Poetry is an age-old art for writers, and at last, it seems to be gaining widespread popularity. But with the boom in poetry business, the market, like all others becomes saturated. So how can you do poetry marketing on a budget? That's something author member Jessica Cotten is here to explain.
Forty-eight hours after I released my first poetry book, Sea Between: A Collection, I was roasting a sheet pan of veggies for dinner while pondering some deep life issues (as one does). It was late in the evening, I was tired, a bit sad about a few things, and quite irritated that all we had to work with for dinner were a couple of cans of tuna, some cauliflower and carrots. Suddenly my husband yelled out from the other room, “Jess, look!” He came into the kitchen carrying his laptop and wearing a huge smile on his face. When I saw the screen, I couldn’t believe it.
My book was listed under Amazon’s Hot New Releases?
#1 in the Poetry About Nature category no less!
We hadn’t done any paid ads yet. I hadn’t tried to hit #1, nor was it even a goal of mine to do so. I didn’t write to a specific audience, I didn’t try to amass a huge following on social media, and I didn’t have a lot of people signed up to my online journal. None of that stuff is important to me. In fact, I sort of rebel against it.
What mattered most to me throughout the launch planning and the marketing strategy sessions I had with my husband (who happens to do marketing and design for a living) were two things:
1) Staying true to myself, and
2) Treating the product well.
Here’s the thing: The subject of marketing is one that irritates me. Much of what’s out there in terms of marketing approaches for authors (or anyone for that matter) is annoyingly self-focused, way too noisy, lacking in depth and comes across as just trying too hard. Most everything smells like desperation to me these days. I understand why. The market is saturated with a bunch of us trying to get noticed so we can sell our products. It is tempting to approach everything with that sense of desperation. But you don’t have to. I think it’s possible to put artistry before function, authenticity before conformity, and still be a good businessperson.
Enough preaching. Here’s how I approached the launch of my poetry book.
Staying True to Myself
I Chose to do Everything From a Place of Rest
I learned very quickly that I couldn’t control every outcome, and I felt all along like my publishing journey was giving me an opportunity to learn to let go and surrender when things didn’t go my way (like, for example, when Ingram Spark goofed and didn’t get my print book to Amazon in time for launch day. It only just became available there, 3 months after I submitted the files. I chose Ingram, by the way, because of the spacing and indentations I used in my poems, along with the illustrations. I felt their print quality would be better than Amazon’s.) One of my mantras during this process became “If this doesn’t work out, something better is coming.” This meant I could stress less about particular outcomes, while continuing to work hard and do everything with excellence. I also didn’t try to do everything, like getting into all brick and mortar stores or getting tons of subscribers to my website. Burning out and/or becoming a workaholic are not options for me.
Whenever people asked what I was up to, I told them I was working on a poetry book (and also a novel that is kicking my butt, but that’s another story). I never brought it up myself in conversation, and I never spoke about it with the intention of it leading to sales. I was just being honest and sharing about my life. Word of mouth is a powerful tool for creating momentum for a product, and I found on launch day that several of my friends talked about my book on their FB page, sharing in my excitement with me. It was free advertising, but it’s important to remember that it came from real relationships, not from some weird networking strategy. People over product (another mantra)! Also, I spent a lot of time writing over the winter at my favorite local coffee shop. When it came time to publish my poetry book, I approached the owner to see if she would be willing to consider having it for sale as part of the monthly local artist showcase that they do. She graciously agreed, and it’s just one more little way to get my book in front of more people.
I was adamantly against making my social media feeds and emails be all about my book for days on end. From a consumer standpoint, when I am on the receiving end of a barrage of tweets or IG posts advertising someone’s product day after day, I tune the person out. I simply stop caring about what they’re offering. It just becomes noise. Sometimes, people connect to youbefore they connect to your product. So, I intentionally post more about my everyday life, what I’m doing, what I’m into, what annoys me, what I’m drinking, how I’m feeling, rather than a bunch of photos of my book all over the place. By the way, experts suggest a general guideline of doing 80% non-promo posts, and 20% promo posts (I did even less promo posts than that). When I dochoose to share about any sort of “success” I receive, I only mention it once, and never in a self-aggrandizing way, but more in an honest reaction (i.e. “Wow, I can’t believe this!”).
