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Poetry Marketing: How To Attract Attention The Old Way And The New, With Orna Ross And Dalma Szentpály: Self-Publishing Poetry Podcast

Poetry Marketing: How to Attract Attention the Old Way and the New, with Orna Ross and Dalma Szentpály: Self-Publishing Poetry Podcast

Are you maximizing the many opportunities in poetry marketing these days? In this salon, Orna Ross and Dalma Szentpály compare the traditional way to feature poetry (literary magazines, competitions and eventual establishment of reputation and book publication) with the new way (feature on podcasts and social media, grow your audience and create a community then self-publish).

While exploring both approaches, this salon focused mainly on opportunities in the vibrant new world of social media and self-publishing. It includes links, examples, and your poetry self-publishing questions answered. 

Among the topics discussed:

  • How has traditional poetry marketing changed?
  • Literary magazines
  • Poetry competitions
  • The rise of InstaPoetry
  • Tips for featuring your poetry
  • Audio trends
  • Do poems really sell anymore?

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.

Poets, to submit to work for consideration for the Self Publishing Poetry Podcast, See the Indie Poetry Please! Submission Guidelines

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Show Notes: Poetry Marketing

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: Poetry Marketing

Orna Ross: Hi everybody. I’m here with Dalma. I’m Orna Ross of the Alliance of Independent Authors. I’m here with the wonderful Dalma from Publish Drive. Hi Dalma.

Dalma Szentpály: Hi Orna, and hi everybody. It’s really great to be back.

Orna Ross: It’s great. We had a bit of downtime for various reasons.

We missed last month out, and we are back. And, of course what you’re watching is the Self-Publishing Poetry Salon from the Alliance of Independent Authors. One of four streams that we do in our self-publishing salons. The others are, just for those of you who are not regulars, Fiction and Nonfiction is one show and we also do our member Q&A each month, and then we do an Advanced Salon for those who are kind of well-up and established, and who want to know more about running a successful author business with the wonderful Joanna Penn. But tonight, its poetry, and this show is for everybody.

I think tonight we’re focusing in on people who might be very experienced poets, but perhaps not very experienced poetry publishers, which is a slightly different thing, and so on the show our theme is very much about putting together our own books, but there are many ways then to feature those books.

So, there’s the whole production thing, but then there’s the marketing and promotion thing and how you feature poetry. We’re going to look tonight at, kind of, the old way in the traditional publishing system and the new way, this great explosion of digital poetry that we’re all enjoying. So, let us know where you’re beaming in from. We have, James Hill, who has been recommended by Karen Inglis. Always take a recommendation from Karen Inglis, I say. Hi James, you’re welcome, and hi Diana, great to have you in from Vancouver.

So, Dalma, talk to us a little bit about, you know, the traditional way for the poet was small magazines.

Try and get a collection published, enter competitions, and we’ll talk about each of each of these things, but how have things changed?

How has traditional poetry marketing changed?

Dalma Szentpály: Well, as self-publishing made everything a little bit more democratic. So, as you know, magazine editors are stricter, maybe a little bit more not open to new voices, a little bit set in their ways.

And new voices emerged with the coming of social media. So, there are particular social media platforms like Instagram or Tumblr, or particular ones that are built especially for poetry that are incredibly useful. And basically, those were the ones that brought in this Renaissance of poetry lovers and poetry writing in the 21st century. So, basically in the past five to 10 years that’s what we experienced. So, that’s basically what changed.

We are going to talk about the different ways you can feature your poems and what are the tips and tricks, how you can help your poems to be getting attention as they deserve.

Orna Ross: Yeah, exactly. So, we are assuming that everybody here wants to put together chapbooks and poetry books. And then there’s the question of how you feature those books and also how you feature individual poems.

Literary Magazines

Orna Ross: So, the literary magazines, let’s start there. They do an incredible job. Labors of love, generally speaking, certainly not done for the commercial return because a lot of them are still very embedded in a print model. Though there are some digital-only magazines now. For me, the wonderful thing about those magazines is that poetry lovers are running them and each of them has its own distinct character.

