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The Basics Of Online Poetry Book Distribution And Sales, With Orna Ross And Dalma Szentpály: Self-Publishing Poetry Podcast

The Basics of Online Poetry Book Distribution and Sales, with Orna Ross and Dalma Szentpály: Self-Publishing Poetry Podcast

Orna Ross and Dalma Szentpály explore the basics of online poetry book distribution and sales trends over the past few months. As poetry slams and other events move online, many poets are connecting for the first time with the power of digital distribution for their books.

How do you ensure that your poetry books are available to readers all over the world? What are the facts about poetry book sales at the moment? Dalma and Orna have the answers.

Among the topics discussed:

  • What is the best strategy for poetry book distribution?
  • Do audiobooks work for poetry?
  • What are the different sales/distribution channels?
  • What’s the best payment option for poetry?

And more!

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: Online Poetry

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Show Notes: Online Poetry

Some independent research numbers mentioned in the show on why you should be using libraries, especially OverDrive, for distribution:

  • There are roughly 270,5 M Americans over the age of 15 in the United States out of them 54 percent have used a public library in the last year. 135 270 000 people can see your book in public libraries.
  • In Europe—the UK, Ireland, Netherlands, Iceland, German, Estonia, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Austria and Denmark you can access OverDrive in Public Libraries. Meaning you’ll be able to reach at least roughly 30 million people based on how many people use public libraries in these countries.

Find more author advice, tips and tools at our Self-publishing Author Advice Centerhttps://selfpublishingadvice.org, with a huge archive of nearly 2,000 blog posts, and a handy search box to find key info on the topic you need.

And, if you haven’t already, we invite you to join our organization and become a self-publishing ally. You can do that at http://allianceindependentauthors.org.

About the Hosts

Orna Ross

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.

Dalma Szentpály

Dalma Szentpály co-hosts the Self-Publishing Poetry salon. She works at PublishDrive as a self-publishing professional and has been a lifelong lover of poetry. A native Hungarian, she started learning about lyricism from poetry giants like Attila József and János Pilinszky but also recited brooding lines of verse from international poets like Pablo Neruda or Anna Ahmatova. In university, she fell in love with W.B. Yeats and Emily Dickinson and wrote her thesis about the “villanelle” form in Sylvia Plath’s poetry. As a university lecturer and an event manager at an independent bookstore in Budapest Dalma encouraged readers to re-engage with poetry. Check out her blog post about contemporary poetry trends here: Find Dalma on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Read the Transcript: Online Poetry

Orna Ross: Hello everybody, and welcome to our latest AskALLi Self-Publishing salon. I’m here with the wonderful Dalma from Hungary. Hi, Dalma.

Dalma Szentpály: Hi, Orna. Hi everyone, I’m really glad to be here.

Orna Ross: Great. Great to be here again and do let us know folks where you’re calling in from. We have a very interesting show for you this evening. We’ve been talking in the last few months about the effect that lockdown has been having on poets, particularly poets who have relied on gigs and slams and poetry events, physical to publicize and market their poetry, and the way in which a lot of those events have moved online, and the way in which this session that we do here, once a month, focuses very much on book publishing and digital book publishing. So, we were talking about how important that is, what a great change is happening in this sphere. And then off we went, and Dalma’s been doing lots of work this month, trying to see what the extent of this is. So, Dalma, for those who don’t know, just fill folks in a little bit about you and your role in PublishDrive, first of all. And then if you could share with us some pretty exciting statistics that you have about what’s happening in the poetry book publishing world.

Dalma Szentpály: Sure. So, for the past couple of months, PublishDrive, which is a distribution aggregator, meaning that you can access over 400 stores and thousands of libraries through our distribution platform.

We have incredible amounts of data. So, we have over 10,000 users who distribute through us and we’ve been focusing on putting out data for people to see how much digital distribution is growing and digital sales are growing. So, I’ve looked at the data for poetry in particular. I’ve been looking at data from January 2020 until the end of May.

So, let me share with you some very quick sales data about where poetry’s selling, how much it has grown over the months, and what are the best price ranges. So, basically how you can price your book the best way, what is selling the most. So, compared to January, just in February there was a little bit of a decline, but between February and March, there was a 43% growth.

And after that, between March and April, there was a 58% growth. So, overall, that’s already a huge number.

Orna Ross: So, is that 58% on the previous month?

Dalma Szentpály: Yes. On the previous month.

Orna Ross: On the previous month, so growth on growth. I should explain to listeners who may be wondering, how many books is that, that you’ll never know, because like pretty much every company in this business PublishDrive doesn’t share sales data, I presume it’s for commercial competitive reasons.

