Thursday, May 26, 2005

Learn Something New Everyday

It seems like everyone I know has had a book picked up recently or released recently. It's great and I'm thrilled to see so many hard working poets achieving success, but with each new book I learn something new--I just read a poet's post about receiving her books in the mail and the pressure of having a certain amount of books to sell within the year or else her publisher will drop her book. I was stunned--is this par for the course ? I'm just thinking about all the marketing a poet would have to do to sell, sell, sell. Poetry of all things. Am I naive? Tell me.


Radish King said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Kay Day said...

Hi, Suzanne,

I think it depends on the press. My own press, and likely that of the other poet, is commercial. My publisher depends solely on book sales, pays a standard royalty, and offers a modest (cash) advance as well as complimentary book copies for marketing purposes. He also assists with marketing. He does no subsidy, cooperative or vanity and he does no fee-based contests or manuscript reading.

The rest is up to the writer. That's true whether you're a poet, novelist, or essayist. And it doesn't matter if you're with a big house or a small one. Commercial presses may, like my publisher, have a vision where quality and the arts are concerned. But they also depend on revenue to survive.

Often, a book is given a window to demonstrate sales. After that period of time, the pubisher may sell remaining inventory to discounters or simply drop the title, depending on whether the book is published traditionally like mine with a set number of copies, or done as an on-demand item, printed as orders come in.

I've come to dislike the term 'marketing poetry.' For me, the experience of traveling with a poetry book over the last 12 months was more a 'sharing poetry.' Many speaking events were booked by word-of-mouth--please one group and another will inquire. Other events were secured by proposal, such as book festivals and library programs. Bookstores, both independent and chain, worked with me to set up events. If I signed poetry, I always included a reading or presentation.

Having just begun a stint with my new nonfiction book, it's come to my attention that the hard work last year paid off. Sales of the new book have spurred sales of the 2004 poetry release.

Because I work full-time as a writer, and have for a long time, it was easy for me to incorporate poetry events. Plus, I'll read poetry at the drop of a hat, so it came naturally. The freelance writing I did also helped in spreading my message. And because I'm a basic poetry fanatic, I never felt like I was "selling" my book. As a matter of fact, bookstore owners were delighted to see me sell books by other poets as well. Once I began speaking to a bookstore visitor, I just segued into passionate discourse about other poets I adore. It made me happy to actually suggest others' books so that the store would perhaps order a title unknown to them before I spouted verses from works I admire.

So there you go.

I really think I need to do an e-book sharing what I learned last year.

best to you,
P.S. Tip: don't link to amazon; link instead to chain sites and your publishers' site. Amazon is really not profitable at all unless you are with a big house and have a large budget/readership. Plus amazon allows ridiculous discounters, even before the book hits the marketplace, that sell the book at rock bottom prices.

Kay Day said...

Oh My God, Suzanne,
I'm sorry.

I know that post is ridiculous in length.


Suzanne said...

Kay, honey, you're welcome to make as long as a post as you need to anytime on litwindowpane, anytime. I always learn so much from you. I had no idea. I guess I really am naive! Thanks for this. xo

ps that should be your next book--a how to/what to expect after your book is published. Congrats on your latest book!

And Rebecca, much thanks goes to you, too for sharing your experience. xo

early hours of sky said...

Damn it!!! I hate it when I miss a Rebecca post. God you need to be quick with her. That is all I have to say. I am horribly naive about most things.

C. Dale said...


Many publishers want to see sales in a certain window, as Kay points out. It isn't easy. Not easy at all. Some readings sell books. Others don't. And many readings don't pay your expenses, so one must become creative. Many presses do print runs of 1000 to 1500 trade paperbacks. It takes many poets ten years to sell that. Some, like our own Peter Pereira, sell that in a couple years. It is all so variable. But yes, most publishing houses, big and small, expect you to help market and promote your book. Sad, but true.

LKD said...