They’re almost like a poem in themselves and then some of the better ones are really quite extraordinarily good, but you’ve always got this problem, that there are only so many slots, and you’ve got one person’s tastes, you know, who is kind of reading the poetry and then putting it out there.

Do you have any thoughts or experience around literary magazines?

Dalma Szentpály: I actually subscribe to one, which is not necessarily poets and writers, as it’s part for the publishing trade and part for poetry lovers or writers who are trying to establish themselves. And if anyone is a Scribd subscriber, then you can easily get it.

So, that’s how I usually read it. So, I really love that one in particular. Do you have magazines that you really like?

Orna Ross: Yeah, I was a subscriber to Poets & Writers some time ago, some years ago, but not in recent years. No particular reason. The quality is incredible, it’s a really super interesting magazine.

Poetry London is a magazine that I particularly like, I love the journal and the Poetry Ireland journal also, and I love academic explorations of poetry and, you know, pulling them apart, what most people don’t like. Pulling them apart and putting them back together again. So, there are a number of Irish, kind of, obscure literary journals that you can only get at with an academic subscription. I mean, you wouldn’t be paying for them, let me put it that way. So, I’m not going to even include them in the show notes because, first of all, they’re very minority interest and also for that reason. But a lot of the magazines now, of course, are online and that has allowed a number of them to expand out there.

I also love Tiny URL; I don’t know if you’re familiar with that one. It is run by an individual originally, I forget his name, it just doesn’t come to mind in this moment, but it’s haiku and he is curated, but it’s digital now.

Each month, people just send him their haiku, and each month he selects the ones that he feels he’d like to include in his listing or whatever. So, I think it’s good to see the magazines coming online. And the other thing we’re seeing as they move online is a Patreon model.

So, there’s very interesting poets writing the news, which is a group of poets who respond to contemporary events. Now, that can be dangerous for a poet or it can be super inspiring, and obviously these are people who are inspired by the news. And it’s a really interesting project, I suppose you’d call it, which I support on Patreon, which I really, really enjoy.

And then, of course, there are the classic, you know, the big ones that everybody thinks of. And also, the review sections in the newspapers and magazines, which have shrunk it has to be said. As poetry has grown and expanded in the digital world and taken off, we’ve got this kind of divide that has come in and, there’s almost two separate understandings of what poetry is and what it does and how you feature it, which we’ll pull apart a little bit more as we go through the show.

So, that’s the literary magazines. The next thing is competitions. Do you recommend that people should enter competitions?

Poetry Competitions

Dalma Szentpály: I definitely do, particularly because you have a deadline set, and I think that also, for me, it’s encouraging that you already have a deadline, you have a prize, you have some set of rules usually, there is a theme that you should follow. So, you have some qualities that you have to meet. So that’s, I think, a good starting point if you are just starting off. And even if you are not starting off, but an established poet, I think it can get your name out there and you can get featured in a literary magazine or you can get a prize where you can start off publishing your poetry. So, basically it helps you produce your own volume of poetry a lot easier. So, I think definitely that’s a good start or basically something that really helps you along the way.

Did you enter competitions?

Orna Ross: I’m forever saying, I must enter that, and sticking it up on the notice board and drawing a big, nice red circle around the entry date and then watching it whizz past me. I have to say competitions have never really worked for me. You know, I completely see that they’re great, and some of them now are quite lucrative.

I mean, the days when you sort of won a fiver (£5) and publication in a tatty little magazine that was held together with a staple, that’s gone. You do have poetry prizes now that are in four and even five figures, which is marvelous. But for me, it didn’t ever serve as a kind of stimulus, and even in terms of when I was thinking of entering, I was very often thinking of entering a poem that I had written before, that I liked. Oh, I must enter that one, kind of thing.

