As everyone knows, you can’t make a living from writing and selling poetry.
Or can you?
Well, it IS next to impossible to make a living by only writing poems. Sometimes I wonder if that’s why poets seem to be the ones I see most often experimenting and innovating. They know that large-scale publication and fat advance checks aren’t in their future (nor is bookstore placement), so they look for other ways to make their work known.
Here are 5 poets who are doing remarkable things—all very different from one another, all demonstrating that the only limit to what you can do is your imagination.
Robert is editor of Writer’s Market. That’s his day job. He also runs a successful professional blog, Poetic Asides (which led to him winning Poet Laureate of the Blogosphere in 2010), and he runs a personal blog called My Name Is Not Bob.
Last year, Robert announced that he was publishing a chapbook, ENTER, that would available in a limited signed edition—just 100 copies—for $10 each.
The chapbook is handcrafted and has a personalized note from Robert. He’s working the scarcity angle—providing something that only a few people can have, and personalizing it to the max.
The strategy has worked: He took pre-orders up until the release on April 1, and is almost sold out. (Click here to read about the release and for instructions on how to order any copies that are still left.)
David’s day job is teaching at Ohio University. You might also know him as the former director of Ohio University Press and Swallow Press.
Late last year, David launched an e-newsletter, Poetry News in Review. It’s a digest of poetry news, new releases, and reviews (and many other informative things). Go take a look at an issue. Or subscribe right away.
David was already an influencer in the literary community before he started the newsletter. Now he has a direct line to the people who have been following him all along, which creates a community around the content he creates, and opens up more opportunities for him in the long term.
The former head of Digital Book World—and now a digital director at Library Journal—has his roots in the NYC poetry slam scene. Just this month, Guy released a digital chapbook, Handmade Memories, available for Kindle, Nook, and Goodreads for $2.99.
On his blog, Guy says:
There’s been a lot of debate over poetry’s viability in e-book form, thanks to reflowable text corrupting line breaks and, in many cases, skewing the reading of a poem. Some of my prosier poems run into this problem, especially on the iPod Touch’s small screen, but being able to flip to landscape mode addresses most of those issues. I plan to write about this specifically in the near future, but briefly, my take is that poets (and publishers) intent on forcing legacy forms into e-books are missing the bigger opportunities digital offers, but that said, the limitations of e-books are no reason to avoid them. The potential to reach new readers is far too great to pass up.
Notice how Robert took the physical print book route, and Guy took the e-book route. There is no one RIGHT way to issue a new book or project. You do what fits you, your personality, and your audience. Given Guy’s digital background, a digital chapbook made a ton of sense since he has the skills and connections to execute it beautifully.
Greg, a professional author and freelancer, has just launched an experiment that explores how authors can make money without focusing on sales.
He came up with a Kickstarter project designed to pay him so that he can offer schools free class visits (virtually or in person) and introduce poetry to kids.
He’s creating a situation where fans/supporters get stuff that they want from him, and he, in turn, gets to do something that is both good for others AND good for his career. If it works out—the campaign is still in progress!—it’s a win-win-win situation. Go check out the details of Greg’s Kickstarter campaign here. You should also check out his blog on social media.
Dave’s day job involves teaching and freelancing, but his life focus is on writing—and getting his poetry out there.
Tomorrow Dave launches his brand-new newsletter, If I Had a Nickel, focused on poetry and the Ozark life. [Sign up here.] He’s also launching his newest collection of poetry as a four-part series, through Smashwords, for free. (Hint to all: Series are always a wonderful marketing technique!)
Dave used my advice about MailChimp to start his newsletter, and it’s been exciting to see his brand come together over the years. Because of his talent and expertise at website building, film, and other areas of new media, he has almost too many opportunities to chase down!
I hope these stories have inspired you to think about what avenues are available to you for expanding your reach and building a solid writing career, no matter what genre you’re working in.
I do apologize that on this occasion, I’ve featured an all-male cast, but that’s how it worked out. I hope you’ll comment with examples of female authors and poets doing wonderful things!