
Until then, happy writing and happy publishing.