The Rise in InstaPoetry

Orna Ross: What has definitely worked better for me is the new way, in terms of stimulating production. So, I have definitely written far more poems since I’ve gone on to Instagram than I ever did before. And, at the moment, I’m challenging myself to write almost one a day.

Well, I’m challenging myself to do one a day and I am succeeding and producing almost one a day, and some of them are very short and very small, some of them are longer. They’re inspired by a picture, that I’ve either taken myself or by some picture that I’d been taken with that I’ve seen on the internet and asked the artist, can I take it and riff off it and do a poem for a credit kind of thing.

And everyone always says yes. Very nice. So, for me, definitely, digital has done it. And I’ve embarked on this incredibly interesting journey, for me, which I feel I’ve only got my toe in the water in terms of how it works. So, you know, when I started looking at poems online and these are put up freely, nobody’s expected to pay, you can, and I do, mention occasionally my Patreon page, but it’s very much about putting them out there and when I looked at it at first, about two or three years ago, I have to confess, I was rather snobby about it. And I was thinking about poetry very much from the traditional kind of thought, the way I had been raised to think about poems, and this is not how social media operates in the poetry world.

So, what is being put out there very often is a teaser and a taster. And then, in the caption, you get a full poem and sometimes what’s put out there on the actual visual image or the word art can seem a little obvious or (inaudible)

Dalma Szentpály: On the nose.

Orna Ross: Exactly, our film friends’ term, exactly on the nose. But then sometimes, when you get into the work itself, it’s not so much so. It is, but what I also came to realize is that there is this huge outpouring of on the nose work that is really needed and absorbed by people who want the words like that.

They don’t want to be looking for…

Dalma Szentpály: The obscure meaning of, or the obscure message, the abstract. Yeah, I know what you mean.

Orna Ross: Exactly and teasing out what does the poet mean or stripping it apart in that way that I love to do. I think of a poem often like a jigsaw. Take it apart, put it back together again, you know, that’s not what they want. What they want is, as they scroll through their feed, they want words that are meaningful to them. And it has broadened my definition of what poetry is. So, if it is meaningful to somebody, are we as poets really going to go in and take that away?

I don’t think so, and then, of course, on Instagram and on all the social media, there is poetry for every single taste, including my crazy, take it all apart, taste. So, you know, everybody can find, but it takes time and that’s what I’m realizing. It definitely takes time. It’s not something you can just jump into.

And I think other aspects of publishing and writing, if you’re writing nonfiction or you’re writing novels, it’s much easier to find what we call your comps, your comparable authors.

We talk about poetry as if it’s one thing, we wouldn’t talk about fiction the way we talk about poetry, and assume, you know, are you a poetry lover even?

We wouldn’t say, are you a nonfiction lover? We’d say, what kind of nonfiction books do you read? You instantly think about genre when you think about the other two macro genre, fiction, and nonfiction. But when it comes to poetry, for some reason, we lump it all together. And I think, yeah, my own personal explorations so far have shown me very much that you can’t lump it all together.

Dalma Szentpály: I completely agree with you, and I never thought of it that way, but I have particular tastes in poetry as well. I mean, I learned about poetry and I encountered a lot of different types. And I also agree with what you said before, that I think for a lot of people, 20th century poetry, postmodernism with T.S. Elliot, where you have to understand every single word in a different sense and somehow, you just get lost. And, right now, Insta poetry is a lot more accessible to a lot more people than the postmodern poetry that you learn in school. And yes, when I first read it, or read Rupi Kaur, I was a little surprised as well. That was not what I was brought up with as poetry.

But I think that was one of the first volumes that I read, Milk and Honey, that I really cried at the end. So, it’s emotionally extremely assessable. But yes, I think it’s very, very hard to find who are the authors that you click with. So, basically, you have the same understanding of what poetry is or what are the main topics for you, what you want to explore.

