Poets often struggle with promoting their work. While some take to it naturally, many, if not most, hope their publishers will do that work for them. Some of the larger poetry presses have staff to create marketing plans and do the substantial work that is required to market well. Of course, many poets publish with smaller presses without those resources; poets who place their work with independent micro-presses will not be able to rely on sophisticated publisher-led marketing. Ultimately, every poet needs to do at least some self-marketing to get a book into the hands of readers.
For poets who find themselves working with a publisher who is not among the top five houses, Jeannine Hall Gailey has solid strategies to offer. Gailey is an established poet, with five collections in print. She runs a good, frequently updated website where she blogs regularly on a variety of topics and keeps her readers up to date on her publishing activities. In short, she has the expertise to write a guide aimed at poets who wish to promote their own books.
Gailey’s book is a practical one, written in clear, direct language and offering a number of promotional approaches for a poet to consider. Overall, she wants poets to understand that expecting their publishers to take responsibility for all promotion and marketing is not the most effective way to find an audience for one’s book; often, the majority of an audience is the poet’s own colleagues, friends, and family members.
Gailey’s style is straightforward and pragmatic, a kind of “no BS” voice that makes the process of PR feel both essential and simple enough to leverage. Her audience is primarily the poet with a first collection, who is unlikely to understand the details of the process, and probably will not have considered the numerous approaches a poet, or indeed any author, can take to get the word out about a book. For example, she explains the concept of “platform,” also known as branding, well: “In book marketing, it refers to your presence in the world, online and in real life. Your platform might include your website, your blog, your network of friends and associates, your social media networks, your public speaking engagements, media appearances, including radio and television, your newsletter, and your contribution to magazines.” Gailey’s use of simple examples such as these make the idea of promotion and marketing less intimidating; most poets are doing some of these things already, such as sharing links to their work on social media or contributing guest essays or editorials to magazines and journals. Adding another few ways to create a platform doesn’t feel as intimidating after reading what Gailey has to say about it.
The book is structured into chapters that break down several categories of PR. Gailey begins with a chapter explaining why she wrote the book, and follows it up with another chapter called “Shedding the Shame of PR,” and another, “Setting Expectations,” all of which serve as an overview and also offer some preparation for launching a successful promotional campaign. From there, Gailey gets into the details, with chapters on working with the publisher, setting up a platform, how to launch a book promotion (soliciting blurbs and reviews, creating a mailing list, for example), how to create PR kits and pitch letters, getting the book into bookstores and libraries, “swag,” or promotional giveaway items like postcards, bookmarks, and other items, and tips for leveraging an online platform, such as search engine optimization.
In addition to leveraging her personal experience, Gailey interviews poets Sandra Beasley, Robert Lee Brewer, Killian Czuba, and Collin Kelley for their perspectives on platforms and social media, and with the interviews, it becomes clear that promoting one’s own work is not so much about making money as it is about finding an audience for art, though Gailey does believe that poets should be paid for their work . As Gailey explains in on the very first page of PR for Poets: “You didn’t spend your time writing, revising, editing, and studying poetry not to have it in the hands of readers. Your goal in writing a book is to communicate your thoughts and ideas to people, to make an impact. In order for this to happen, readers need to know that your book exists and is easily available for them to purchase.” Gailey’s strategy of underplaying the idea that marketing equals making money is wise and honest, since the tension for artists between creating art for its own sake and getting paid for it is a real one.
Poetry publishing today contains perhaps as many options as it has ever, since digital technologies have removed, or at least lowered, barriers for would-be independent publishers. While a proliferation of indie presses means that there are more opportunities for poets to get their work into print, it also means that the chances that a publisher will have the resources to promote the book on its own will vary more than would be the case with fewer, larger presses. That variety makes PR for Poets truly useful to any poet who wants to find a larger, wider audience. It is a useful guide for any poet with a first book, or poets who feel they could use new strategies to get the word out about their work.
Kim Jacobs-Beck is the author of a chapbook, Torch: Poems, with Wolfson Press. Her poems can be found in Gyroscope, Apple Valley Review, SWWIM Every Day, roam literature, Peach Velvet, and Postcard Poems and Prose, among others. She is the founder of Milk and Cake Press and is a professor of English at the University of Cincinnati Clermont College. A native of metro Detroit, she now lives in Ohio with her husband and three cats.