I got to thinking about all the poetry blogs out there that are mostly poets publishing their own verse in hopes of finding an audience. Maybe they are fishing for compliments from strangers or just lonely and have a lot of time on their hands. Maybe some of them are truly good poets, but they don’t know how to go about marketing their poetry. I’m willing to give most of them the benefit of the doubt.
But I’m not going to rant about the quality (or lack of it) in these poetry blogs. Instead, I have another thought on my mind. It has to do with how to go about posting your poetry online. This is primarily aimed at poets who really are worth their salt as poets and deserve credit for their craft, but anyone can benefit from it.
Question: Should you post your own poetry on your blog?
Why I Don’t Post (Much Of) My Poetry On My Blog
Poetry is a passion for me. It started in college. I’d been writing since the fifth grade when I was assigned the task, along with every other member of my class, of writing an autobiography. I had to actually interview people who knew about when and where I was born and ask them pointed questions about the earlier parts of my life that I wasn’t sure about. And I had to include photos. I remember one photo was a cut out of a baby picture that appeared in a newspaper in California on my first birthday. Thanks Mom!
Digression aside, I fell in love with writing. I thoroughly enjoyed the process. Throughout school, I was fortunate enough to always be encouraged by teachers who knew of my love of writing. My parents, I gathered, couldn’t have cared less. My Dad particularly. I often used writing as a way to escape the drudgery of being raised by simpleton rednecks. But I didn’t write poetry. My big ambition growing up was to be a novelist.
When I left home I joined the Army and kept a journal, but I mostly filled my wild oats. My parents were overly strict so I missed out on a lot of experiences other high school students participated in. I worked when they played and when they played, I wrote. In the Army I found a world. Then I mustered out and went to college.
While in college, I decided to take a poetry workshop. I was a natural. Once the floodgates opened, I just let loose. The poetry came, people were shocked, I got laid a few times (though I never really understood why or how), and I thrusted myself full force into the passion of verse. I found the writing life insatiable. I couldn’t get enough (the sex was just a bonus).
The problem for me then was I knew how to write. I could make people laugh, cry, puke, or want to kill their mother. There was power in words. I knew it. But I didn’t know how to market my poetry, and I was too self-enclosed to ask anyone, so I didn’t get much published. But I did see a few credits come my way, mostly by stumbling upon them.
Over the years, as my emotions have evened out, I took a different focus. I quit writing for awhile after my conversion to Christianity, but I couldn’t let the lawn unwatered for long. I migrated back to the only thing that I really had a passion for. Poetry. Unlike my early years when I spent almost all of my time writing and trying to perfect my craft, now adays I spend my time marketing, although I don’t send out enough manuscripts (regrettably). I do spend a lot of time at open mic readings and self-publishing chapbooks.
But I’ve discovered that many poetry publishers won’t publish poems that have appeared online. There is still a prejudice among many traditional poetry journals, academic journals in particular, about any kind of poetry published online. That means that if a poet wants to be published in those journals then he must be carefully guarded about where his poetry appears previously. Some journals that don’t have a prejudice about publishing online have strict policies about poems that have appeared in forums and on blogs. They won’t publish them. While other journals do allow for limited exposure of poems online, such as in forums, online critique workshops, and personal blogs, publishing one’s own poetry on a personal blog will limit to a certain degree the marketability of one’s poems. Therefore, I don’t publish my own poetry on my blog unless it has been previously published elsewhere.
But there is another reason I don’t publish my own poetry here on this blog (with a few exceptions). By doing so, I devalue it in other ways. For instance, some poets will publish poem after poem after poem on their personal blogs. Doing this limits the number of chapbooks one can sell at open mic poetry readings. By making your poems available online for free you in essence give no one any motivation to pay you the $3 to $5 you might get for a handful of them in a little chapbook. For me, one open mic poetry reading can pay for itself in chapbook sales so that’s an important reason not to offer everything I have of value for free.
When Should You Publish Your Poetry Online?