Are you empowering? Are you more spiritual? Are you more about the reality that you are in or just basically talking about your own life in a lyrical way? So, basically, what is your vision that you want to put out there or what kind of, tools you are using? Are you using imagery? Are you using photos? Are you using drawings? So yeah, there are a lot of different things that you need to decide. But first, I think, you should know the surroundings, or you should know the social media environment that you go into. So, I would say that first, before you start publishing, you should really go in and see for yourself what’s out there.

Orna Ross: Yeah, I definitely think so. And also to take it as a given that, if you are going to go this route of putting your work out there, that what you start doing is going to modify and change as you go along. So, I think you need a sense of who you are as a poet, and that includes the kinds of things we’ve been talking about at the technical level.

But also, of course, it includes, as Dalma was saying, so rightly, there, the motivation behind your work. Why are you writing poetry? What are you getting from the writing of it is very likely more than any other form to be very connected to what your reader is getting from it as they read.

And so, the thing I think about this way of featuring your poems as well, compared to say competitions or submission for magazines, is that, when you submit to competitions and magazines, you’re kind of throwing it out there and you’re waiting to hear what somebody or an organization thinks, and one or two or three or maybe 10 prize winners get through and then everybody else doesn’t. And there are competitions that will feed back to every single entrant, but not very many of them. So, in a sense, you’re working in the dark. Whereas on digital publishing on Tumblr or Instagram or Twitter, also people are doing really well there, Facebook, whatever, or wherever your environment is, you’re working in the light, you’re letting people see a lot of your stuff. It’s very different. It’s a very different experience for me certainly. I can say it has been more of a learning experience. I’ve learned more, grown more as a poet in the last year than I did in the nine or 10 years that I’ve been writing poetry before that.

So, I’m very much, it’s not going to surprise anybody, but I’m very much on the self-publishing, put it out there, keep it moving, keep producing kind of way of doing things. But, really important to say, there is no right way, there is just your way.

Connecting Through Poetry

And actually, probably the best way is, if you have the time and space, is to do both. To actually use the digital media to keep you working and producing and putting stuff out there. Also seeing the responses you’re getting, that’s been a big part of my learning, and I’ve switched up my Instagram again for the fourth time, I think, in terms of how I’m putting the material out there and I feel now I really have it, but then I felt the last three times as well. So, we’ll see. But you get a sense, you get responses, the readers will actually say what it was they liked. And sometimes that’s, oh wow, I didn’t even know I’d done that. Or you’ve given them what you thought you were giving or whatever, or you see that something you thought was completely quite okay, maybe even good, gets no response at all. And something that you feel really cringy about and whether you want to put it out there actually goes down really well and people respond really well to it. So, one of the things I’ve learned, it’s emphasized for me something that I do know, but we need to be told over and over again, is that we are the worst judges of our work, especially when it’s fresh.

And, just get it out of there. Just, you know, just won’t interfere. Some competitions and literary journals have rules about what you can and can’t submit. But if you put it on your social media and you took it down, just in order to submit it, I don’t think anybody is ever even probably going to notice.

I wouldn’t worry too much about those kinds of rules and regulations that are really more about competing competitions or competing journals. They’re not really too worried about what the poet is doing in their own space.

Dalma Szentpály: I wanted to ask you about the social media responses that you got. I’m just curious, who are you listening more to; the poet friends that you are editing together with that you already talked about, that’s how you are editing your own volumes, or the people who you are speaking with online?

So, I’m probably assuming there are some followers who are more active on your social media. So, what would you say, who are you listening to more, or in what way are you listening to these different replies or responses to your poetry?

Orna Ross: Brilliant question. Yeah, it is two different kinds of responses. So, the first one is on fresh work that has been written literally that day and is going out, and then those responders, the people responding there are followers, they’re readers in the main who are just following the Instagram.

So, I don’t know many of them. I get to know them because they turn up again and again and as they make comments and so on, you kind of get to know people. And it’s really lovely. I just never had that before, even as self-publisher, in quite the same way, because your own list is never as big as your social list.