Dalma Szentpály: Yes, exactly. So, thank you, Orna, for explaining that. I didn’t put it that way, but yes, that’s why I can share with you growth numbers in sense of percentages, but exact copies and exact sales numbers, I cannot. And as the crisis is slowing down a little bit, there has been a little bit of a decline in the growth. So, between April and May, there was a 20% decline between the cells. But if we just look at the numbers from February to May, there was all over a 73% growth in poetry numbers.

So, that’s huge. And we’ve experienced this kind of growth in every single genre but, particularly for poetry, this was definitely something huge because, compared to, for example, science fiction, the growth wasn’t this pronounced. So, from February to May, it was still a huge number, around 40%, but not 73%.

So, yeah, this is definitely a big number.

What is the best strategy for online poetry book distribution?

Orna Ross: Though it’s fantastic. And the reason we’re talking about this is we want the poets who are listening to realize that poetry book publishing in this way is now a growth business and you’ll hear a lot of people saying, and I know you can’t give figures, but you’ll hear a lot of people saying that poetry books don’t sell, but this is actually an ocean of the past, and we’ve just got some on previous shows. So, not going to talk too much about that tonight. What we’re going to focus on tonight is how does a poet best get themselves distributed to as many bookstores as possible all over the world because, from other data that you have, I know people who distributes most widely are those who do best. So yeah, this is very much going to be your show Dalma. I’m going to ask you questions about distribution because you’re the book distribution expert, and I suppose, let’s start there, what is the best strategy for poetry book distribution? Is it as simple as that, be everywhere?

Dalma Szentpály: Yeah. Yeah, exactly, just as you said before, the best way to distribute is to be present on as many platforms as you possibly can. And throughout the show, we’re going to explain what are the different types of platforms that you can access. But that’s further on with the show.

Orna Ross: Okay, that’s fantastic. So, first rule folks, if you’re thinking of putting your books up there, don’t just think about one platform. Think about as many platforms as possible. What else do poets need to think about right at the start?

Dalma Szentpály: First of all, you need to decide what is going to be the format that you’re going to distribute.

You have your poems and you can decide to distribute in an eBook format, you can decide to do parallel in a print-on-demand. So, essentially a print distribution and in an audio format. So, let me just, very quickly, say some things about these different formats.

So, eBook formatting is growing and growing, or I would say eBook formats, preference for eBook formats is growing. So, just in 2019, $2billion of sales have been made only in eBooks in the US. So, that’s a huge number, and as I explained to you just before, during the crisis, a lot of people realized that consuming books digitally can be just as enjoyable as in a print format.

And for poets, this is probably the easiest way to create your book. So, that’s probably, you know, the least expensive and the easiest way to create a book that you can distribute.

The second one that I told you is print on demand. So, basically what is print on demand?

So, print on demand is, you essentially have to convert the file, the eBook file that you made, into a print on demand format. There are specifics. I will not go into that per se, but what happens is that you distribute to those digital stores, that you would essentially put your eBook format there and people can, on a click, demand that they would basically get your book in a print format.

And only that one copy is going to be made by the printer and that’s going to be shipped. So, you do not have to print out numerous amounts of copies that you need to store after that. So, there are no costs that goes into storage and reclaiming those copies that were not sold at the bookstore, it’s just basically one click. And it’s really good for a number of reasons. For example, currently in English speaking and EU countries, approximately 160 million people still prefer to read in print. So, this is kind of a hybrid version of print and digital in a way, I would say.

Do audiobooks work for online poetry?

Orna Ross: Yes, because very often when people say digital publishing, they think eBooks, but actually the three formats that we’re talking about here are digital formats. Yeah. Just nerdish publishing definitions there people. So, yeah, audiobooks, talk to us about audiobooks.

Dalma Szentpály: Yes. So, audio is growing. It is said to be the golden age of audiobooks. Major publishers have confirmed that one out of 10 books sold is an audiobook right now, and it’s growing and growing.

And since poetry is incredibly lyrical, I would say that that’s probably a really good format for a lot of poets to think about, to put a volume of poetry out there, but this is probably one of the most expensive formats as well to make, because production can be expensive. You can find a production company that would make your book into an audiobook at a cheaper price, but I would say, start with an eBook, try out the print on demand format as well and then you can, if you have the capital for it, you can go into the audio as well. I would definitely encourage you to do so.

