Poets are creative. I envy them. But most poets I’ve been observing during the past year don’t know how to give good readings.
They are allowing their Right brains to cloud their judgment when it comes to self-promotion and income. They think their poems alone will generate fame and fortune. I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it doesn’t work that way. You need to promote yourself, especially at readings, if you want to get ahead.
Here are some suggestions on how poets can market themselves better to gain more readers and earnings.
Tip 1 — Bring your books
I’m amazed how many poets come to readings without their books. If you’re dedicating hours crafting the right words, shouldn’t you at least remember to bring your books to sell at a reading. Even if some audience members are enthusiastic about your work, how many of them are going to remember to visit your website later and order your book? Not many. People are busy. They have short attention spans. If you want to make a sale, have your books available onsite. As the old saying goes, strike while the iron is hot.
Tip 2 — Know your audience
In most cities, it’s usually the same writing groups, bookstores, libraries, bars, coffee shops, and nonprofit organizations that sponsor poetry readings. Before giving your own reading, visit some of these locations and observe the audience. What is the reaction from the audience to the poets? Are they interested or bored? And most important of all, how many will stay after the reading to purchase books?
Tip 3 — Know your sponsor
How much effort is the sponsor devoting to advertise your reading? Is the reading in a nice location or a total dive? Are refreshments going to be served? Will staff members help you sell your books? Does your sponsor have strong name recognition in the writing or poetry community to draw a large audience? How a sponsor organizes a reading could reflect on your reputation and income.
Tip 4 — Tell your friends and followers
Social media is your friend. Use it. Don’t expect the sponsor to promote you before a reading. Yes, most sponsors may list you on their website, or publicize the reading on their social media sites. But you must do some heavy lifting if you want to get ahead in the poetry game. Don’t be shy. If you want to get ahead, speak up.
Tip 5 — Offer a reading discount
As an extra incentive for attending your reading, offer an audience member discount to boost your sales. There are a hundred other activities your audience could do besides attending your event. Show you appreciate their interest by giving them a discount.
Tip 6 — Sign-up Sheet
Your reading was a success. You sold out all your books. But there is still a demand for more. Now what? Have a sign-up sheet available for your fans to enter their contact information so that you can reach out to them later. Promise that if they purchase your work by a certain date, you will extend the audience member discount. Also, it doesn’t hurt to have business cards plugging your website or blog. Sure, some cards will be thrown away, but that’s the price of marketing.
Tip 7 — Engage your audience
Just don’t stand up and begin reading. Engage your audience. Ask them how many are familiar with your work. Ask them if there are certain poems you would like to read. Ask them if there are any inspiring poets in the room. Offer to provide your contact information after the reading for anyone who has questions about pursuing a poetry gig. When you show interest in your audience, they will show interest in you.
Tip 8 — Be organized
Nothing says loser more than a poet jumbling his notes trying to find which poems he wants to read. While it may be cute to be befuddled, your audience will get bored quickly. Be organized. Know in advance what you want to read. Use a bookmark. And if you find yourself with extra time, always have some backup poems available to read. By being organized, you are showing your audience that you respect their time.
Tip 9 — Dress to Impress
The Beat or Beatnik Generation is over. Lose the black turtleneck and French beret. You want your audience to remember your poetry, not how weird you dressed. Keep your apparel simple and causal. Dress like you normally do. Be yourself. Let your poetry, not your attire, be your voice.
Tip 10 — Be entertaining
Poetry isn’t boring, so why should you be? Be excited about your work, but don’t be overly dramatic. Don’t speak in a monotone. Enunciate your words. Show some passion. If you sound like you don’t care about your poems, neither will your audience. And that means you will go home with empty pockets while your audience will go home with an empty void.
Poetry, like any craft, requires commitment. While you might not become rich writing poetry, your readers might become richer knowing your work.