Friday, August 29, 2014

How much is enough in promoting your poetry book

Asilomar Beach, Photo by Heather Osborne
Jeannine Hall Gailey responded to Timothy Green's Facebook about the responsibilities (and guilt and anxiety) of a poet in promoting a book. Jeannine's post encourages us to forgive ourselves for not doing everything imaginable at our own cost: organizing cross-country book tours, banner ads, local readings, mailing out dozens of reviews copies, etc. Tim's post lamented the lack of support from his publisher. He gave  numbers: 105 sold by the publisher, 200+ sold by the poet. Around 305 total books sold. There you have it: about 300 sales is what you can expect as a poet with a good audience.

I don't do readings. Well, I do if invited, but I don't go out of my way to get invited, and that's because though I enjoy doing them, it involves some anxiety and preparation and I have a very busy life. I like to give my free time to writing new things. I can't afford book tours and ads. And I'm very grateful to my publisher, The Aldrich Press (Karen Kelsay Davis, an imprint of Kelsay Books) for supporting my book by making a trailer and sending out review copies.

So how do I promote Gods of Water and Air? I blog. I tweet. I offer discounts. I'm an active presence on social media, posting poems from the books, news, and anecdotes that connect with it. I never stop. And I don't beat myself up for having sold or given away (yes, I make gifts of books) under 150 in a year. I think it's a pretty good number and it will grow. It's a good book.

I do what I can and subscribe to Jeannine's philosophy. Also, I'm going to take Gods of Water and Air to e-book soon. I just bought Mary Oliver's new one on Kindle. I don't bring paper books into the house much. I don't care about sales, I just care that my work gets read.

Here's a poem from my book:


I was especially taken
with the grasses today, their herringbone
weaves and golds, purples, and greens,
the seed pods floating
like butterflies on tall stems.
I felt like a boat in a restless ocean
at sunset, among its moving flecks
and hues, rocked by the wind
with tangled bird trills,
and the Earth yawned
and mouthed me
and tongued my neck.
My speech came in medleys
of mood. I swayed
saying the Beloved’s name
with endless vowels.
I was especially taken
to the bone-clean rock
owned by a tiny lizard blinking
with its pebbled lid,
and when it slunk down,
hugging its planet, I went
home hugging my heart.


  1. Thanks for the shout-out! I don't think Tim was actually complaining about his treatment at his press, more about his lack of motivation to do more to promote his book, and his resulting feelings of discouragement about the publishing biz. I think this is probably a common result of publishing a poetry book!
    My goal for my next book is to sell more than a thousand copies. I don't know exactly what I'm going to do differently, but I'm definitely going to try some new strategies. It's a brave new world out there, so different from 2006!

    1. Jeannine, I'm breathlessly watching your posts on this topic to see what you and others come up with. I love your goal! It is a brave new world and all bets are off. And on. We can make up the future the way we want.

  2. Rachel, this post offers great advice. I'm working, very slowly, on a manuscript, and when it gets out into the world I will definitely remember this. Thank you for the poem—I loved the part about the lizard.

    1. So glad it's a helpful post, Beth. And I'm delighted to hear that you're working on a manuscript. If you want any thoughts about marketing it to publishers, I'd be happy to share ideas. And I have a page on my website that lists poetry book publishers who read without contests, though a few charge reading fees. It's here: