Poetry doesn't sell. It's so often said (and validated by poets everywhere), that it has become something of a truism. If you write poetry, you probably do it for the love of it. You may well be supporting your poetry habit with a range of more lucrative types of writing like nonfiction or even working a day job. However,value doesn't always come in the form of cash. There's real value - and ultimately financial value, to be had by using your poetry as a marketing tool. So where do you begin? Here are a few tips to get you going.
Have a look through your existing poetry collection, and see if you can find a recurring theme that you can use. Some examples of themes which immediately suggest a market include (and I’ve used some of these myself) – Mothers, Love (in all forms or a specific aspect of love such as romantic love), Pets, Nature, your locale, a historical period, person or notion, politics, family life, humorous wordplay, or even sports. Some chapbooks that I’ve particularly admired from well known poets include one on phobias, one on romantic love, and one set in the world of Walt Whitman during his period on the battlefield. My own tendency seems to be towards writing scientific poetry – astronomy, physics, the genetic code, evolution. So don’t limit yourself to clichéd themes. If there’s something you tend to gravitate towards, go with it. Another option is to think about what fits your other work - the stuff you want to sell, and theme the book around that - this way you'll be drawing in your target market. And speaking of markets...
Define your market
Identify the market that matches the theme you came up with in the first exercise. Try to make of list of up to three specific markets, and then list another six examples of those. For example, if your market is florists, then come up with six florists you could contact when you go about marketing your work. Having a sense of where you’re planning to market will help you plan and create your book in a much more coherent and effective way. Always keep your market in mind when you’re constructing a book.
Construct Your Book
This might sound like a big thing but it's actually just a simple collation exercise. Start organising your poetry into a Word (or other word processor) file. You can use a Word book template for that - there are quite a few that come as standard with with Word or you can search here: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/templates/?CTT=97 A chapbook could have as few as ten and as many as thirty pages of poems. Twenty poems would be about average for a small chapbook. Put them in an order that makes sense and if there are any gaps or areas that require more poems, then write them! Once you've got everything together number your pages, add a table of contents at the front, and voila, you're almost there.
The all important bio
This is the key - your bio. This is where you need to make your book work for a living. Include not only a little bit about yourself, but a link back (with an enticing offer like a free chapter) to your selling page for whatever product - your novel, your nonfiction, your audio series, etc, you want to sell. Also include an attractive photo. Don't rush this. This is what's going to make value for you.
Get someone else to read it for you.
Whatever you do, don't skip this step. Get a fellow writer or eagle eyed reader to read through it for errors, things that don't make sense and the overall ordering. If they like it, get them to give you a quote to use somewhere at the back of the book.
Get it out there
Make sure you've got an enticing title, that the book looks good, and then turn it into a .pdf. If you're using Word 2007 onward, then you can just save as a .pdf. You could sell the book if you want, but you probably won't make much. Using it as a promotional tool, you can upload it to your website or blog and offer it as a gift for anyone who subscribes. This way you not only get more subscribers, more people reading your work, but you also draw in readers and potential customers for your big tickets items.
Writing isn't always about commerce and marketing. Sometimes it's about creating meaning, and that, of course is at the heart of poetry. But there's no reason why you can't create meaning, bring in readers and still sell your work. Using a poetry chapbook is a unique way to gift your work and still benefit financially from it.
Magdalena Ball is the author of the novels Black Cow and Sleep Before Evening, the poetry books Repulsion Thrust and Quark Soup, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Sublime Planet, Deeper Into the Pond, Blooming Red, Cherished Pulse, She Wore Emerald Then, and Imagining the Future. She also runs a radio show, The Compulsive Reader Talks. Find out more about Magdalena at www.magdalenaball.com.