And when you get a big range of people, and I don’t have a huge following by any means, I’m very slowly building my following on Instagram, but it’s thousands. And so, when you have some thousands of people, and they’re not all responsive by any means, but it’s giving a broad cross section, and so you’re getting more responses and they’re responding really as readers.

Do I like this? Do I not? What did that mean? That touched me, that didn’t. Well done, that kind of thing. So, pretty much, not on any sort of deep level, though you get an occasional deep comment from usually a fellow poet. So, there’s some of them here I can see in the audience this evening who are among those who will put something very thoughtful or say, that was actually one of your best and here’s why. Or, that one really worked or, I loved that particular turn, you know, when it turned or turn of phrase or whatever. And that’s all great.

Where our writing group comes in, for those who weren’t here for that show, it was when we were talking about editing, and I said that I wouldn’t even dream ever of putting a fiction novel or a nonfiction book out without an editor, but I haven’t used an editor for my poetry. But I do use a group of trusted, fabulous writers and there’s a group of us and we kind of edit each other’s work. So, that’s at a later stage. Not all of the poems that I put out on Instagram; I don’t consider them all to be publishable.

And indeed, I write poems that I don’t consider even publishable on Instagram. So, you know, I’m quite willing to put out a lot of stuff. Sometimes your best not to put certain things out, you write it for yourself and it’s important to have that freedom, I think as well. Sometimes you just need to write something out knowing that you’re not going to put this one out, or you might put it out later, you need to work on it more or now’s not the time to put it out there. But the ones that I’ve published, the way in which it goes is they get published on Instagram. Once a month I do a poem exclusively for patrons, and that tends to be a longer, more significant piece, generally speaking.

And then, pretty much all the Patreon poems go into a collection, but not for a long time because patrons get to read them exclusively for three months, and then they go into the chapbooks and then they go into longer collections. So, there’s kind of a series of posts along the way, and those other editors come in at the book publication stage.

So, when I’ve self-edited the poems, taken them off Instagram, self-edited them myself to where I feel it’s as good as I can get it. Then in a collection or a small chapbook, they will go to my poet pals who will then tell me what’s what and they don’t pull punches these ladies.

Yeah, and so that’s how it tends to go.

Folks, if we have any questions, if anybody in the audience has any questions or any suggestions, I’ve just realized I’m asking this now and I should have asked halfway through, but before we wrap up, if anybody has a pressing question that they would like answered, don’t be shy.

Please, please do ask as this is your opportunity. You have put together, Dalma, a couple of interesting links and things for this show. Do you want to just talk us through those a little bit?

Tips for Featuring Your Poetry

Dalma Szentpály: Yes. So, both for the traditional way of featuring your poems and both for the new way, I would suggest a couple of things to try out.

As I mentioned before, Poets & Writers, the literary magazine, they actually have a database for contests that you can check out and we’ll put into the show notes the exact link. You can filter the contents or the database by genre, so you can select poetry, the entry fee, whether you need to pay something to enter the competition or not, what’s the deadline.

So, you can select which are the contests that are interesting for you. So, that’s one thing that I definitely would encourage people to check out.

Also, we didn’t really talk about this, but there’s another new way to get featured, which is featured in a podcast.

And one of the things that you can do, there are actually not that many podcasts that allow self-published poets to go out and have an open mic, but there are some. One of them is Poetry Spoken Here, there’s also a link that I’m going to put into the show notes. So, that’s something that you need to check out.

Orna Ross: Yeah, I found podcastreview.org, which is a brilliant website for all kinds of podcasts, but they actually had a very good list of poetry podcasts. I haven’t checked them all out, but they all sounded super interesting. So, I think that one is definitely worth checking out.

And again, these will be in the show notes, and what we mean by the show notes is this video gets turned into a podcast and next Friday week it will be released on the Self-Publishing Advice Center website, which is selfpublishingadvice.org. If you look at the podcast page, you’ll see previous self-publishing poetry podcasts that Dalma and I have done, and it’s the last Friday of each month we release our poetry podcast. And so, with the podcast will be a full transcript of everything that we’ve talked about today, and also all the links that we have mentioned so you can get them. And if you’re signed up for our emails, obviously you get a reminder and you get that sent to you.

