Poet Wrestling (with a book proposal)

As I sit in front of my ancient laptop, its fan wheezing from the heat of working overtime, I’m watching my cursor blink. No, it’s not the dreaded writer’s block. As we discussed before, there’s no such thing. This is a different creature altogether. This is abject horror–the kind that comes with writing a book proposal.

Slogging through this type of document was something I heard only happened to nonfiction writers. At MFA residencies, I’d listen to platform and proposal-writing talks with the smug confidence of one who’d never have to do market research, line up radio interviews, or (most cringe-worthy of all) publicize myself.

Why’d I feel so sure I’d never have to deal with this part of the publishing business? During every book proposal-related talk, the speaker took a moment to remind poets that none of their words of wisdom applied to us, as “no one buys poetry anyway.” A life of genteel, lyrical poverty seemed like an okay trade for never having to undergo the pain of wrangling with mailing lists and public speaking. I’m glad my compulsive notetaking habits took over during those talks, because, a mere two months after graduating from said MFA, here I sit, thirty pages of the Jacob Wrestling book proposal hulking in front of me.

As it turns out, the world of publishing is changing, and changing rapidly. Whereas nonfiction used to be buttress of the industry, readers are returning to fiction. Whether the current economic woes are pushing us toward escape in story, or our sensibilities are changing for the more artistic, fiction is coming back in a big way. And if “no one buys poetry anyway,” I suppose no one told Ellen Hopkins, whose new novel-in-verse Tricks is sales ranked at #880 today on Amazon. That which is going to sell is, obviously, going to need a marketing strategy. And as unpleasant as the marketing business is to shy poets and novelists who’d rather huddle at our desks than get up and read in front of a crowd, we’ve got some catching up to do in terms of being market-savvy.

So to my creative writing cohorts out there, get used to the idea of the proposal. It’s arduous and alien to us, but why shouldn’t we be pleased that this is a good moment in the industry for selling our kind of work? And to those platform and proposal speakers who think poetry’s an insular and unsalable art, be forewarned: we poets are coming for you.

Now if I could only write a log line.

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