Welcome to Post-weekend Poetry and this week, rather than bring you a poem, freelance critic, poet, scholar and interviewee Phillip A Ellis reviews Chris Hamilton-Emery’s book ‘101 Ways to Make Poems Sell: The Salt Guide to Getting and Staying Published’.
There is a profitable business in how-to books about writing. Most of these are about the mechanics of writing, but a smaller subset deals with marketing one’s work as books or collections. Few of the latter subset deal exclusively with poetry, since many assume that you are writing prose nonfiction, or, even more narrowly, how-to books. This is what makes 101 Ways to Make Poems Sell an almost unique proposition. It is a how-to book about marketing poetry, with an emphasis upon collections, whether books or chapbooks. And it has been written by a poet and publisher, which helps make it even more authoritative. The end result is, as I hope to demonstrate, a book useful for poets wanting to take that step into seeing a collection of their work published.
There is a real need for books that concentrate on practical advice for poets at all levels of their careers. 101 Ways to Make Poems Sell fulfils that need, and it does so admirably. While it is a relatively slim book, at just under 140 pages, it is divided into four chapters, and an index. The chapters will be discussed in some detail shortly. But first, it helps to understand the central purpose of the book: it is a guide to marketing poetry, and poetry publications, so that your career as a poet can grow and develop. As a result, each chapter, and each of the 101 ways, is focussed on a specific, practical method of doing so. Since almost every chapter contains these ways, there are broad themes among them, and rough similarities.
Chapter one of 101 Ways to Make Poems Sell is the only chapter not to contain any of the ways. With the title “Making Poetry Submissions”, it covers the groundwork of preparing for a poetry book or chapbook. As a result, it concentrates upon the submission of individual poems, to magazines, as a necessary first step. And it also contains a list of 50 dos and don’ts, sound, almost aphoristic advice on getting those poems accepted by magazines and other markets. In a sense it is essential reading for novice poets, although its points are just as useful for established poets. 101 Ways to Make Poems Sell, since it is meant for the range of poets, from beginners to established poets, needs this chapter, and it leads into the following chapters as a matter of course.
Chapter Two of 101 Ways to Make Poems Sell follows on from the first chapter, as do the following chapters, by focusing on ways, as it were, of fleshing out the marketing plan that poets are encouraged to develop, in number six of those fifty dos and don’ts. The emphasis of this chapter is upon building relationships with your potential audience, and your fellow poets. While none of the ways are strictly applicable only to poetry, 101 Ways to Make Poems Sell emphasises the ways in which they aid and assist poets in their efforts, even if, in some of them, there is little that is overtly concerning poetry. In addition, there is a strong emphasis upon both new and old media, such as blogs, newsletters, and journals accepting book reviews. The end result is a chapter that emphasises the need to develop audiences by a variety of ways, not just solely through submitting to poetry journals.
Chapter three of 101 Ways to Make Poems Sell, in contrast, emphasises sorting your book, preparing it for publication. In this way it assumes that you have had a manuscript accepted, and ready for publication. The fourteen ways (making this the smallest of the four chapters) concentrate on aspects of the prepublication process. They also focus on elements of the final, published product that the author can assist the publisher with, so that there is a stronger consensus on the books (and chapbooks) and their potential for sales. The ways covered are essential to the development of a strong sales strategy, and while they can be skimped (so to speak) by the poet, they really deserve the poet’s input as a means of getting the final product as attractive and saleworthy as is possible.
The final chapter of 101 Ways to Make Poems Sell covers selling your book. There is more to being a poet than getting books published, and doing nothing to sell them. This is because the current publishing climate requires the poets to assume most of the effort of publicity and promotion, so that there is a requirement on their part to work towards making the books a success. As has been required for most poets since time immemorial. Most of the ways covered in this chapter should be familiar from other publications about marketing books, yet it helps to have them together, and in a concentrated practical set of tips. As a result, this chapter is the longest, covering almost half of the 101 ways, and it is essential reading before you have started preparing a poetry manuscript.
This synopsis of the main points of each chapter leaves out some very important considerations about 101 Ways to Make Poems Sell. What of the tone, and the style of the book? Are both consonant with the avowed purpose of the book, and how do they aid it in its efforts? Essentially, the book is written in a fluid, conversational style that conveys a sense of the professionalism needed of a poet. As I say, it doesn’t matter how you write a poem, so long as you are a professional when it comes time to sell it. There are few overt colloquialisms, and this lends a sense of the book as an accessible and authoritative text on the subject. While the book aims at assisting the variety of poets, from newcomers to experts, the style caters for poets of all degrees of professionalism. It does not, that is, assume either too much or too little, and its tenor is perfectly suited for its individual audiences.
The mark of a good how-to book is the degree to which it sets out its aims, and in assisting us to achieve them. 101 Ways to Make Poems Sell sets out to demonstrate how we can sell books and chapbooks of our own poetry, in becoming, that is, established poets in the wider community of poets. And it does so by presenting fifty dos and don’ts, and 101 ways to sell poems, divided into four chapters of varying sizes. While the tone is fluid and conversational, it is consonant with its avowed aims, and its focus on assisting poets whose careers range from newcomers to experts. The end result is an excellent example of its genre, and an indispensible book for poets, one that should be read and annotated by every poet wanting to expand their career.
That’s brilliant, thank you Phillip.
Phillip A. Ellis is a freelance critic, poet and scholar, and his poetry collection, The Flayed Man, has been published by Gothic Press. Gothic Press will also edit a collection of essays on Ramsey Campbell, that he is editing with Gary William Crawford.
Phillip is working on a collection to appear through Diminuendo Press and another collection has been accepted by Hippocampus Press, which has also published his concordance to the poetry of Donald Wandrei.
Phillip is the editor of Melaleuca and furthermore has recently had Symptoms Positive and Negative, a chapbook of poetry about his experiences with schizophrenia, published by Picaro Press.
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