So, sorry, go ahead.

Dalma Szentpály: Yes, just one more thing not to forget. You put together quite a list of hashtags that you would suggest people use. And I found that very important. So, if you are a poet on social media, you need to start putting hashtags whenever you feature your poem, because that’s how you get traction on social media. And I think what you selected is a fantastic set of hashtags. So, that’s something I also encourage people to do and select from.

Orna Ross: Okay, great. They are actually the ones that I use most often myself. I left out some particular ones, like #IrishPoet and stuff like that, that wouldn’t apply. But they’re the ones that are useful, live hashtags that people do actually just go on and they just put in the hashtag and see what poems have come up under those hashtags, that’s how they find new poets.

So, we asked for questions and we got a few in. We’re a little bit over time, but having asked the questions, we’re definitely going to answer them.

So, James has two questions, I’m going to put them together and take you at the end, James, if that’s okay. And Diana actually has two customers as well. So, I’m going to go just straight into Bee first, who has just one question.

Audio Trend

Orna Ross: Is there a growing trend in audio to hear poets read their poetry, I’m thinking of embedding audio into epubs free, thoughts?

There’s definitely a trend of people wanting to hear poets reading. What do you think of audio embedded in the epub, Dalma? Dalma works for PublishDrive, which is the fabulous distributor. So, would you say do it that way or do it another?

Dalma Szentpály: I would rather suggest doing it as an audiobook and having a separate eBook. Both from production side and from distribution side, it’s easier to start it that way. So, that’s my suggestion.

Orna Ross: Yeah, I think I would agree. I don’t know enough about it, but my instant thought is that, somebody who’s searching for audio wouldn’t necessarily even know that they would find it there and you’d be kind of working against that.

So, also Bee, I know you’re a good businesswoman and you know, a separate eBook and a separate audiobook commercially makes sense. And then you could bring the two together and sell it as a bundle, you know, so that people are clear that they’re getting either the format that they prefer to read, or both of them.

Dalma Szentpály: Exactly. Exactly.

Orna Ross: So, Diana said, once you’ve published one of your poems online, I assume you’re no longer able to submit them to literary magazines as they’ve already appeared online and are no longer fresh. Is this correct?

You know, strictly speaking, yes.

In practice, almost nobody does that, because when you put something online, yes, it’s out there but, such is the rate at which all of this moves, that the number of people who’ve actually seen that poem is not going to be a huge number. So, I would recommend, if you’re going to enter it into a competition and in the rules and regs it says it’s not supposed to have appeared before, I’d take it down. Take it down and then submit it. So, you’re not breaking the rules and regulations, but really, unless you’ve got a huge following on there, avidly waiting for your next poem to come out, which most of us are not in that situation yet. So, unless that’s your situation, I wouldn’t  worry about it because the number of people who’ve seen it, they’re likely to be different people, to people who are reading the literary magazines, there’s no real clash there. Do you have anything to add to that or would you agree?

Dalma Szentpály: I agree a hundred percent, yeah.

Are Poets Giving their Work Away?

Orna Ross: Okay. The second part of Diana’s question, it seems we’re living in a time where most poets are sharing their work freely without compensation. Is that where we’re at?

So, we did a bit about this in a previous show, Diana, where we spoke about how it works.

So, it isn’t that it’s without compensation. It’s using free strategically. So, it’s not giving everything away all willy nilly, but it is understanding from the reader’s perspective, if they don’t know you and they don’t know what they’re getting. It’s like you, you know, would you purchase something if you didn’t know what you were actually buying?

And the answer for most people is no, you might take the occasional leap, but certainly for you as a poet, that’s not the best way for you to get your work read or to make a sale. It doesn’t really work to be withholding in this area. Now, I know that some poems take a heck of a lot of work and intense involvement and emotional connection and everything else, and that you can feel, look, I deserve to be paid for that.

