After Your Book is Published, Then What? Getting Your Work Out There

by Sandy Stark

A good year later, I still remember driving home from the printer with those neatly boxed copies of my first poetry book from Fireweed Press. I immediately signed and gave one to the first friend who happened to be home on a Friday afternoon. Other friends dropped by; my publisher arranged the official book launch/reading in November; I arranged another in December.

I started carrying boxes of books in my car. Friends wanted more for holiday gifts; neighbors seemed curious; I took books to my gym, my walking group, to potlucks, to family over Christmas. I was on a roll.

And then it was January. I seemed to have exhausted the first circles of connections. What next?

Well, a trip to Texas to visit family and friends happened, and with it, the chance to read to a friend’s birding club in a small town east of San Antonio. The setting was one I couldn't have imagined: a combination cafe, coffee shop, and chiropractic office called ChiroJava .

That morning inspired this poem:

The Economics of Poetry

Spend $325 for a plane ticket to Texas,
put $50 worth of gas in your sister’s SUV,
drive an hour to a small town coffee shop,
read to a dozen folks, half in conversations
of their own, sell 4 books ($12 each),
give a freebie to the owner, buy lunch,
then walk back to the car alone,
find a ticket for 25 bucks
for violating a two hour parking zone.

The story still makes me laugh, but in a good way: I finally realized how much it would take in terms of time and guts to introduce my work to a wider audience. Lucky for me, I enjoy reading my poems to people, so the question was, how could I translate that to securing reading and sales venues? 

I found a few answers that worked for me.

1.  I approached nature and birding centers/stores.  The title of my book, Counting on Birds, puts me into this niche category. Why not take advantage?  I was looking for reading venues as well as sales; and if I could donate a percentage to places I supported anyway, all the better.
As it turned out, what could have been a routine visit to a nature organization turned into a conversation and opportunity for book sales; multiple visits to my local birding supply store resulted in book sales, first, at a table for display/ signing; next, an inquiry to a birding newsletter about a book review turned into a wonderfully personal recommendation later. And all while talking about things I enjoy.

2.  I chose independent bookstores over national chains. This strategy suits the “first book/little known/local” status I am in. And, because we still have these bookstores that support us and are familiar places for poets to gather and read, it’s important that we support them, too.

3.  I discovered the power of book clubs.  Actually, they discovered me. Friends who saw me get excited about my first drafts (I admit to carrying the first mockup of my book everywhere) invited me to their book club meetings; my first exposure, early last year, was to five women who had read my book cover to cover, taken notes, and bombarded me with questions the second I sat down— technically, I didn’t do a reading at all that day.  If you think book clubs are just for prose books, think again. I’m now trying to snag a poetry reading for an environmental book club in the area.

4.  I’ve fallen in love with house readings.  Why? Because you can discuss the background to your poems, invite your neighbors, some of whom are IN my poems, to tell their side of your story, count on their interest to keep the event entertaining. And you can all just walk there, in any weather, any time of the year.

5.  I enjoy performing poetry in public places. At the farmers’ market, a quick reading became a barter opportunity: a poem, or a book of poems, for produce. In an art and framing store, as part of planning how to frame one of my poems as a gift. In my fitness center, as part of a discussion about redesigned lockers.

In fact, that’s one of the biggest surprises to me over the last years, having been a previously fairly shy reader. I think it involves taking my work more seriously, as well as a basic trust that friends, neighbors, and strangers can connect with at least some of the stories I tell.

There’s a new reality to marketing yourself in a crowded world: sometimes you just have to be a little shameless about announcing what you do.  Keep books in your car; carry bookmarks like business cards in your shoulder bag. And keep your energy up. It really does pay off in many more ways than you might think.

I should tell you that after I got that parking ticket in Texas, I drove to the county courthouse, fully intending to plead my case. When the clerk couldn’t find my information in the computer, she asked when I’d gotten the ticket. An hour ago, I said. Oh Hon, she replied, that isn’t even entered into our system yet; give us a week. I thanked her and left, discreetly tucking that copy of my book back into my bag. I mailed the check the very next day.