Welcome back to our new Tuesday segment, where we’ll be revisiting some of our most popular posts from the last few years.  What’s stayed the same?  And what’s changed?  We’ll be updating you on the facts, and taking a new (and hopefully refreshing) angle on a few timeless classics of Self Publishing Advisor.


[ Originally posted: July 1st, 2010 ]

Q: How would I go about publishing an original one-hundred-page poetry book? Generally how much would the profit be from such a book?

A: You have quite a few options and potential paths when it comes to publishing. Before you decide to self-publish or try to sell a book to a publisher, first you must know your goals and assess your abilities. My fifty-minute seminar on CD called “I Finished My Book; What Should I Do Next?” covers the decision-making process, so you’ll know which way to go, whether you want to self-publish or attempt to find a publisher, and if you self-publish, whether you want to use a traditional printer, print-on-demand (POD), or a company that helps in the publishing process. I crammed the seminar with information and included many pages of supplemental printed material, so you can understand why I can’t answer your question in detail in only a few paragraphs.

Here’s a little information to help, though.

If you already know you want to self-publish, your next step depends on whether you want to handle all the pre-printing details, such as editing, internal and cover design, ISBN numbers, and finding a printer, or whether you prefer to rely on a company that handles those details for you—for a price. Read a good book on self-publishing and learn all aspects of it before you make your decision. Also carefully scrutinize the company you choose as a printer or publisher—know there is a difference—and carefully ensure that the services the company provides are the services you need.

You also asked how much profit to expect. Let me first ask a question: When did you last buy a poetry book? If you are like most Americans, you have not bought a single poetry book in the last ten years. Although millions of people write poetry, not many write it well, and even fewer buy poetry books. Poetry books rarely make any profit at all.

Although few Americans make much if any money from poetry, it is the highest form of literary art. Once writers master poetry, they can apply those skills to their fiction and nonfiction and increase their chances of making money with their prose.

My news should not discourage you, however. If you put a great deal of time and effort into marketing, you might make some money after all. At least one poet I know used POD for his books and travels the country giving readings. He writes excellent poetry and performs it well, and he has sold close to a thousand copies of his book. He chose POD, which gives him less profit per book than if he had chosen a traditional printer, but he did not have to invest a huge amount of money up front or store thousands of books, so the tradeoff suits his needs.

As you can see, the answer to both questions—how to go about getting a poetry book published and how much you might profit—are the same: It depends on what you are willing and able to do, and none of the paths are simple. Educate yourself first and then decide what works best for you.

When Bobbie Christmas (author of Write in Style, printed by Union Square Publishing, and owner of Zebra Communications) first wrote this question-and-answer post for us back in mid-2010, the self-publishing market was still young enough that authors could rely on readers to purchase the big “staples” of the book market––meaning fiction, and especially genre fiction––but the so-called “niche” markets and genres were still somewhat a) underdeveloped, b) undiscovered, or c) the data wasn’t available to analyze their profitability.

Luckily, we have on board our Tuesday “From the Archives” vehicle a time machine which allows us to jump five years forward from 2010 … to 2015.  (Please allow me to pretend there’s actual time travel involved!  It’s a Tuesday, after all.)  And when it comes to self-published poetry, we have a great deal more information at our fingertips today than ever before.

First, I might point you to the experience of Mirtha Michelle Castro Marmol, whose book of poems (Letters, to the Men I Have Loved) has not only done moderately well––it has done so exceptionally well as to remain on Amazon’s bestseller lists for months.  MMCM published through Outskirts Press, a hybrid publishing company based out of the Denver area, and OP ran a feature and interview piece with her on their official blog.  “The most rewarding part [of being published] is and will always be the ability Letters has to touch people,” says MMCM. “It’s crazy because I didn’t think people really read books anymore. But for me, having these girls go and buy my book, and spend their twenty dollars or so on Letters––it’s amazing, that someone believes in things still.”  Readers have been snapping up copies of her book, both in physical and digital forms, at such a rate as to firmly prove that people still “really read books”––including poetry.

Secondly, I might point you to this blog post by self-published poets Terri Kirby Erickson and Michelle True.  (Every day there are more and more useful online resources like theirs that are sent out into the aether, and now the greater struggle is not just to find information, but to determine which information is actually useful.)  This particular post is handy, not because it provides a template or how-to guide to put you on a path to success (though it might also do that, in a sense) but because it provides an anthology of the ways in which these two self-published poets have already found ways to sell their books.  If you needed affirmation that you can be a poet, and a self-published poet at that, and find your readers––well, take a look.  Articles like the one Denise Enck wrote for the Empty Mirror is much more prescriptive, and may help fill in the gaps.

Lastly, I might also point you to a bit of anecdotal evidence: Yesterday, I was in my local library, browsing the new additions, when I overheard a patron talking with one of the librarians at the front desk.  “Where would I find the poetry?” she asked.  “I don’t see much of it here.”  The librarian pointed out that the poetry was mixed in with poetry, nonfiction, and even young adult, junior fiction, and junior nonfiction.  “But why?” asked the patron.  “All I want to read is some poetry.  It’s the only kind of book that I actually enjoy!”  The library did happen to have a section dedicated to local authors, many of whom were self-published.

What Bobbie Christmas wrote back in 2010 still holds true: “none of the paths are simple.”  But today we have the benefit of knowing that, while writing remains a highly personal and sometimes borderline crazy endeavor, writers of all types and creeds and genres and niche markets are finding success, finding readers, and finding their true voice.  Keep writing, dear readers.  And keep publishing! ♠

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.

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