A Website With No Gimmicks
For me, this meant no pop-ups, no ads, and no bartering. Pop-ups are distracting and intrusive. They interrupt the user’s experience. There are better, more compelling ways other than pop-ups to herald the good news about whatever it is you want to tell people about. In the same vein, I know there is a trend these days of offering a free chapter of a book, or a free PDF, or an online course in exchange for people’s emails. It might work for you, especially if you’re offering something of value that people actually want. I personally find most of those things a little gimmicky. They’re just not me. So, I have a simple space on my website where you can sign up for my “anti-newsletter”. I don’t send updates out regularly, but I do promise meaningful content that is void of marketing lingo and click baits (guys, the click baits are out of control these days – resist!), as well as assuring you that you will be the first to know about book updates and any new projects I’m working on. Doing anything online these days is noisy enough, and I wanted my website to be serene and pressure-free. Click where you want, when you want. Take your time exploring. Enjoy the journal entries. No need to sign up for anything unless you want to.
Treating the Product Well
Involve an Artist Friend in Visual Decisions
My husband and I are both artists, so staging a photo shoot for my head shots was fun for us. Not everyone is into this, but one thing you can consider is talking to a friend or family member who is skilled in these areas to help you with ideas for getting some great photographs. Reach out for help – it’s worth it! Maybe you can even barter with them for their services (in exchange for your copywriting skills, or homemade meals, or taking them out to dinner, etc.) All the photos we took of my book were taken with an iPhone.
Product Descriptions and Bio
I did a lot of drafts for both of these items until they felt strong and accurate. With the product description, I wanted to stay truthful to the theme of the poems, so I wrote it knowing that it might not appeal to everyone, but that it would hopefully appeal to the right I chose to do my Amazon bio in first person, because I saw another author who did this and I noticed that I immediately connected with him more than other bios in third person. Product descriptions and bios are worth spending time and energy on. Do your research on how to write them, but also dig deep inside yourself and make sure you are being authentic when you write them.
It’s tempting to overprice. It’s also tempting to underprice, especially with the trend of offering one’s first book for free or for $.99. I went back and forth several times when coming up with a price, and after much research on the prices of other poetry books of this length, we decided that for the first 4 weeks of sales, we would offer the ebook at a discount of $4.99 and the print book at a discount of $6.99. I think this helped with initial sales, because people like discounts! In the end, I feel I treated the product well by finding a balance between underpricing and overpricing.
I read a great deal on the ALLi blog about publishing wide, and I became convinced that it was a good business decision to try to make my book available to as many outlets as possible. I used Amazon KDP for Kindle only (they were surprisingly great to work with). I used Draft 2 Digital for all other ebook outlets (5 stars for D2D; their customer service, website ease of use and professionalism were outstanding). I used Ingram Spark for print only (my experience with Ingram was atrocious and I would give them 1 out of 5 stars. I am researching if there are better print distribution options out there for my next book). Despite the troubles of working with Ingram, I still feel like I treated my book really well by publishing wide, which is giving it a chance to be seen by more people.
Hire a Professional Designer
This was where I knew spending money was a wise idea. I hired a good friend who is not only a great graphic designer, but who loves poetry. This meant that she dove into the poetry for a while before coming up with a cover design and interior illustrations to fit the themes (actually, any good designer should do this). I have no doubt that my cover is a huge factor in people being drawn to the book, and I’ve never once regretted spending my money on a professional graphic designer. Plus, she saved me a ton of headache when it came to uploading the files to Draft 2 Digital, Ingram Spark and Amazon because she knows the lingo. It was completely worth it for the sake of my mental and emotional health!
The Result of My Poetry Marketing on a Budget
I stayed #1 in the Poetry about Nature category for a mere couple of days, but I will never forget how good it actually felt to be ahead of the one and only Walt Whitman. I’m no longer #1 (except for in the eyes of my friends and family!), but I still feel just as proud of my book and its place in the world because I stuck to my values through the whole process. My publishing journey has only just begun, but so far, treating my book rightly and being myself have guided me down a marketing path that is both peaceful and effective. This is the kind of marketing I recommend, and it’s the kind the world needs; a quiet rebellion against the frenzied, self-obsessed, desperate tactics that have shaped society.
OVER TO YOU
What tricks or tactics do you have for poetry marketing on a budget? How do you market poetry?
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