I was hoping to do a You Tube video of this How To, but alas, time is a commodity I just don’t have at the minute, perhaps I’ll do one at a later date. In the mean time I thought it would be nice to do a How To blog post and I think this particular subject is one of those that’s a bit ‘smoke and mirrors’ in the poetry world, and that can be a bit intimidating, especially if you you are launching your first collection.
So, you managed to get your poems published in magazines and journals, you felt ready to put a collection together, you approached several publishers and to your absolute joy, a publisher has taken your manuscript and it will soon be a real life book with your name on it. Congratulations!
You’ve made it, you’re a published poet. You can just sit back and let the reviews, prize wins and invitations to read roll in, right? Wrong.
The Writer/Publisher Relationship
When you enter into a contract with a publisher you are entering into a symbiotic relationship, where each party has a role to play. The role of the publisher is to put the time and effort, and the finances, into your book, creating something that people can physically pick up and buy. They will likely (but not always) do a certain amount of publicity for you and likely (but not always) enter your book into competitions. Your role is, obviously, to supply the goods in the form of beautifully crafted poems. But you also need to respect the fact that a publisher is trusting the book to sell. They are putting their limited financial resources, their skill and their time into your book, and I think it’s good manners to at least match that investment by promoting your book and doing your best to make sure, in a market that is saturated with poetry books, that your book is the one that is noticed. Books don’t sell on their own. Especially not poetry books. Therefore you need to be able to get behind your book and help to sell it. And this means promoting it. There are lots of ways in which this happens, but for the purposes of this blog, let’s look at what I think are the four main avenues to getting your book noticed:
- The Official Book Launch
- Social Media
The Book Launch
When I launched my first pamphlet, many moons ago in 2011. I did not have a clue. I imagined that book launches were like the ones you see in films with flutes of champaign, a huge stack of books on a table and a queue of folk waiting to pick up a signed copy. I thought they were sophisticated affairs that the publisher put together for you. I had high expectations and high hopes and didn’t listen to people who knew more about it than I did. I fell flat on my face. Nobody came! I mean, literally nobody came. What were the mistakes I made? I expected people off the street would be as excited about a book launch as I was to be launching my book and that they would see that this brilliant event was going on and come pouring in to buy the books. I held it as an event on its own, expecting the poetry community to travel hundreds of miles just to see me, someone no one had really even heard of. I expected a crowd and I was a bit crushed when that didn’t happen. at the event that night were my two publishers at the time, my two guest readers and myself. the audience consisted of two ladies who had thought they were coming to see an entirely different event. It was what we call an ‘intimate event’. I can laugh now, when I look back at it. And actually, it turned out to be a lovely warm evening. but I learned some hard and fast lessons there, about how much work I was going to need to get the book to sell. Here are a few tips for organising a launch:
- Work with your publisher. It is likely that your publisher will want to have some input. It varies from publisher to publisher, so don’t be afraid to ask if they have plans or a budget. My new book will have a launch by the publisher, but I’ll also be having a home launch too. Often organising the launch and paying for the launch will be entirely up to you as there just isn’t money in the budget for publishers to host parties. But even if they aren’t hosting a launch for you, they will have advice about the readers of their books and they will have experience of book launches, use that experience, ask advice, ask if there’s any sort of budget, or if they know of free rooms to use, that sort of thing.
- Manage your expectations. Sometimes events are well attended, sometimes they’re not. This has nothing to do with popularity, or the validity of your work and more to do with how far people have got to travel, whether they have the budget to attend events and whether your event clashes with anything else. Go into it with an idea of what you want to get out of it, book sales are brilliant, but if you go into it just wanting to celebrate the launch of your book and to read some poems and enjoy the moment, you will not be disappointed and everything else will be like a bonus.
- Launch at a regular event. Some people (me included) like to do a launch ‘tour’ of regular poetry events as well as, or instead of a traditional launch event. This means you are guaranteed and audience. Research your local poetry events and contact them to see if they would be interested in having a guest reader, tell them you are launching your book. This goes for festivals too. Don’t wait to be invited. You’ll be waiting a good long time if you do.
- If you decide to go for an official launch.. think about transport links. I am always reluctant to launch my books in my home town, simply because it’s out of the way and people have to take a series of trains to get here. Also think about refreshments. You are likely to sell more books if there’s a bar. Just saying. Think about the size of the venue: it should be big enough to have seating for guests, but not too big that even a crowd looks lost in there. Think about the time of day you host your event, and the day you host your event. Who is your target audience? Retirees will make daytime events more easily, but at the weekend people may have already got plans. Also bear in mind the time of year, lots of people don’t like travelling in the dark of winter afternoons.
- Create a social media events page. These are easy to create, and free (you can pay to boost them) and get the word about easily. If you invite people via the events page you’ll get a good idea of who might be coming too.
- Make sure you tell people. Put your event in the local paper, put it on poetry news pages, put it on social media, make a poster and put it around the town, make sure your publisher has details, make sure the event is visible on your timeline.
- Refreshments. People like cake. And wine.
It’s likely your publisher will send your book out for reviews, but if you know people or magazines that review, ask them if they want to review your book. There is no shame in asking. Put a shout out on social media. Don’t be disappointed by a slow response, reviews take time and magazines are generally bogged down with back logs.
As I said before, doing a launch tour is a good idea. When you launch your book there will be an initial buzz with lots of people wanting to know more. This dies off after about three months and that’s when you have to put the work in, get yourself some guest speaker reading spots. Draw up a list and create a decent generic query which you can adjust per event and set yourself a target – one reading a month is what I usually go for, for a few months. Your book won’t stay in the public eye forever, but you can really give it a good kick off with a bit of metaphorical elbow grease.
Use social media for the tool that it is. It feels icky to promote oneself, but as a writer you are your own product. What is the point in all those hours spent toiling on your work, the years spent developing your craft if you are going to never mention it. Tell people about it, pin it to you time line, don’t apologise for promoting your book. But also, never ever ever friend someone who has good contacts and immediately message them to promote your book. That is bad manners and will do the opposite of what you want it to do.
The Most Important Thing to Remember
Is less about success and failure and more about remembering that you worked hard for this, so make sure you enjoy the feeling of having made it to being a published poet. Good luck!
Until next time