It’s not that I’m against self publishing. Obviously, I’m not. Since I do self publish my chapbooks, that’s not the issue. It’s simply a decision that I’ve made based on marketing principles. Scarcity increases the value of something. Make it more scarce and people who value it will pay for it. People who won’t pay for it probably won’t appreciate it being free, so I don’t feel like I’m losing “readership” by limiting it. I actually feel like I’m gaining an audience as the people who are willing to pay me $3 for a chapbook are people who have heard me read my poetry and liked it enough that spending the $3 was worth it to them. That’s what marketing is and I’ve gotten pretty good at it.
So based on these principles, I have a suggestion for anyone who believes that their poetry is good enough to create a market for itself and wants to find that market, but they don’t want to give it all away on their poetry blog. It’s a very simple marketing plan that anyone can implement and it’s not written in stone. You can tweak it here and there to suit yourself and customize it to fit your own style and goals. But this is my simple suggestion for a way to market your poetry without selling yourself short.
The World Class Poetry Marketing Plan
This is the nutshell version without the commentary:
- Circulate your poems as submissions to poetry journals that you think might be interested in your poems. Don’t do anything with them until you start to see acceptance letters. You might even tweak, revise, or rewrite your poems in between submissions. But keep those poems circulating until they publish. When one comes back rejected, send it somewhere else. Keep them circulating, circulating, circulating.
- When you get an acceptance letter, buy yourself a beer (or a coffee if you don’t drink); if you’re Mormon, drink Kool-Aid. DO NOT publish your poem on your blog before it appears in the journal that accepted it. You don’t want to risk the journal editor dropping your poem like a hot potato because you were foolish enough to get so excited that you published their little gem before they got to. Poetry editors like to be the first to “discover” something, so let them be. AFTER your poem has appeared in the journal and the journal has been made available for public consumption THEN publish your poem on your blog and tell your readers where they can get a copy of the journal in which your poem appears. That promotes the journal and some of your readers will buy the journal thinking that if you got published then they can do it too (after all, they’re a much better a poet than you’ll ever be – or so they’ll think).
- Next, record yourself reading your poem. All you need is a little digital recorder. Nothing fancy. Just a little digital recorder. You can download Audacity, a free audio editing software to edit your recording and polish it up. Be sure to include a short one or two sentence bio at the end of your poetry reading and give the URL of your blog (maybe even the precise URL of the blog post in which the print version of your poem appears). Distribute your recording to as many podcast directories as you can online.
- Write some articles about poetry. Nothing real elaborate. Just something about the kind of poetry that you like, who your influences are, etc. But don’t make the article about you. Make it about your subject. For instance, you might write an article about Edgar Allan Poe and why he wrote “The Raven”. Again, include a bio that presents your blog URL. Distribute your article to several article directories online. People will read your article and visit your blog.
- Next, get a small camcorder and attach it to the screen of your computer. They are very inexpensive. Video yourself reading your poem. Upload the video to YouTube, Google Video, Yahoo! Video, and several other video sharing sites. Don’t forget to include your one or two sentence bio and URL.
- Repeat all of the above for every poem you get published. It doesn’t matter where it’s published. A lot of small poetry journals will publish your poetry if you just send it to them. After you’ve had enough poems published to make a chapbook, make a chapbook. You can get a .pdf conversion software real cheap online and you can also get book paginator software as well. Total outlay should be $60-$75. Make your chapbook available in print and .pdf. Offer it to your readers on your blog. You can also make your chapbook available on CD and include all of your audio recordings and videos in that format as an extra “at no charge”. All you have to do is sell 12 chapbooks in any of your three formats at $5 each to earn back what you spent on production software. Everything over and above that is profit.
That’s it. The World Class Poetry marketing plan. For a sample of how I’ve used this strategy myself, you can read a few poems I’ve had published and hear the audio recordings by clicking here. Scroll down to the bottom of the page for the links.
You know, you can do this too. Anyone can. It doesn’t matter what kind of poetry you write or whether you consider yourself on the same level as Edgar Allan Poe and Sylvia Plath. Truth is, you have to start somewhere and there are oodles of poetry journals and small press publications out there just waiting for your poems to arrive.