Alas, I'm horribly naive too. But think of it this way, Suzanne: Tom Cruise is one of the biggest stars in Hollywood right now, but he still goes and hits the press circuit when he has a movie coming out (and stupid ass that he is, use that platform to promote Scientology and voice incredibly ignorant and uninformed opinions about things he should keep his big fat mouth shut about like post partum depression---did you catch what he said recently about Brooke Shields and her bout with post partum depression? Vitamins. He recommended vitamins.)(sorry for the digression, but honestly, that irritated the hell out of me)(smile)

So, it would follow, would it not, that one must press and press and press their book out into the public eye where folks will hear about it and say: Gee, I think I'll buy a copy.

Off topic, I love Kay Day's photograph, btw--and for that matter, her name. She looks happy. And heck, her name sounds happy, doesn't it? (grin)

Good question, Suzanne. Selling books, heck, selling anything, is hard work. Wouldn't it be lovely if we could all get our books published (that sound is me laughing hysterically at the very idea of me actually writing a book) easy as pie and then have a rabid public snapping copies up?

Oh....sigh. I guess some books do sells themselves. But I was un-naived about the whole process after reading an article in, I think, Poets & Writers.

Writing, apparently, is the easy part--it's everything that follows that's the real work. (grin)

And honestly, I am shutting up now.

Kay Day said...

I have to thank you for saying that about my photo.

A wonderful photographer, a master of light, does my photos. He is a Renaissance man all around.

And you hit on something: I am, finally, happy. It took almost half-a-century, but I can be slow about some things.

On Cruise's advice regarding vitamins, I can think of a great place to put those vitamins on his lovely body.

Best to all,

*Suzanne, thank you--any time you wanna talk about pushing poetry, give me a yell. I'm the original poetry junkie. Dickey told me he wrote ads to subsidize his poetry habit; I followed suit.

Suzanne said...

Now, now, let's be fair to Tom Cruise with his beautiful eyes--Omega Fatty Acids when taken during pregancy & by lactating women are a great way to prevent post-partum depression! Spread the word ladies. :-)

Suzanne said...

And thanks C. Dale and T, for popping by. Wow. Go Peter! That's amazing--and here I thought the hard part was writing the book in the first place. All this feedback has been a real eye-opener for me.


Nick said...

Interesting discussion this. Perhaps I too am na├»ve and/or misguided. The business of marketing poetry does in fact appear to me to rest on the poet's shoulders. However, I’m not sure that I like the implication of this simple fact. Take the scenario of two equally adept poets: one that excels in salesmanship and the other that doesn’t. One might think it acceptable that the poet with the business sense would fare better and that their poetry is better disseminated and that it is fair in a Darwinian sense. But what if one changes the equation and you have an excellent poet with no salesmanship. Does he/she deserve to wallow in anonymity? (Perhaps?) However, is this an indication of the state that poetry is in?

LKD said...

Oh, gee. Hadn't even considered Omega-3s.

Okay, okay, so I'll take my big fat foot outta my bigger fatter mouth now and give Tom a break.

You know the theme music from Dragnet? Dumb-da-dumb-DUMB, dumb-da-dumb-dumb-DUUUMMMMMB. Uh, that's MY theme music.

(honestly, one of these days, I'll stop and actually think before flapping my yap)

LKD said...

A half a century? Wow. It's taken me about 4 decades but I'm mostly happy now, thanks to regular, daily exercise, the best damned mood elevator known to man.

It's just so nice to see someone looking so genuinely happy, Kay. It made me smile to see your smile.

Suzanne said...

'However, is this an indication of the state that poetry is in?'

Good question, Nick. I'm guessing the answer applies to more than just the state of poetry, though, I think literature in general.

I definitely don't think it was *always* like this, though--maybe it's an example of Reagan's 'trickle down' economics?

And hey, Kay, aka Pretty Lady, don't be surprised if I come knockin' on your door someday. ;-)

Peter said...

