ARE YOU READY?
Are you ready to publish your book of poetry? The question is worth asking for poets at any level of ac-complishment, but particularly for those about to bring out their first book. One great strength in America – and any country – is the freedom to share your thoughts with others. The advent of desktop publishing has made the press ever freer. The ability to assemble and publish a book, however, does not assure that you are ready to bring out a book. You owe it to yourself and others to responsibly exercise your abilities as an author and poet and, as much as possible, aim to be professional.
It doesn’t hurt to ask yourself why you want a book. In fact, you could start by asking yourself why you write. Poetry is a venerable art form, coming to us from the earliest oral traditions of incantation and prayer, record keeping and storytelling, healing and, yes, humor. If you write for yourself, you certainly should revise for others. As soon as you write poetry you will hear that art is not for all markets. That is, a commercial writer analyzes a market and writes to sell. An artist creates from whatever inner need and, thus, may not appeal to many people.
If you want to publish a book of poetry to make lots of money, good luck. Mainstream publishers, if not profes-sional poets themselves, will tell you that poetry doesn’t sell. If that is true, it is not for lack of poets. Throw a rock and you will hit a dog or a poet. Poets are every-where. There’s hardly a person who hasn’t written a po-em at some point, whether in the throes of love, at a time of great loss, or just on a bathroom wall. But long before Marshall McLuhan declared the printed word was dead, it was apparent that books were a hard sell.
There is an entire art of publicizing, distributing, and selling your book. If writing poetry is the song, selling it is the dance. You should take pleasure in sharing your work with others, but that might mean, simply, showing your poems to friends, sharing it in writing workshops, or learning how to perform it well publically. Just don’t expect to make yourself rich as a poet, and that is as much because of human nature as because poetry doesn’t sell.
You can do everything right – writing a truly gifted book of poetry, designing and producing a magnificent book, buying the best wine and cheese for your book party. People – fellow poets and writers and even your good friends – will gladly drink your wine and eat the cheese, but as often they will leave without buying a book. What is that about? It certainly predates any col-lapse of the economy or even antipathy for poetry. Get-ting people to part with a dollar isn’t easy, and family members are going to expect you to give them a free copy. (Make even your mother pay!)
Of course, you may have, more than just extraordinary lines of poetry, the best sales pitch ever. It doesn’t hurt to be optimistic and it certainly is good to have a mar-keting plan. But shed the idea that you want to publish a book – particularly of poetry – to make money. Do, however, understand that a well-produced, inexpensive book of poems is very likely to earn its money back and then some if you do things right. It is not enough to ex-ercise your right to publish. It is your responsibility to bring out the best book you can. You may be a happy amateur, but when you reach out to others with a book, why wouldn’t you want to present them with the very best you can produce?