Orna Ross: So, that’s a great kind of recap, and I know that a lot of our poets will already be aware of the different formats, but I also know that a lot of poets who have been, you know, as we said at the beginning of the show, concentrating really on physical books and doing what they’ve done for a very long time, which is kind of print off runs to take to their physical events, may not be as familiar with that and may not know how easy it is. But essentially, once you’ve decided on your formats, and I think it’s really important to point out as well, you know, false wars can be set up between eBook and print, particularly, and audio, should I do this one or that one or the other one?

The thing is, again, as well as being everywhere, be in every format, as soon as you can, recognizing that we all have limitations of money, of time, of resources, but just, if that’s your ultimate aim, that you will actually get into as many formats as possible, and if you love reading your own work, then that is definitely an advantage I think that indie poets have for the audiobook.

What are the different sales/distribution channels?

Orna Ross: So, now let’s talk about the sales channels and the different kinds of sales channels, through which these books are going to be brought out to readers. And folks, if you have any questions that you want to ask specifically about anything that’s arising here around distribution, just please do give us your questions.

Dalma Szentpály: Sure. So, we do at PublishDrive have kind of a system in differentiating within the different sales channels, and I will call them sales channels because not each one of them are stores, per se. So, I would say that there are major global retailers. That’s one of them. It means essentially Amazon, Apple, Google Play, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Gardeners, Ingram. So, all of these. And what are the benefits of putting your books there?

So, what I would say generally, if you’re not listed on each of these, your book is not essentially published, because most readers would first check these. And I’m not saying all readers would check these, but if they are searching for your book because they heard about it somewhere, or they’ve seen an Instagram post that you did about your volume, they will put it on Google, and if they do not find it there, then it’s going to be a problem for you. So, that’s why I would say that you should really sit there and just consider some of these numbers. 1.4 billion Apple devices and 2.5 billion Android users around the world.

So, those are numbers that you cannot really argue with and adding to this, just the statistics that I did at the beginning of the show, what we’ve seen in PublishDrive is that Apple is the best for poets all throughout this,  the six months  that I’ve seen. So, that’s one of the reasons that you should put your book in Apple. So, that’s a good tip. So, the second one is library providers.

So, the way it works is that there are huge library providers like Overdrive or Biblioteca or Hoopla, and what they do is that either they buy your book or basic your list and the libraries who are connected to these providers are requesting your book for their readers. So, it’s either listing them in their catalogs.

What is very, very beneficial here is that there is a major number of people who are first checking their libraries for potential books in poetry. So, just in the US, there are roughly 135 million potential readers yearly who go to libraries. And, particularly in the case of poetry, libraries are interesting because generally, 14 to 35-year-old women are the largest group who read poetry.

And these are the people who go to libraries because they are college students, because they are stay at home moms or very active in the community. And they go to their communal library or they go to their college library and check out poetry books, and sometimes these are the people who are the most open to new voices and indie books. So, that’s why I would definitely encourage people to go and list to libraries their titles.

Orna Ross: Absolutely, and the other thing about that age group, the younger part of that age group, you know, the biggest poetry demographic, consumers of poetry, is that it’s at that age that you are most open to writing as well as reading poetry. A lot of us have the experience of writing in our teens, then stopping and then coming back to writing poetry again much later on.

So yeah, grabbing them early also is a great idea and also libraries are just fantastic, you know, they are just the most wonderful way to get your book to readers that you simply can’t get to any other way. And a lot of indie authors don’t realize that you are paid for these because, just because the library distributes free, doesn’t mean that every library, libraries do actually purchase the books. It’s not that you’re giving the books free to libraries. So, I think just important to point that out. So, that’s our second (inaudible). So, we’ve got the big, global people that were, kind of, very familiar with and the library channels. What other channels should we be thinking about in terms of distributing?

Dalma Szentpály: The third one is our reader subscription services. Now, these are the newest forms of sharing your work or spreading your work. These are like Kindle Unlimited, Scribd, Bookmate, Storytel or 24symbols. So, I would say the easiest way to describe them is Netflix for books. So, that’s probably, even though some people, especially some of these channels do not like the comparison, but that’s the easiest way to say.

And just as you talked about before, the 14 to 18 age group or 14 to 35 age group is the likeliest to go to these reader subscription services and pay a flat fee amount per month to read an unlimited amount of books or to listen to an unlimited amount of audiobooks, because they are power readers. A lot of them are power readers. And for them to, just for the price of one book, to read unlimited amounts of books is just a huge boost. So, there is a growing number of people, for example, Scribd has more than 1 million active subscribers, even though they started in 2015.

