Poetry can be harder to promote than other types of writing, which is why I wanted to be able to help the poets here. I’m not the best person to explain how to promote poetry, though (and I’m good about staying in my lane!), so I set the idea aside for the short term.
When I saw in a Facebook group that poet Raegen Pietrucha was hosting a workshop on how to promote poetry a few months ago, I saved the notice. Would she be open to a Q&A here about exactly that?
I was delighted when she accepted my invitation this week! Here’s what you need to know about Raegen first.
Introducing Raegen Pietrucha
Raegen Pietrucha writes, edits, and consults creatively and professionally. Head of a Gorgon is her debut, full-length, poetry collection. Her debut poetry chapbook, An Animal I Can’t Name, won the 2015 Two of Cups Press competition, and she has a memoir in progress.
Raegen received her MFA from Bowling Green State University, where she was an assistant editor for Mid-American Review. Her writing has been published in Cimarron Review, Puerto del Sol, and other journals. Connect with her at raegenmp.wordpress.com and on Twitter.
How to promote poetry
Our conversation about how to promote poetry is full of insights for all authors, not just poets.
What’s the biggest challenge poets face when promoting and marketing poetry books?
The biggest challenge for poets is the sheer lack associated with the genre: lack of resources dedicated to it; the lack of know-how in promoting and marketing it; and worst, the lack of audience for it.The biggest challenge for poets is the sheer lack associated with the genre. ~ Raegen PietruchaClick to tweet
I see all of these as tied together, by the way: The lack of resources and know-how in promoting poetry reinforces the lack of audience, which reinforces — and for some small-minded folks, even justifies — the lack of resources dedicated to promoting it.
I truly believe poetry would have a much larger audience if the kinds of financial and publicity resources dedicated to most prose genres were dedicated to poetry. Too many folks still see poetry as something intimidating or beyond them, but I think this is a challenge that smart marketers and educators can overcome.
Problem is, those most talented book publicists in particular go where the money is — and right now, that’s not with poetry
What are your 3 best tips for promoting poetry books?
1. Start early.
Start early — as in now if you have even the slightest inkling that you might someday write a poetry book or several.
It is never too soon to start building your brand and platform as an author, and the more effort you put into building a community around that idea — you as a poet with a book coming along someday — the better off you are when it comes time to publish, promote, and sell your poetry.
Take social media, for example. It’s OK if that’s not your platform and you prefer, say, an email list, newsletter, and/or blog, but what you don’t want to do if you intend to use social media to promote your book is be days away from your book’s launch and then decide that’s when you’ll start your Twitter or TikTok account.
That’s not an excuse not to start, by the way, and late is better than never, but it takes a long time to form relationships and build traction in any community, so it’s best to start now.
2. Define what’s intriguing.
Really understand what it is about your book that folks who don’t typically read poetry might find intriguing, because it won’t be the poetry aspect of it unless they’re already poetry readers and/or writers.
For my debut full-length collection, Head of a Gorgon, the short of it is, it’s a feminist reimagining of the myth of Medusa that explores surviving sexual violence in contemporary times. That means my book is for all adult readers who are drawn to feminism, mythology, discussions of survivorship, and/or poetry — with the fact that it’s poetry being the least emphasized element for a general audience.
3. Network and build relationships.
The success of any type of promotion, publicity, marketing, and sales effort ultimately relies on relationships. This is a pain point for a lot of writers, who often identify as introverted or shy and tend to use that as an excuse for inaction.
But like it or not, it is part of the deal, especially in poetry, where we don’t have those financial and human resources dedicated to the genre to help propel it along separate from — and sometimes despite — the poets.
Build relationships personally. Build relationships professionally at work. Build relationships creatively with peers at conferences, workshops, readings, events, etc. — online and in person, if possible.
Some of the most unexpected but most joyous experiences I’ve had with promoting and ultimately getting coverage of Head of a Gorgon came from professional and creative relationships I built several years ago with people now states away from me whom I still touch base with from time to time on social media.
And I should mention that they approached me with their own ideas and opportunities to help spread the word. That’s the real gold in book promotion: when the opportunities come to you versus seeking them out.
But lest anyone misunderstand me, let me clarify: Even these were still, albeit indirectly, the result of the many times I posted news about the book — just not coverage I specifically reached out for and requested (though I did plenty of that with other folks and outlets).
People can’t help you promote your book if they don’t know you have one.People can’t help you promote your book if they don’t know you have one. ~ Raegen PietruchaClick to tweet
What book promotion tactic have you tried that wasn’t as successful as you had hoped?
A fellow writer and I joke a lot about one thing in particular that always seems to tank as a promotional effort: the take-this-action online giveaway.
If you ask folks online to do anything beyond liking, sharing, tagging someone, or maybe guessing a number in a designated range, the majority of them simply won’t even bother to try, no matter what the prize is.
If you could only do one thing to promote your poetry, what would it be?
This is something I’ve come to think about immensely differently since the pandemic began. Because I’m not willing to jeopardize my health and the health of my loved ones, least of all for book sales, I have focused all my energy into online/virtual opportunities for Head of a Gorgon, largely through social media.
I post everything — podcasts I’m on, reviews my book’s received, press coverage, online readings, virtual workshops, and more — there. And I truly believe my brand is the better for it.
When my chapbook, An Animal I Can’t Name, came out in 2016, I was barely active on social media and relied on local in-person events (readings, workshops, etc.) here and there to sell books. That was somewhat successful, but the reach is naturally limited to who’s physically present in the community and attends those events.
With social media, if you put the effort in and find your groove and community, the doors fly wide open, and opportunities you didn’t even know were out there just appear. In fact, this Q&A is one example of that very thing happening.With social media, if you put the effort in and find your groove and community, the doors fly wide open, and opportunities you didn’t even know were out there just appear. ~ Raegen PietruchaClick to tweet
However, if we weren’t in a pandemic, I would absolutely be diving into in-person events of all kinds as well, from conferences like AWP to bookstore and library events to off-the-beaten-path opportunities like local arts and crafts shows.
I don’t know at this point that I would sacrifice my social media promotions for it, for the reasons I detailed earlier, but I am pretty confident my sales would be at least double what they are now if it was safe for me to attend in-person events and promote my work there.
Big thanks to Raegen for sharing her industry knowledge with us! Please comment with any questions that Raegen might be able to answer.
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