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 Alternative Outlets: Ways to Sell Your Poetry Collection - By H. Palmer Hall

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PostSubject: Alternative Outlets: Ways to Sell Your Poetry Collection - By H. Palmer Hall   Tue Apr 17, 2012 4:24 pm

Alternative Outlets
Ways to Sell Your Poetry Collection
by H. Palmer Hall

A poet friend of mine in Montreal wrote to let me know that artists there had found a new use for those old, banned cigarette machines. Instead of selling cigarettes from them, artists (including poets) are selling small editions of their work so that interested people can stick two dollars in the machine and have a two-inch by three-inch book of poems plunk down into the area where packs of cigarettes once appeared. Other poets I know routinely send postcards with one of their poems on the verso of the written message and a hand-written “for sale” message.
A few months ago, I was wandering around Jackson Square in New Orleans when a man approached me, pulled open his trench coat, and said, in a rough whisper, “Wanta buy some poems?” Surprised at his approach to selling poetry, I handed him ten bucks and walked off with a book of his poems. Other poets, with more musical talent than I have, frequently busk in the streets, playing fiddles or guitars, and selling books of their poems alongside their CDs.
Granted, not all poets are willing to become “buskers for poetry” or approach strangers in the street and offer to sell them poems. And most of us would have to go through the bureaucratic regulations of our home cities to set up former cigarette machines as poetry dispensers. The point here is that we do not have to go through distributors or bookstores with their heavy discounts to sell our poems. We can sell them in other, more effective and more innovative ways.
One of our poets at Pecan Grove Press, Linda Kittell, wrote a wonderful collection of poems based upon Andrew Wyeth’s “Helga Pictures.” She contacted the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine, about selling the chapbook in their museum shop since they had an excellent collection of Wyeth paintings. The museum purchased ten copies to sell to patrons who loved Wyeth’s work. Curious about whether they had sold or not, I contacted the manager of the shop a year later. He told me all ten had sold within a month of his stocking them. Until I called, it had not occurred to him to reorder. He did and also suggested some other museums that might be interested.
Not too long ago, I put together a small collection of my own poems to give as Christmas presents to an international group of friends who had met each other by watching a pond in Africa on a 24/7 live webcast from Botswana, Africa. I sent a copy of Reflections from Pete’s Pond to the manager of the game preserve. Much to my surprise, he ordered 100 copies to sell in the “Curio Shop” at the Mashatu Game Preserve. Later, another game preserve in the same area ordered an additional 50 copies. Amazing to me: 150 copies of a small, 34-page chapbook being sold in far away Botswana, Africa. Those books sold without my doing a reading and without my giving a steep discount to a book distributor.
I started seriously thinking about the allure of Amazon.com and Ingram and other traditional distribution sources for books and wondered why it seemed that every poet we published wanted to be listed on Amazon and wanted their books sold in bookstores. Part of that, I realize, is vanity. It just feels so good to email friends and relatives and say, “You can buy my new book on Amazon or at Big Box Bookstore.” We all do, of course, want our books in bookstores, but the most important thing is to actually sell the books. Very few bookstores really try to sell poetry; most are fairly happy to return them to the publisher after a short shelf life.
Poets need to think of creative ways to sell their poems. Here are just a few examples of some things a few of our poets have done to sell their books:
If the book has a subject/topic level of interest beyond being a collection of poems, look for a tie-in to some other field. Linda Kittell did that with her collection of poems based on Wyeth paintings and I lucked into doing it with my Africa poems. We also published a small miscellany of flower poems called The Rites of Spring. Flower poems? Yes, stapled inside a greeting card by a local artist. Three different florists’ shops stocked them and sold them.
We published a book, Humidity Moon, by Michael Rodriguez, a Marine veteran, about his experiences in Vietnam. He got permission from several veterans’ organizations to attend their meetings, set up a table, and sell copies of the book. More than 1,000 copies later, we are thinking about doing a new printing.
Other poets have contacted their old high school English teachers and suggested that their current students might benefit from hearing from an alumnus who is a real life poet and has recently published a book. The poets sign the books for the students who are notified in advance about the visiting poet and bring money to buy the books.
One poet had her partner throw a “baby shower” for her and her book. She sent invitations to all the friends who had, over the years, invited her and her partner to showers, expecting correctly that she would buy a present for the newborn, and since she preferred not having a baby thought birthing a book was the closest thing. The invitation she sent announced the birth of a 6 X 9 inch bouncing baby book. Instead of gifts, the guests bought copies of the book and the poet signed them.
The only thing limiting the way poets can sell their books is an unwillingness to think of ways other than bookstores and on-line sales. That’s mostly because we have blinders on. Because we have always bought books at bookstores and at poetry readings, we only think of those very traditional ways to sell our books. That does us and our books a disservice.

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Alternative Outlets: Ways to Sell Your Poetry Collection - By H. Palmer Hall
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