Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Writer's Life: How to Find that Fine Line ... Or the "P" Word is Not a Dirty Word ... Promotion

How to find the balance  in life is never easy for me, or I suspect most of us. I've come to realize I am most comfortable in small groups of people I know well, or spending time alone. I suspect many writers feel the same way. Yet, when we are faced with a new book on the horizon, it's time to tuck away that introverted personality and get out the party favors. With a new book arriving in a few short months, I need to get busy lining up places to read my work. "Why" you might ask? I ask myself that same question. I ask it a lot. Here are some of the answers I've come up with:

1. I  believe in my book, I wanted to publish it.  Publication means a desire to share one's poems with a community. I could always elect to keep my poems in a bureau drawer, but since I sent them off to White Pine Press, and they were gracious enough to accept my work, I have a responsibility to help find readers.

2. I love the actual reading or teaching --- it's the "ask" part that I don't enjoy. Once the time rolls around to give a reading, I am happy to be in a room of like-minded people and share my poems and the experience of writing the poems. It's a real high to experience the keen quiet of an audience listening to the words you worked so hard to bring into vowels and constonents.

3. It's part of the job description.  I remember attending Breadloaf several years ago - the early 1990's - and a publisher spoke about how she would not sign a contract with an author who wouldn't agree to do a book tour. People want to meet the person behind the book.

4. It makes a difference to hear the poet in person.. I know I often like to have the voice of the poet in my head when I read a writer's work. I can't imagine reading Merwin without his clear as water timbre as accompaniment or Kaminsky without his rich incantation.

5. What's the worst thing that could happen? Someone tells me they don't have the money or desire to invite me to read. There. I said it. There are many worse things in life. Get over yourself (myself).

6. Stepping out of one's comfort zone is a good thing. With my last book, Cures Include Travel, I traveled to Slovenia and Bosnia, Minneapolis MN and Bennington VT. I reconnected with graduate school friends and got to meet new people. It was actually quite fun the majority of the time.

7. Promotion doesn't have to be a dirty word. I'm not the type of woman to do the hard sell thing. I will never try to sell my book at the local cafe or neighborhood bar. It's just not me. However, I love the idea of literary salons in private homes and why not do a literary salon where a percentage of book proceeds goes to a local literacy program or to aide people in Haiti?

8. Work with friends. I have three friends who have poetry books coming out within a few months of my own. We are planning to do several events together. It is so much easier to ask local arts organizations to work with a high powered group of poets instead of just me, myself, I.

9. P stands for Pep Talk. After ten years teaching in a college classroom and giving hundreds of poetry readings and workshops, I believe I'm pretty good at what I do. I want to communicate with my audience, My event is focused on them, not me.

10. People need more poetry in their lives. And that's not my quote. I heard it last Sunday on NPR. Lynne Rosetto Kasper had Elizabeth Alexander on her food show, "The Splendid Table" and Alexander read a wonderful poem about butter. Maybe book promotion is really community service with a different name.

I promised myself I would send out some queries about setting up readings for next fall. If anyone is looking for a poet who loves to give readings and presents awesome workshops ...


  1. Great post, Susan!

    I'm looking forward to our reading at Hugo House!

    And #4 is so true! So many times I've liked a book then hearing the poet makes me love it!

  2. Thanks, Kelli! Maybe an event at the Frye Art Museum, too. Being on the road together is so much more fun!

  3. Susan, if you're interested in Bay Area reading venues, drop me a line.

    And don't forget about leaving consignment copies of your book at local independent bookstores.

    I appreciate the permission you've given yourself, and us, to promote our work! Your reasons are all sound, and I thank you for them. Here's to no more hiding! : )