And yes, that is true, you do. But you’re going to have to work as a way which incorporates gifting the work as well, or certainly that’s how it seems to me. I don’t know, again, if Dalma has anything to add to that.

Dalma Szentpály: I would say that basically you are providing a little bit of yourself first, building up a brand and when that brand is already built, you as a poet, then a lot more readers are going to pay for future works.

So, of course, it takes a lot of work, but it pays off in the end.

Orna Ross: Yeah, and it’s the old kind of business adage of know, like, and trust. People buy from people or brands that they know and like, and trust. That’s when people spend easily, and in fact you don’t even have to do anything salesy at all.

They want to buy from you when they know and like and trust you. And so, if you are freely gifting your work, they come to know and like, and trust you. You gather in the people around you who like to read your particular work, they know what you stand for. They know what you do as a poet, because if they haven’t heard of Diana Stevan before then they have no idea what to expect.

So, I think if you listen back maybe to a few previous episodes as well, where we build on this and talk about this in more detail in the marketing show and a couple of others, it might begin to feel a little bit more understandable. And I mean, you don’t have to do it this way, but certainly this is the way that is working and being within the new environment, trying to do things the old way, I haven’t seen anybody you know, do well that way. So, it’s either, I think, really commit yourself to traditional, and, there too the payment is nil. You know, its tiny, it’s not worth talking about.

So, there too you earn your spurs by giving your work away and putting it out there. It’s just you’re asking somebody else to choose it. And with the social media platforms, you’re choosing yourself. Okay.

Do poems really sell anymore? Cate Toward asks. So, I want you, Dalma, who works in the book distribution area to talk to Cate about that.

Do poems really sell anymore?

Dalma Szentpály: Yes. What we talk about, when we talk about the Renaissance of poetry is that it sells extremely well nowadays. Of course, you need to have a bigger following, a lot of readers, but yes, a lot more people are reading poetry than 10 years ago. There are a couple of different factors going into that.

One of them is that social media and the particular platforms are really well built for this genre of writing because poems are shorter, it can be easily shared, they are emotionally very impactful. So, when you are reading poetry, then you are almost instantly getting some kind of feelings. So, that’s something that’s really well sold in the digital age.

So yeah, I would say that poems sell well, or can sell well.

Orna Ross: Yes, they can. It’s by no means saying that every poet sells well, absolutely not. But, without a doubt, poetry is selling like it has never sold. In almost a century, actually, poetry has had a complete commercial and creative Renaissance.

So, if you’re interested in writing poetry, it’s a very good time to be doing that. But it’s not something you’re going to make a whole load of money on. I mean, you might, but what I’m saying is don’t count on it. Poetry is free of that to some degree, I think. That’s kind of what makes it poetry.

If what you want is to sell books and make a living from your writing and do very well commercially and so on, I don’t think you turn to poetry as your first thought, and I don’t think you should.

We’re looking at all sorts of different values embedded in poetry. And yes, of course you can balance your passion and your profits as a publisher who will sell poetry books, or as a writer who might have a Patron following or a donation button on your website, or however you decide to monetize what you’re doing, and obviously selling books and so on. But, while you have all that and you can balance those two things, I don’t think putting the profit out front makes a lot of sense for a poet.

If anything’s going to go out front, it’s probably the creative dimension, but there’s no need for anything to go out front. Because usually, when you’re trying to balance those two together and the relationship you need to get into with your readers is very healthy because you, you know, you’re not just writing to market, but neither are you writing in a cut-off, Island, bubble of your own. It’s communication and you’re being forced to communicate and people value things in our society by spending some money on them and certainly, as a poet, you can, that can happen for you these days.

What other ways are there to sell poetry?

So, Maria says, I treat Insta as a sampler from my voice and sell my books through Amazon, but I have to advertise. They do sell, but it’s slow. That’s my experience.

And I would say that’s a fairly typical way of approaching it and a fairly typical experience.