Hi Suzanne:
I am a little late to the discussion. Yes, it is true that, for poetry, the poet is usually responsible for getting his or her book out into the world, by reading, by giving interviews, etc. At Floating Bridge, we are an all volunteer editorial and production staff; so there is no budget for PR per se. We count on our poets to sell their book (though we have recently added PayPal to our website).
Copper Canyon, a much larger operation, was incredibly helpful getting my book into the world (review copies, distribution, etc), still I for the most part set up most of my own readings (but I like to read, so that is not a problem).
A first print run is usually 1000-1500 for a first book; more for subsequent books, if there seems to be an audience.
I don't think a poetry publisher would ever drop a poet only for lack of sales (as no poet really rakes in huge profits anyway (except BC?)); it would be for editorial reasons or change in editorial direction (I might be naive here).

gina said...

Though it's been clear from the beginning that the burden of selling the book is on me, the University of Arizona Press does have a few people who work on marketing and they've been pretty helpful considering how overworked they are. They sent out over 100 review copies when the book came out, they submitted it for award consideration and to various prizes, and they offered to help me set up readings in Arizona. I did, however, have to fill out a huge "marketing survey" before the book came out, a compilation of every contact I'd ever made who might be interested, a list of any prizes my book might be eligible for, and a review of all potenital audiences, classrooms it might be taught in, population groups who might want to read it, etc.

I don't think my press is likely to drop poetry books over sales--they don't seem to expect poetry collections to sell much. Someone there told me that poetry is a labor of love. Last year I got a royalty statement outlining the sales between the months of february when the book was released and june when their fiscal year ended. I didn't understand the damned thing, of course (numbers, okay?), but at the bottom of the page was:


I called the press thinking that due to lousy sales or something I owed them $232.40, but it turns out that's the size of a royalty check for the sale of about 400 books on the contract I have (which I also don't understand). And then--I was really embarrassed and nervous about asking, but I couldn't tell and I had to know--I asked: is that okay? Is the book doing okay?

They seemed to think it was okay.

So my sense is that these things really vary from press to press. I feel very fortunate about the one I have.


Suzanne said...

Peter & Gina,
A huge thank you. You've renewed my faith in publishers--it was a little depressing to think it was only about what sells, or rather how much you can sell. And scary too. There are still publishers who see poetry as a labor of love. All is not lost.

Simmons B. Buntin said...

My first book just published with Salmon Publishing in Ireland. Salmon is great, but only has two full-time staff (at least that I know of), yet has a very professional website, online bookstore, and poem of the week email list.

Salmon also uses Dufour Editions for North American distribution, and distributes to Europe itself. In the case of American poets who publish with Salmon, we get some advance copies, and then I purchased (at half-price) another 60 copies (for a total of 100, out of a press run of 800, about 50 of which go for reviews sent both by Salmon---for Europe---and Dufour---for North America). The challenge with Dufour is that is is very slow---something like up to six months to get the books to stores over here. So, Salmon will on special exceptions (like when readings are set up, such as in my case) send books directly to the bookstores. Otherwise, by contract, it must be through Dufour.

I recieved my first copies in early May, but none of the reviewers for the list I provided have yet received their copies from Dufour, as far as I know. That's a bummer. On the other hand, I don't want the local reviewers (of which there are two I'm pursuing) to get their copies until I can get the book into a couple local shops.

Because Salmon is in Ireland and the publisher was not able to travel here for my launch (and I wasn't able to travel there), there was no official book launch, though we had a book celebration/BBQ/potluck at our home last weekend that 80 people attended, which I won't complain about. No funding for that but my own, however.

I work in marketing for my paying position, and am an extroverted kind of guy, so I definitely have no problem and really quite enjoy marketing my book, including creating its website: Then again, I'm a web designer, too. Still, a good friend of mine just published a gardening book, and it sells itself because of the subject, cover, and genre. My book of poetry has a great cover, but unless your name is Billy Collins or perhaps Mary Oliver, poetry books don't sell themselves.

Salmon holds onto books forever, discounting them more and more if they sit idle for a while, it seems. I think Salmon will print more if there's demand, too.

'Tis interesting, for sure!