Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Business of Poetry

The word business has a lot of negative connotations that comes with it. Often one thinks of big business, of underpaid workers and CEOs with private jets, and of greedy men in suits. In some ways, this is fair and understandable. This is typically why many hate to use the word "business" when it comes to the arts.

This has been on my mind a lot recently as I prepare for the launch of my first book of poems in March. Poets like many other artists are often afraid of the word business. There is a concept that if you make money or become successful that you've somehow sold out and that to be a true artist you must suffer.

In the poetry word, the idea of success is a little different. It's very difficult to make lots of money as a poet, so you might think this idea wouldn't be such an issue, but to some it is. The other day on my Facebook newsfeed, I saw a poet post that another poet had contacted him saying he should stop promoting his book on Facebook so much, because it looked desperate.

There seems to be a school of thought that says if you are poet you should do nothing to promote yourself and should just sit and wait as if magically people will flock to you. Perhaps this is why so many poetry presses are so bad at marketing books. Is it an elitist thing? Is it laziness? Is it some internal honor that I don't have or understand?

Why is promoting your work and gaining more readers negative or desperate? Poetry books aren't that easy to come by and many people don't know what's out there, if you don't tell them. Social networking has made it so easy for writers of all kinds to promote their work. I post all the time about magazines or journals that I've been published in and I encourage people to buy copies. I'll be doing the same with my book. It's also the reason to do poetry readings. Is it desperate to want a few people to buy your book and to maybe make a few bucks?

This isn't something new facing writers today. Poets used to be paid by kings and queens and other wealthy people to entertain them. 19th century novelists often had their work serialized and were paid by the word, which is why many of those novels are so long. Yet, we hold many of these writers in high esteem. Why should it be any different for writers today? It seems some are holding writers and artists to standards that perhaps never really existed.

There is a business side to being a published writer and it doesn't have to be a negative business. Some writers/artists want to place themselves above this concept of business. That is fine, but you probably won't ever get your work out there. I write because I love it, but I also write because I want to share my work with others and to do that I have to focus on the business side from time to time.

In the last three years, I've gotten a lot of poems accepted for publication and the primary reason for that is that I've spent a lot of time researching places to submit and doing submissions. This is part of being a published writer. Is it fun? Most of the time, no. Does it take a lot of time? Yes. Submissions is part of the business. You can't just sit in your apartment and wait for someone to magically find your poem on your hard-drive and want to publish it.

Being proud of your work and promoting it, doesn't make you any less of a writer. When my book comes out, you can count on me to be posting and promoting about it as much as I can. I owe that to myself and to my publisher. Don't fear, I'm a long way from a private jet or even a nice suit.

-Stephen (Busy)


  1. Important to hear/read. It's the truth. Thanks.

  2. I found your thoughts here very necessary and relevant. I think your attitude is really good, and your intentions excellent. This is important to remind ourselves of, from time to time.

    I made a responding post on my own blog, responding in part to your thoughts here.

    Best wishes for the new book.

  3. You would be amazed how many poets still have the attitude that the poetry should sell itself and that any kind of self-promotion is just gauche. If you're not willing to stand up and promote your own work, don't expect anyone else to do it for you. That's my motto.