I've been reading a great interview: Maud Newton interviews the writer Stephen Elliot here (and thanks to Leslie for the original link, here on her blog). I'm always on the lookout for ways both old and new to promote poetry, and Elliot has some good ones.
He had a great idea for getting his work into the hands of readers who would then get his work into the hands of other readers: "Prior to the book coming out I did this thing called the “Lending Library,” where I allowed anyone who wanted to read an advance copy of the book to get one. The deal was they had to agree to forward the book within a week to the next reader. 400 people signed up for the lending library."
What a great idea for those of us (which is most of us) who don't get many free copies to give away.
This idea led to his next great idea, a variation of the book promotion tour: "So when I decided to go on tour I contacted them [the people who signed up for the Lending Library] and asked if anyone wanted to host a reading or an event in their home. I said they had to promise to get at least 20 people to attend. A bunch of people signed up, and more people are signing up all the time."
He talks about how effective this process has been, in terms of attendance at his readings: "In every town I read there is someone who is responsible for the reading, someone who will be embarrassed if nobody shows up. Also, if there’s demand, I can do two or three home events in the same town. I could never do that if I was reading in a local bookstore. I’m not a famous author; for me to get 25 to 40 people out in Lincoln, Nebraska or Las Vegas or New Orleans, places where I don’t know anyone, is a really good turnout. The people hosting the events also often convince the local media to do coverage of the event. Also, the readings go much longer, the discussions often go past midnight, so there’s a much deeper connection."
Does this attendance lead to book sales? It depends: "I find book sales are more class based. The readings are a reflection of whoever’s home I’m in. If the person is more affluent than many of their friends will be more affluent and I’ll sell more books. I had an event where I sold more books than people in attendance. People with money will come to a reading and buy extra books to give as presents. In other places, where the average income is much lower, I sell a lot fewer books."
The whole interview is worth reading, but I always love interviews with writers. I especially love hearing about different approaches to writing, and about different approaches to promoting writing and reading. I've long thought that promoting one's writing, particularly one's poetry, is becoming more like being an indie music artist: the poet has to be the one to arrange the tour, figure out how to keep the van running, find a couch to sleep on, think in terms of connections across the country.
It wouldn't hurt to start thinking about these logistics before the book comes out. Many small presses have a very long turn-around time between acceptance and publication, but even those of us still waiting for a press to accept our book-length works might benefit from some thinking about this question: If you had a book length collection of your poems in your hand, what would you do to make sure that the world knew about your book?
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