So, Who Are You?

(A pep talk for poets with books coming out this fall)

Whenever I get to speak at writers’ conferences, no matter whether I’m talking about spondees and anapests or book blogging and social media, I notice that new poets are always enthusiastic to know more about the business of getting their work into the world. I may have just wrapped up a talk on the villanelle form and opened the floor for questions when somebody wants to know: Where can I send my poems? How do I get a book manuscript in front of publisher? Once I’m published, how do I get my new book of poetry into stores, or into reviewers’ hands? 

I love these questions, no matter how off-topic they they are. I love to see writers believe in their work enough to want to hustle and get that work into the world.

I’ve also noticed a funny thing that happens a few months after a poet signs a contract for a new book. Those “how” questions often turn into “I don’t” statements. I don’t want to use social media. I don’t have the time to send the book out for review. I don’t have enough support from my publisher. I don’t like marketing. 

I’ve always been surprised by the shift in tone that I see in writers as they come so close to achieving something they’ve dreamed about for years. Perhaps it’s because, in the face of marketing realities, authors finally realize that there remains so very much work—work without a guaranteed result—still ahead.

Yes, many of your marketing and PR efforts will feel futile. You won’t get immediate results by sending out pitch letters, or rise to foolproof fame and fortune by mailing out the first handful of galleys. It will take the same kind of diligence and fortitude as it took you to send out your batches of poems to journals for all of those years. It’ll take the same determination that it took to keep believing in those poems after dozens of rejection slips. The game, I’m sorry to say, doesn’t change as soon as you sign a book contract. Work is the one constant of the writing life.

It’s easy to let discouragement take hold, but what’s nearly as easy–and far more satisfying–is making a simple marketing plan. Sticking to that plan. Putting in a designated number of hours per week to execute that plan. No, you don’t have to do everything under the sun. But you do have to do something to honor the work you’ve put in over the years, and to honor the work your publisher is doing on your behalf.

So, who are you, poet? Are you the writer who still believes in your words enough to put in the work? Or the writer who finds it easier to come up with reasons not to believe in your own efforts? And wouldn’t you rather be the former? I thought so.

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