Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Why Poets are the Worst Salespeople Ever AND Seven Ways to Get Involved in Your Local Literary Community

I've been quiet here all week, waiting for the dust to settle after the BlazeVOX thing. It will soon be out of our minds, because that's how things go these days. So many words out there, so many people talking. Is anyone listening? I've been listening this week, reading blogs and TwitFacePlus updates and I keep encountering the same words over and over.

Poetry doesn't make money! There is no profit in literary publishing. You won't get rich publishing a lit mag! No one reads this stuff except other writers and even that readership is debatable. Give up on life because all your dreams will never come true.

Geez, when you put it that way, what hope is there for any of us?

Poets are the worst at sales. We run around saying things like this and then act surprised when no one wants to listen to us read our poems or buy our books. I can hear people saying our words back, "Well, you said no one reads poetry anymore..."

Seriously folks, we need a new slogan. It's late here and I'm beat so I can't think of anything at the moment. I'm toying with something like, "Poetry makes you rich in metaphors and ideas!" Maybe that's lame. Right now it sounds kind of cool. And by cool, I mean super nerdy.

Additionally, I keep hearing people talk about themselves. How it's SO HARD to be a writer. Yeah, it is. But it's also hard being human. Sure, things like money can soften the edges and, you are right, we already have established that most writers aren't rich. But you know what else can soften the edges? Community. Getting involved with your local literary community can help lighten the burdens that come with writing. But don't think about what you can GET from your community; think about what you have to offer. Not sure exactly? Well, here are some of my thoughts I've come up with this week to get you started.

1. DONATE money to a local literary organization.

Yeah, we have established we're all broke. But think about all the money you spent this year on beer. Or movie rentals. Or delicious candy treats. Whatever it is, consider opting out one week and donating $5 to a local literary organization. And in the process you could get a little healthier by cutting down on extra calories or going for a walk instead of zoning out in front of the television. Just saying.

2. SHARE your time, skills & knowledge with a local press.

When I imagine an editor, reading manuscript after manuscript, searching for funding, running a business, designing, printing, promoting and selling books of experimental poetry, I think to myself, why in the world has no one volunteered to help him? I could not run Weave with my amazing staff of volunteers. Everyone that is involved with Weave has come forward on their own and offered to help. Not sure what you can do? Well, if you aren't confident in your editorial skills, perhaps they need help stuffing envelops or running to the post office. Maybe you are awesome at social networking and could set up a blog and Facebook page. Or perhaps you are great at event planning and could volunteer to help set up a reading. The door is open. Walk through it and offer to help.

3. ATTEND local literary events.

Go to readings. Especially ones where you don't know the people who are reading. They are usually free, sometimes they ask for a donation, or just ask that you buy a drink from the venue. Awesome! Now you can have that drink back that you donated from step one. Don't underestimate the power of your own physical presence in an audience. Engaging with the work of others has ripple effects in our own lives.

4. BRING your non-writer friends to the next lit event.

This is a big one. Next time you head to a reading, bring along you BFF from college or that friend from work you've been meaning to hang out with. You never know how people will be affected by a reading. This will help open the poetry doors to a wider audience and strengthen the community.

5. ADVOCATE poetry on a daily basis.

Talk about poetry with your mom and your coworker. Your neighbors and kids. Tell friends about your favorite poets. Tell them about the last reading you attended. Talk to people about the volunteer work you do with your local lit mag. Of course, you can also talk to them about the latest episode of Parks & Rec, thereby demonstrating that poets are completely out-of-touch with popular culture. Lend someone a book of poetry you think they might enjoy or show them a cool animated poetry video. Reach them. Talk it up. Be an advocate. Demonstrate poetry's relevance in your life.  Don't complain about how poor you are. Instead, write a poem on a post it and put it on back door of a bathroom stall. Sew poems into shirt tags at the Goodwill. Mail a postcard poem to an old friend...

6. BUY books. 

And READ THEM. Yeah yeah, money again. But lots of presses have sales or discounts on older titles and back issues. Speaking of which, Weave is having a half off sale right now! Again, figure out a way to make it a priority. Make coffee at home instead of hitting Starbucks. If you can't buy books, then get your butt to the library. Libraries are awesome.

7. CHAMPION the work of others.

Offer to help your recently published poet-friends hold a reading at your local library. Write book reviews. Chat up your social networks about an awesome piece you read online or a great new book by an emerging writer. Email a poet whose work you admire and tell them you are a fan. I've done this last one before and boy, is it a powerful thing to let someone know how their words affected you. I highly recommend it.

While these steps might have some overlap, I think they are a great starting place for those who are looking for a community. Not sure where to start in your community? A quick Google search will show you what organizations are nearby. If nothing is close, well then, start something! A reading series, a monthly workshop, a book club. Whatever. You have something to offer. Get your butt out there and get involved. I'm talking to you. Yes, you. Stop blogging about how you'll never make money from poetry and get out there and make something even better: a friend. Yeah, corny I know, but it's the truth.



Sandra Beasley said...

Yes! I just posed at my blog, making some similar points. Thank you for being a kindred spirit~


Laura E. Davis said...

Sandra, I read your blog post earlier this morning and loved that you could speak from the standpoint of a published writer. Specifically, a writer who has been published by a wide variety of presses. It's important for us to all realize that in order to do this job we will have to work work work, always. 

Slleavens said...

laura, this is awesome

Laura E. Davis said...

YOU are awesome! You have done wonders to create a supportive and fun community at Chatham. Those skills will be the key your success my love.

Jeannine Hall Gailey said...

Yes, yes, and yes. And I hope the poets that write to me for publishing advice and all my MFA students read this...

Gregory Luce said...

This is excellent. An excellent pairing with Sandra's also thoughtful and passionate piece.

Laura E. Davis said...

Thanks, Jeannine. Definitely share this with your students. 

Laura E. Davis said...

Thanks for reading, Gregory! 

Sandra's post is so great. She really speaks to the amount of work it takes to promote a book, even a book of poetry as honored as hers. I think that if writers got involved in the editing side of things, it would give them a good sense of the real work that editors do and how we can all pitch in and lend a hand.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Laura, I'm late to the party b/c I've been ramping up to launch a reading series, which starts on Tuesday!  This is an awesome post!  Thanks.

Laura E. Davis said...

Hi Sandy, Good luck with your reading series. That sounds exciting. Glad you liked the post.