I could probably write a book about this subject, but I'll spare you. I have taken some actions that have increased poetry sales in a number of stores. Here's a list, off the top of my head. I'm using a good portion of this in a marketing article I'm doing for another publisher's Net site. So you saw it here first.
1. From the beginning, my publisher and I selected the poems for my book in a deliberate manner, based on who might actually fork out $12 for a book of poetry. We did not take a theme approach for the book (as a judge noted on a recent contest entry remarks form--"No theme--subtract 5 points.") I knew I would be reading for diverse audiences in a number of cities. We grouped the poems in the book by mini-theme, such as a section of sonnets, poems on the South, poems with the environment as a setting or motif. This has worked well in terms of acceptance, even by those who claim to not like poetry.
2. Getting the book stocked by Barnes and Noble took six months. My publisher started three months before the book's release date. I set up signings at several B&N stores and spent many hours recruiting attendees by snail mail, email, news releases, and my newsletter. In the beginning the stores ordered the book directly from the publisher. After a six month or so period, they began to place orders through Baker and Taylor. This is also true of AWC, the supplier for Books-a-Million. A handful of independents stock the title. They are less prone to stock poetry heavily, at least in the Southeast. For instance, at the Southeastern Regional Trade Show, I read with the Yale Younger Poets' Award winner. The audience numbered around 150 people, mostly booksellers. The reading went well; many expressed their pleasure. One bookseller placed an order. American publishing depends on the chains; for widespread distribution, it is my opinion that you must have their support to get the title distributed nationally.
3. I've always had a policy of supporting other poets' work. I review their books at amazon and B&N online. I have a section of my Net site devoted to work by other poets. Note that I do this with absolutely no expectation of reciprocity, but rather as part of a general philosophy on giving. This, happily, results in increased exposure for my own title.
I organize discussions for my area B&N. I call them the Community Poetry Series. It's sort of like a book club for poetry books, but the faces change each time depending on the poet we're studying. We did Ted Kooser's book recently, Delights and Shadows. I succeeded in getting the CRM to order 20 copies of his book. We drew a diverse crowd, sold the books, and she will re-order. Because I was facilitator, I introduced myself and my book (briefly), thereby selling some of my own as well. Though not in a hawkish kind of way. A future book I'm doing will be one of Kim Addonizio's because she's a favorite poet and her work resounds with readers of poetry as well as writers of poetry.
I publicize the discussions by news release, personal invitations (snail and email), and direct recruiting when I speak to audiences. Note that news releases can be emailed. Go to the newspaper's online site and scrutinize the page for "Contact" or "About us." Usually there will be an email directory. Always include full name, address, a daytime phone number. Always include a number for the public to call. This can result in some unusual phone calls, such as a poet who calls at 10 p.m. to read you his latest divorce poem. I have learned to extricate myself from such conversations with grace, in the interest of my sanity. Also consider city and lifestyle magazines in your area. They usually have a 60 day lead though so you have to work way ahead.
I usually do a flier for bigger events. I enlist my daughters and their friends (because I am the pizza supplier for that social network) to take them to area colleges, schools, coffee shops, etc.
4. I do programs for schools at the mid and high school levels. Because the book is best suited to the high school and over level., I use handouts for middle schoolers. I designed them so that students can interact with poetry and hopefully come away with a new attitude. Consequently, about a dozen schools are using my book in the classroom, high schools. This results in a 50 book or so order, often from an institutional division at B&N. My publisher will sell directly to a school at a discount as well. On the handout, I always include the line "Sponsored by kayday.com." Their parents may go to my site and buy the book if the student carries the handout home.
5. I do poetry for just about any group who asks. I do like to at least be reimbursed for gas if the round trip is more than 30 miles. I tailor the presentation to the audience. For instance, my selections for the American Association of University Women chapter here differ wildly from those selections I presented at a women's history event set up by a large organization here in Jacksonville. I did a reading at a saloon not long ago, and the place was packed with temporarily very happy guests. Due to the alcohol level of the audience, I presented poems with a strong sound component. When I present, I rarely look at the book. Audiences like eye contact and energy. Sidenote: If I have to board a plane, I expect that expense to be covered. However, I know people in many cities, so I'm often able to arrange lodging with friends and family. I do reciprocate on that!
6. I write related columns for magazines and Net sites. An essay I wrote is in The Writer's Handbook this year. I take a copy of that with me. This spurs sales of a book by an editor I admire, and it also rounds out my credibility. I put that book on a stand by my own book when I speak. I also take magazines--most recently, Miller's Pond--that carry my work. This spurs subscriptions for editors who support my own work.
7. I do news releases monthly. I announce where I'm going, awards, and comments on trends (such as publishing poetry, etc.) It must be obvious at this point that I enjoy writing. (*smile*)
8. I organize events (3 or so a year) that include other poets. One example is a poet whose book was picked up by a publisher that is not carried in most stores. The woman has a disability, and although her poetry isn't National Book Award material, it is pleasing in its own way. The CRM at B&N worked with me to set up an event for this poet and did an in-store purchase of the book. I felt good about that.
9. I update my Net site as frequently as possible. I carry a news page there so it isn't all about me, in addition to my By Invitation section that features work by others. I keep a calendar there, although I haven't had time to code my 2005 events yet. The point is to attract people there.
10. I bear in mind that if I only try to aim my book at poets, my sales will be limited. I aim my efforts at the public. I have been pleased with the results and do not believe I have compromised my poetic principles. Sales drive book orders, nothing more, nothing less. If your book sells regularly, stores will seek it. Publishers and authors must work together to make sales a reality.
Note that I'm basically an independent scholar at this point in my life; I work full-time as a writer. My publisher is a small, fairly new commercial
press. I offer that to put this in context.
That's a wrap. Hopefully, at least one thing may be helpful to some of you. Best to all, Kay Day