So, for example, I started to read poetry digitally through Scribd. So, most of the indie poets that I’ve found, I find they’re fantastic, and how I’ve found these new voices was through reading subscription services.

What’s the best payment option for online poetry?

Orna Ross: That’s great because it allows you to look at a lot of stuff without buying upfront necessarily. And then, if you love the offer, then you can go on to kind of buy their actual books and maybe their print book as well or their audiobook. But the subscription services are great for those of us who are hungry readers.

Can you talk a tiny bit before you leave that sales channel about how the payment works there?

I think a lot of people are familiar with KU payouts, which is kind of pages read, which are on the short, slim poetry volumes doesn’t really add up to, you know, all that much money. But, how does payment work on say 24signals or some of these other subscription services?

Dalma Szentpály: Most of them are a little familiar to Kindle Unlimited, and I’m not exactly sure about the comparison, but I would say that, after 10%, you would definitely get paid, and this differs to each of the different sales channels , there are segments of payment. So, not after the pages, but basically to percentages, and then there are differing layers, I would say, of payment. So, not pages, but basically segments for percentages.

Orna Ross: Yeah. So, percentages, that would work for short books like poetry.

Dalma Szentpály: Exactly. Exactly. Yeah.

Orna Ross: Great. So, then what have we got? What’s our third category of sales channel for poetry books?

Dalma Szentpály: Yeah, so the last one I would mention is regional stores. So, regional stores are like, (inaudible) CNPCIE which is in China or (inaudible) Totally New in Germany or (inaudible), which is Slovakia, Hungary. These are some of the channels that we reach, that’s why I picked them, but there are definitely a larger number of stores.

So, why as an English speaker or an English writer would you be interested in distributing to these different channels? Because as I am not a native English speaker, I still consume poetry in English, and did so for the past 15 years, and there are a lot of other people like me. And, just in China, there are 400 million people who speak English.

Orna Ross: That’s a few readers.

Dalma Szentpály: Yeah, I’m not saying each one of them are a lover of poetry, but still, only if, just 1%, I mean…

Orna Ross: Its humongous, yeah. It’s hard to even imagine. Yeah. Yeah, exactly.

Dalma Szentpály: Exactly. So, just briefly mentioning all of the different stores and why is it beneficial for you to list your book there?

Going direct vs. using an aggregator

Orna Ross: Fantastic. So, let’s get back to that question of, I sound so mercenary, but let’s talk a little bit more about payment, you know, and how it works differently, depending on whether you go direct. I mean, some of these stores, none of us are going to go direct to, I think we have to use an aggregator. I don’t mean to say that in a negative way, like it’s a terrible thing, but you know, you just simply wouldn’t be able to reach them without is. You’d be crazy to even try, but perhaps some of them we might want to go directly. So, talk to me a little bit about how it works, if you’re going direct or if you’re using an aggregator, or why you might do one or the other.

Dalma Szentpály: Sure. So, I’m not necessarily expressing my personal opinion, I’m just saying how we see authors work. So, a lot of people, for example, go directly to Amazon. This is something that most people do because it’s such a humongous and such an impressive platform that, I would say, you would want to control directly and not necessarily through an aggregator.

So, that’s why you would choose to go to Amazon and publish there and distribute there directly. Some other platforms, maybe Kobo, for example, is a retailer that a lot of users choose to go to directly. But Amazon probably is the biggest one. If you’re going directly to a store, then it’s fairly simple.

There is a certain percentage that the store is going to take from the digital list price that you give the book when it’s bought by a reader and that’s it. So, if you go to an aggregator, what is it that you are going to gain from that aggregator? That you’re going to manage all of these different channels that’s pulled into the aggregator. So, basically what I told you before, the big retailers, the subscription-based stores and libraries, all of them you can manage in one platform, you can go in to see the sales figures. Maybe you’re going to be able to promote as well.

So, there are two ways that aggregators work. So, one of the ways that they work is like Draft2Digital or (inaudible) for example. So, basically above the percentage that you are paying from the digital list price to the store where they distribute to, they also take a cut from the digital list price.

So, for example, if you have a $10 book and you distribute to Amazon, they have 35%. That takes it down, then you have three, $6.50, and then that aggregator takes 10% more, then you have $5.50, at the end. So, that’s basically how an aggregator, which takes a revenue share out of your earnings, that’s how it’s done.

We at PublishDrive approach it a little differently, what we do is we ask for a flat fee for the services that we provide. We do not only provide the distribution part, we provide the promotion as well, and lots of other tools that can attract attention, or basically drive up your sales.

