Many avenues come to mind when we think of marketing a book. Social media, public-facing events, local outreach, and more—there are numerous ways that authors and their teams can work to get consumers interested in the upcoming release. However, the one genre that seems to be overlooked here (leaving the responsibility to therefore fall on the writer) is poetry. Such has been the case since the debut of poetry collections, but I would argue that, in order for the genre to reach its full potential of artistry and audience, the marketing style must become a collaborative process.
For an example of how things are currently run, you could turn to the writer-friendly website pw.org. There, folks who have hopes of getting their work out there can find different guides and tips on how to do so. What’s interesting is their webpage devoted to publishing advice for writers of poetry collections. Poets & Writers almost immediately states that poets should first look into small presses to have a great success rate at getting published, and also at finding people who will be more devoted to helping them develop their work: “We suggest you begin your search for a book publisher by looking at small presses and university presses [. . .] they do not have the resources of larger publishing houses and offer smaller advances, they are usually more willing to help you develop as an author even if your books aren’t immediately profitable.” This suggests a contention between large publishing houses and new poets in the sector of marketing. If larger publishers are unwilling to help new poets develop, then the responsibility lies with poets to first seek out smaller journals, magazines, and publishing houses to get their work out there and make a name for themselves. While this is a concept that is in practice with other genres, it does seem to occur most often with poetry.
And this goes back to the beginning. You could think of poets such as Ezra Pound or Edgar Allen Poe, who both have been remarked as having enough determination and entrepreneurial spirits to get their work published (because they had to). Or Walt Whitman, who first self-published in 1855 before he was taken seriously. The list goes on, of course, and still continues to be added to in the twenty-first century.
In today’s marketplace, self-promotion is a given. The hardship of success for writers, though, comes from the fact that just about all areas of art and creativity are (and I’m trying not to sound harsh) over-saturated. With growing technology and various social media platforms, artists of all kinds are competing for a spotlight. Knowing that, the evidence is clear that poets’ being left to their own devices (literally) for self-promotion of their work just won’t cut it. If the marketing teams at publishing houses would combine their industry knowledge of the booksellers market with the personality and intimacy of the artists’ identities, we’d find an equation for achievement. And while you could argue that using a business to market oneself could be construed as “selling out,” this is a position of privilege—and naivety. New-to-the-scene writers can’t deny promotion if they have no platform to begin with; and the refusal of established artists to collaborate only serves to maintain the divide that disadvantages those hoping to break into the domain, and the benefits of a better relationship would go both ways.
Of course, there is much to gain from simply being on the receiving end of poetry; but there can also be financial security for businesses. In working around poetic language, moguls with a tendency toward the practical can learn new ways to market for their own benefit. As one article puts it: “There’s no doubt that poetry is profitable for brand managers and marketing researchers both. Poetry improves our prose (Stern, 1998). Poetry stimulates our synapses (Sherry & Schouten, 2002). Poetry transports us to the secluded bower of creativity, imagination, management.” Studying verse and the imaginative minds who write them can teach a manifold of pathways for reinventing language. In my experience, that’s the best thing about poetry: reshaping speech for the purpose of distinct, unique expression. By observing this skill set, managerial teams can obtain a better understanding of how they could morph their outreach ideals to draw more people in.