My new book from Two Sylvias Press, PR for Poets, is a guide for beginning to mid-career poets to learn how to build an audience and promote their books! Think of it as a guide to getting read.
People have asked me specifically about how do I, as a poet with a disability and chronic illness (I have MS, among other things), manage to promote my own books?
It’s a great question because not every writer is able to hop on a bus and couch-surf across the country to promote their book, and not everyone is able to work in academia and have a built-in support system. I think trying to promote a book with MS is probably similar to the way lots of people who are limited in time and money, or tied to day jobs and families and unable to travel, manage to promote their work. I do what I can, when I can, with what I’ve got available.
Promoting Your Book in Your Pajamas
I wrote an article for Poet’s Market a few years ago about how to promote your book in your pajamas – and I wrote about that because I’d been forced to do it. Some years when my books came out, I was in a wheelchair or in the hospital. sick. It was tough to rah-rah through a book launch party or even be on social media as much as I felt I should. But the upside of that is that I discovered that whether or not I was able to muster even a small tour of readings or had the energy for a big launch, there were things I could do that made a bigger difference to book sales.
Postcards, E-mails, and Swag
The number one way that I sell books, believe it or not, is through sending out postcards announcing the book and giving information and how to buy it. The postcard generally has the book’s cover art (with permission from publisher and artist, of course) on one side and ordering information on the other, as well as space for a personal note (even if the personal note is sometimes just “Hope you are well!”). I send them to everyone on my holiday card list and to writer friends I’ve corresponded with. The follow-up to that is an e-mail announcing the book’s launch, ordering info, and a little personal information at the beginning. This goes out to a wider list, because I don’t necessarily have everyone’s snail mail address, but I have a lot of friends who have e-mailed me to say they want to know when my books come out, from workshops, previous readings, school, teaching, conferences, and just random luck. This also includes a little graphic of the book cover and ordering information, maybe space for a blurb, and again, a longer greeting and personal update than the postcard affords.
I also produce bookmarks, magnets and other “swag” that I can give friends and family to help promote the book. People love the weirdest stuff – a pen or a bookmark can help take your book out past your own set of readers and friends into a wider space.
Social Media, Author Web sites, and Skype
This is important for all authors, really, but social media and web site presences become more important for those of us who can’t get out into “meat space” (or in online parlance, IRL or “In Real Life”) as easily as others, because of accessibility issues or illness that limits how often we can travel. I maintain an updated blog on my web site, as well as an active Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram presence. I don’t track exactly how many books I sell through my web site and social media, but it’s not zero. Additionally, I’ve gotten invitations to Skype into classes and conferences through social media, and interview and anthology opportunities. Being interactive – not just when you’re promoting a book, but as part of your life – includes being generous, promoting other’s work, retweeting art-and-poetry-related news, and offering your expertise to others. A clear and easy-to-find web site is also very important – it should include things like links to your books, links to your social media presences, a bio, maybe a CV and an author photo, and a way to contact you.
I want to encourage others to try Skype and being involved in Podcasts and other ways those with disabilities and illness CAN virtually get out and about into the world, to talk about subjects they’re enthusiastic about, do readings, and provide information on your subjects of expertise. It’s not limited to just those platforms – whatever you’re best at, whether it’s communicating visually, auditorily, or through performance, you can find what fits you. I had a friend who did a launch reading through Facebook Live! So ask around, try some new tools out, and find out what suits you. Practice at least one time before going through with your chosen platform.
I hope this has been helpful to my readers who are wondering how to promote their work and worried about the obstacles they might encounter. For more in-depth information, please check out my book, PR for Poets!
PR for Poets by Jeannine Hall Gailey: http://www.twosylviaspress.com/store/p48/PR_For_Poets%3A_A_Guidebook_to_Publicity_and_Marketing_PRE-ORDER_%28price_includes_shipping%29.html
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Jeannine Hall Gailey served as the second Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington. She is the author of five books of poetry: Becoming the Villainess, She Returns to the Floating World, Unexplained Fevers, The Robot Scientist’s Daughter, and Field Guide to the End of the World, winner of the Moon City Press Book Prize and the SFPA’s Elgin Award. Her newest guide to helping poets with promoting their books, PR for Poets, just came out with Two Sylvias Press. Her work has been featured on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac, Verse Daily, and in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. Her poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, The Iowa Review and Prairie Schooner. Her web site is www.webbish6.com. Twitter handle: @webbish6.