And, for that flat fee, basically, you use the platform in a way as if you would go directly to these stores. So, we do not take out an extra revenue share. We draw a line at a flat fee and basically, it’s just for the service.

Orna Ross: Got it. Okay. So, and then just on the bigger question, really, it’s a matter of how much time an author has as to whether they might decide to, you know, just keep it simple, maybe I go direct to Amazon and one other, and then I have an aggregator for everything else. ALLi recommends, if you can, and if you have the time and if you are going to use the benefits of going direct. So, and I think that’s a very important point, you know, so one of the reasons for going direct is that you may have access to some of the promotional tools.

Now I know PublishDrive and other aggregators also get some promotional tools on some of the platforms as well. But, authors like the fact that they can hop in and do their own promotions, develop a relationship with the store, you know, and kind of buildup in that way, which you can do if you go direct. But if you’re not doing any of that and you find that it’s all kind of very flat might be better going with an aggregator who has those relationships in place and who will do that kind of work on your behalf.

So, it is an important question, when it comes to distribution, I think it’s actually, where the first one is going wide, we definitely recommend going wide and not getting yourself tied to just one exclusive provider.

And then the second one is, you know, which ones are you going to go directly to, and which ones are you going to use an aggregator for?

So, we’re almost out of time, I just wanted to answer, Julie had a question about audio, about the fact that it’s costly and is looking for advice.

Julie, we’ll actually have a special on audio because that question would take another half hour for us to actually get stuck in on that one. It’s not one that we can do right now. I will say that one of the major costs, for any audiobook, is the narration. And so, if you can narrate yourself, you definitely have an advantage there.

So, Dalma, thank you so much for all the insight. I think just the clarity of, of all of that will be very useful to our poets.

Is there anything you’d like to kind of add to finish?

Dalma Szentpály: I am really thankful that I could share all of this, and I know that there have been a lot of numbers that I mentioned before and I try to include them in the show notes and some links that would clarify for you all of this information, and most of it can be found on PublishDrive’s blog.

So, make sure to check out, but ALLi also has some great stuff about distribution on ALLi’s blog. So, thank you so much. I would say at the end that, just as we started out, be brave to distribute digitally, it’s definitely the future, and go and be present on as many platforms as possible.

Don’t forget to sell on your author website

Orna Ross: And don’t forget your own website. That is also a really good place to distribute your work and sell direct, which is a subject that we’ve touched on before and we’ll touch on again, I’m absolutely sure, but you know, digital books can be sold online. It’s a bit more difficult with pod, but certainly your eBooks and your audiobooks, no reason why you can’t sell those directly on your website. Now, distribution makes your book available.

It doesn’t necessarily get it into the hands of a reader. And so, you need to work out how, once you set yourself up, what you’re doing here is you’re optimizing the availability of your book. You then have the task of connecting the reader to those links, you know, wherever they might find it.

Yes, you’re hoping that they find in a browsing situation, but to be honest, you need to be really quite proactive in terms of how you get them to buy your books. So, as poets are moving their events online, it’s really important that at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of any online event that you would do that you put up links to where people can find your books. And as you’re going to be using so many different stores and, you know, going wide, being everywhere as Dalma said, and in all formats if possible, there’s a lot of choice there for the reader. So, a page on your website is probably the best hub that you can have where that can be your landing page. And then from there you can guide them out to buy, if they like, buy on Amazon. If they want to, you can encourage them to buy directly on your own website. You can send them over to PublishDrive. You can have a long list of links. You can have a few links, you decide essentially. But what you need to think about very much, it isn’t enough to just put the books up there, you’re going to have to think about how you actually then bring the reader to the book.

But that, I guess, is a subject for another show and well talk about that again. Thanks so much to Dalma, and thank you guys for being here again for our AskALLi self-publishing advice salon and as ever, we would love you, if you are not already to join the Alliance of Independent Authors and become an ALLi

If you want to find out any more about that, you’ll find it at allianceindependentauthors.org. That link and all the other links and all of Dalma’s facts and figures will be in the show notes for the podcast, which will be out on our blog on Friday. So, that’s it for now, and we’ll see you next week for another AskALLi salon. Till then, happy writing and happy publishing.

Howard Lovy

Howard Lovy is an editor and writer with more than 30 years of experience in journalism, from newspapers to magazines specializing in business, science, and technology. He has spent the past few years guiding coverage of independent publishing, amplifying voices of the marginalized. Howard is also a book doctor who enjoys working with authors to get their work ready for publication.

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