So, you’ve self-published your book.
Your book just arrived from the printer. Having them published was the easy part. Now your greatest challenge is upon you – you need to get your work out of those boxes and into the hands of appreciative readers.
It’s difficult enough for publishers to sell poetry books (poetry sells slowly & people are especially hesitant to buy books by unknown poets), so marketing your own is a big challenge. Here are my suggestions for selling your book either online or off.
What are the qualities of poetry books which sell well?
I’ve found, through experience in selling poetry books (especially self-published books, or those by little-known poets) both on the Empty Mirror site & in brick-and-mortar bookstores, and through the experiences of my poet clients, that poetry books really only sell if 4 conditions are met:
- The work must be of high quality.
- The price must be reasonable and the book must be nicely produced.
- If selling online, sample poems must be provided.
- The poet works actively at self-promotion (online & off), letting people know where the books can be purchased.
The unfortunate fact is that if any of these conditions are not met, the books will likely sit unsold.
A note on expectations
Remember, even in mainstream publishing, there’s a small market for poetry books. Even established poets don’t sell thousands of books – maybe not even hundreds. More people will read for free (online, in a periodical, or flipping through a printed book) than will buy the book.
For example, I know of one very well-known poet whose collections have been published by major publishers & literary presses for decades; a recent collection was published in an edition of just 600 copies.
Another highly-regarded poet’s work was published in a chapbook in an edition of 300 copies, and a couple dozen still remain unsold nearly 8 years later. And, he’d had books published – by both small & major presses – for over 40 years.
That’s not unusual. Many poetry books – even by famous poets – are published in limited editions of as little as 26 lettered copies, with numbered editions 100 or 200 being fairly common.
While some books by high-profile poets do sell many thousands, that’s quite a rare exception in the poetry world, and one reserved for an elite few who have built a reputation over many years (such as Maya Angelou, Allen Ginsberg, or perhaps U.S. Poet Laureates such as Donald Hall or Billy Collins).
So, please keep your expectations reasonable. Even if your book is terrific & you do everything right, you may not sell thousands — or even hundreds — of books or make a lot of money. That’s OK, it’s just the reality of the current market for poetry in this country.
Where to sell your poetry books
It’s much easier to sell your books offline than online,because folks will have an opportunity to leaf through the book and read as many poems as they like before purchasing.
Try local independent bookstores to see if they will buy a few, or (most likely) take a few copies on consignment. (The big chain bookstores will not be able to do this; their buyers in New York do all the buying and don’t buy self-published books.)
If there are local gift shops or other retail establishments you regularly frequent, ask them if they would be willing to take a few.
See if you can arrange a book signing at a bookstore, or another local venue (a club? a grocery store?)
If you participate in local poetry readings, take a few books along to sell after your reading.
your own website
Why not have your own website? Sell your books on your own website (it’s easy to do.) You can also put the address on your business cards, trade links with other poets. Other online selling & marketing techniques are most effective when you have your own website, too.
self-publishing company’s webpage
If your book is published by a self-publishing or print-on-demand type of publisher, they may sell the book on their website, or market it for you. (See the self-publishing link above.)
Try Amazon.com. They do sell self-published books, complete their online application to get started.
eBay is easy to use and can be an effective way to sell your book.
Ideas for promoting your poetry book
Regardless of where you sell your books – online or off – you’re going to have to tirelessly promote yourself. Poetry books – and other self-published books – don’t sell unless you really make some noise & bring attention to yourself. Even then, it’s tough.
Promote your book (offline):
See if the local newspaper will write an article about you. (The little local weeklies that are distributed for free are a good bet.)
make some flyers & business cards
Put up flyers on bulletin boards at your school, library, church, grocery store, work, etc. Leave business cards everywhere.
Send out press releases to local newspapers, newsletters & bookshops. (Don’t send free review copies unless you are absolutely certain they will review it. Most reviewers / booksellers disregard unsolicited review copies.)
readings & booksignings
Set up a reading (and/or a book signing) at a local cafe, bookshop, gallery, school, college, church, fraternal organization, library, or another local gathering place. Do it alone, or recruit some other local poets (or musicians) for a bigger crowd & more sales opportunities. Create an event!
Get published in literary magazines & other publications. (See our publishing advice page to find out how.)
Tell all your previous publishers (perhaps literary magazines & other periodicals) where your books can be purchased (& your web address, if you have one). Ask if they’d be interested in reviewing your book. Maybe ask if they’d like a review copy. They may publish information about how your book can be purchased. If not, consider placing a small advertisement in their publication. Since they published you, their readers may be your best bet for sales.
Participate in open mike poetry reading nights.
Is there a local radio show that would like to interview you?
Does the local library have regular readings or programs in which you can participate? (Or, as suggested above, perhaps you can schedule your own reading. Ask the manager.)
Keep a copy or two of your book with you (in your car, or bag…) in case you run into someone who’s interested.
once again – business cards!
Have business cards made & give them out to everyone, put them on bulletin boards, have them available at poetry readings.
Promote your book online:
These techniques work best if you have your own website.
your own website
If you don’t have your own website, consider getting one. Other online promotion techniques are much more effective if you also have your own website.
email a press release
Whether you have your own website or not, send a press release to online magazines, literary websites, and reviewers who may be interested in your book.
your email signature
Put your website’s address (or, the web addresses of websites that sell your work) in your email signature.
forum, newsgroup, & blog signatures
If you participate in online forums, newsgroups, or blogs, use your web address in your signature (if permitted).
create social networking profiles
Social networking sites are free, easy to work with, and let you connect easily with readers and other writers. You can share photos, your written words, and blog posts. Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and LinkedIn are the big ones.
get links to your website
If you have your own website, get links from related websites (other writers, publishers, literary websites, sites about your topic). Link to high-quality related websites as well. Most people will find your website through links and search engines (which rely on links), so this is very critical to your site’s success.
keep it fresh
Keep your website current – add new information at least once a month. This will keep your readers (& the search engines) coming back. Add a poem, essay, review, some news or reading dates, etc…
Purchase advertising on search engines, directories, & sites relating to your topic. Options are available for any budget. Some websites may even be willing to trade ads with you.
Get Your Own Website
Having your own website can be a very useful tool for selling books. It allows you to tell your potential readers a bit about yourself, publish sample poems from your book, and tell folks where they can buy it. (You can even sell your book through the website.) You can share photos, links, and recent news and tell everyone about upcoming events. You can add a mailing list, message board, or blog (or, the entire site can be set up as a blog).
The site would be findable on Google and the other search engines for relevant searches. Having your own website gives you a professional image and can be invaluable in marketing yourself and your work.
What are some helpful websites on the topic of marketing self-published books?
- Amazon.com Advantage book sales application
- ISBN.org You’ll need an ISBN (book ID number / bar code) to sell books to most bookstores & to Amazon, etc.
- Book marketing resources A gold mine of information!
- 101 Book marketing websites
- Advice on getting your book reviewed.
I hope this information is helpful & not discouraging. It certainly takes a lot of work to market a self-published book – but once you’ve gotten your poems out into the world you’ll undoubtedly find that it’s worthwhile!