I think for poets in particular, if you’re advertising on Amazon clearly, you should sell your books on Amazon, but if you’re paying for Facebook advertising or BookBub advertising or advertising somewhere else, because of the nature of poetry. Unless you’re interested in the actual charting and the algorithm boost that, that can give you, you might want to think about bringing people to your own website to purchase there if you’re investing in the advertising, rather than bringing them to Amazon.

It’s a thought, but if it’s slow, building it on your own website, getting people’s email addresses, building up a sustainable sort of group of people who love your work, over time can, for poets using their own website as the hub, can work well.

Do you want to speak before we speak to James, because it’s more of a writing question, do you have anything to say about the distribution of poetry more widely? Beyond obviously our recommendation is to go wide, but any thoughts there?

Dalma Szentpály: Yes. One of them is that, yes, I think everybody should be on Amazon, but there are subscription services and libraries where you should put your poetry books up. Because reader subscription services are for 18 to 35-year-old women, most of the time, as well as libraries are used most of the time by this age group, and poetry sells the best in this age group.

So, that’s one of the reasons why I would say that people are inclined to search for poetry in these particular selections of distribution services like Scribd, Bookmate, OverDrive, Bibliotheca. These are library providers or reader subscription providers that you should check out.

So, there is a great merit in this, and while we are in this COVID-19 situation, people are really using reading subscription and library services more and more. So, that’s one of the reasons why I would suggest you try them out.

Why would anyone want to read what I have written?

Orna Ross: Fantastic. And we’re going to finish with James who has quite an important question, I think, a very important question, that I think we’ve all asked ourselves as poets at some point.

This might seem like a strange question.

No, it doesn’t.

But for me, I struggled to come to terms with why anyone would want to read what I have written. Maybe it’s because I only write anything as a way of making sense for something for me in my own head.

So, James, I would just encourage you to just put it out there and then you’ll see. The more you put out, the more you’ll see. Because if you’ve needed to write a poem to work something out in your mind, it is likely that for somebody else, if they find it, there are people out there who will also get that benefit. You’ll have worked it out for them, if you like, and by reading your words, you can give them this kind of mini epiphany whereby they resolve things for themselves through your words, and I think that’s the gift of poetry.

So, if you don’t worry about it in terms of, none of us likes putting our stuff out there.

You know, nobody who is actually putting out their poetry doesn’t have moments where they go, oh, my skin is crawling. I wish I didn’t put that out but, you know, I’m going to do it anyway. And the more you do it, the easier it gets. You get used to just putting it out, not thinking about it, moving on, and then coming back feeling more dispassionate.

So, it’s a rhythm you get into. You certainly don’t ask yourself why you should do it or think about it in your front brain, in your logical mind because logical minds and poetry just don’t go together.

You’re part of a much bigger thing as a poet, you’re part of a much deeper thing as a poet, it’s mysterious.

We don’t really understand why we do this, but we’re driven to do it and people are driven to read it and it’s bigger than us and ours is not to question. Ours is just to do it and put it out there and then do it again and put it out there again, and not think too much about the process. That’s my take anyway.

Anything to add, Dalma. We’ve gone way over time.

Dalma Szentpály: No, I think, just what you said before, I think people who like reading poetry are usually way more open than most readers, particularly empathic, so I would say be brave and put yourself out there.

Orna Ross: That’s a great sentence to finish up on, so thank you for that.

Thank you, Dalma. Thanks everybody for coming along. Thanks for all the brilliant questions. That was really great. I think we’re building a bit more time for Q&A in future, so I don’t go so far over time because Howard, our production person, is going to murder me now, he’s going to have to cut this down in some way.

So, thank you everybody. We’ll be back next month where we’re going to be talking, actually to your point, Bee, we’re going to be talking about eBook and audiobook distribution and the trends that are happening, particularly for poetry around this time during lockdown and beyond lockdown as the world begins to unlock. What’s going on with distribution and what’s going on with book sales generally, and how can you ride the wave as it were.

So, until 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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