Marketing Poetry: Tips from a Literary Publicist

Thursday, May 30, 2019

While looking for something to get my mom for Mother’s Day this year, I decided to go out on a limb and buy her a copy of Mary Oliver’s Dog Songs. My mom is certainly a reader, but as far as I know, she’d never seriously considered reading poetry before. A few days after Mother’s Day she had already started the book. She called to thank me, explaining she can only read one or two poems at a time because they make her cry so much. “But,” she said, “I really love it.”

I wasn’t purposefully trying to convert my mom into a poetry lover, I swear. I was prepared for the book to sit on her shelf unopened for a decade or longer. More and more often, though, I find that readers are willing to at least try poetry. In the midst of endless distractions, many readers are ready for a genre whose power is derived from its concision.

However we got here exactly, poetry is now one of the bestselling categories for IngramSpark, and many of the genre’s negative connotations are being flipped upside down: what was once seen as outdated, unrelatable, and highbrow is now current, relatable, and approachable.

For poets publishing their own work, this new climate can be both a blessing and a curse. Poets do not need to sell the entire genre to readers anymore, and thank goodness they don’t. But they do need to sell themselves against their large (and growing!) competition.

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How to Pitch Poetry to the Media

Pitching poetry is about finding both the right audience and the right selling point. Even though poetry is a growing genre, the truth is that still far more book blogs and websites are dedicated to fiction than to poetry. Niche poetry reviewers are there, but it might take some unique strategies to find them.

Effectively Use the Obvious

If you find yourself scouring Google with search terms such as “poetry reviews” or “poetry blog,” you’re likely to get to main hits:

1) literary magazines

While these are not usually the focus of traditional publicity efforts, you can and should submit pieces to them. If your poems are selected for publication, your author branding will benefit from increased credibility. This will also provide you with a hook to use when approaching media and you should leverage your accomplishment for what it’s worth when looking for coverage.

2) blogs which are not run by a reader reviewer, but by another poet

These poet-bloggers often review the work of other poets, and that sort of cross over promotion can help them reach their specific fan base. They do typically have very long backlogs of books they promised to read and review—sometimes a 1 to 2 year backlog. Certainly you should exchange books with poet-bloggers in your network, but it might be helpful to focus your pitches on other areas for a more likely “yes.” 

Comp Title Research

To get at the audience you really want, you’ll have to do some digging.

Begin by researching chapbooks and collections which have similar themes as yours and are likely to have an overlapping audience. Do you have a feminist bent? Maybe Amanda Lovelace, Mckayla Robbin, or Pierre A. Jeanty have penned comparable works. Do you have a whimsical style inspired by Sarah Kay, or do you write punchy lines like Robert M. Drake? Do you delve into love like Lang Leav or Rudy Francisco, or touch on issues of race like Clint Smith?

It can be difficult to compare your work to that of other writers, but these are important nuances to take into account. If you need to, ask your friends and colleagues for their opinion.

When you’ve compiled a decent list of comp titles, search for who has already reviewed those books. You’ll find the bloggers and websites most likely to respond to your pitch if you begin by recognizing that they enjoyed your comp title and letting them know that you have a similar book that would interest them. 

Other Media Worth Considering

If you’re up to your neck in blogs and websites already, or if you’re having a tough go at them and want to change course, I’d recommend trying some different kinds of media altogether. If you’re comfortable on the mic, try pitching podcasts. There are plenty of literary podcasts and many of them respond favorably to guest suggestions. Pass along your press materials and see what happens! Some will respond with a small fee to be featured on the show, which is not unusual. If this is the case, weigh out the cost with the reach of the show to decide if it’s worth it for you.

Alumni media coverage can also be a big win. Your alma mater would most likely love to showcase your accomplishments as an alumna or alumnus because your story can inspire current students and even draw in prospective ones. You should reach out for a feature on the alumni news page, but also don’t be shy in asking for an event. Colleges often host celebratory readings in April for National Poetry Month, as well as book clubs and/or workshops with alumni authors.

Selling Points

Poets, like all writers, often have trouble finding their selling point. It can feel self-aggrandizing to think of what makes your work unique and valuable to the media. Some selling points might include celebrating local events you’re scheduled to participate in, tying your work into a trending topic in the media, or promoting your work’s seasonal appeal, citing appropriate awareness days and holidays.

Of course, all good selling points take into account your audience. If you’re a veteran, that will be a selling point to use with military media more than other types of media.

Pitching poetry to media outlets is always part art and part science. Constructing a well-crafted pitch with a concise-yet-convincing ask will only be effective if you’ve done adequate research on comp titles and suitable outlets. In a climate that’s only becoming more poet-friendly, poets are better equipped than ever to take advantage of marketing wisdom so they can pitch media strategically, and stand out from the pack.

 

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Jackie Karneth

Jackie Karneth is a literary publicist with JKS Communications where she works with authors of various genres to promote their works. Karneth graduated from Belmont University with dual degrees in English Literature and Publishing, where she served as the poetry editor of the Belmont Literary Review. During her time at Belmont, she received several university awards for her poetry and creative writing and was the Corinne Dale award recipient for critical writing about gender.