Poets are Weird

It’s not that I don’t love you guys, I do. But if we are all of the belief that poetry does not sell and some of you are of the belief that $250 is not too much to give someone to publish something that–no matter what promotional efforts might go into it–won’t sell, why would you not just self-publish? If I had used CreateSpace’s templates, I could have published A City of Ghosts for $40 (since I chose to distribute it through Ingram). As it was, I spent maybe $100 more than the $250 they’re throwing around and I made it back plus more by selling under 300 copies. If I’d spent $40, I’d have needed to sell about 15 books to make my money back.

So, someone, preferably a poet, explain to me why having someone else publish your POD book that’s going to sell 300 copies, if you’re lucky, is preferable to you publishing your POD book and possibly selling 300. Shit, even if you sold 150 copies, you’d be money ahead. Is it the cache of being “selected”? But where does that cache go once you realize that any fool with $250 can get “selected”? Is it about having a good editor? What?

I’ll say, I have mixed feelings about self-publishing, but if I were publishing in a genre in which I was an active participant and in which there was a finite, small audience I knew how to reach because I was also an active member of that audience, I’d start to question, hard, what a publisher could do for me that I couldn’t do for myself.

Edited to add: I messed up that link up there, but it’s better now.

Edited again to add more: New authors will sell, on average, twenty-five to thirty books?! Okay, fine, I am not an avant garde poet, but this bowls me over. Do avant garde poets not have grandmas? Do they not have avant garde poet friends who buy their books out of hope that, when the friend’s book gets published the now-published avant garde poet will buy it?

Why in the world do you need a publisher to sell thirty books? This is baffling. You could literally sell thirty xeroxed copies of your work if you put together an interesting-enough poetry reading.

Avant garde poets, heed my advice. Get on CreateSpace or one of the other self-publishing websites yourself. Learn how to lay out your poems how you want them in Word. It won’t be fabulously pretty, but it will be fine. Use one of their covers. Cost to you so far? $0. Do not pay for your own ISBN. Let CreateSpace assign you one of theirs. Don’t worry about paying extra to have it more widely distributed, if your goal is to just sell 20-30 copies. Upload the book. Order your check copy to make sure it looks how you’d like it to look.

Fix what’s fucked.

Order another check copy. If it’s fine, release your book. You’re still only out about $10 at this point.

Spend some time researching the email addresses of every local media outlet in your town and every blog and website that covers poetry that you regularly read. Send them all an email press release announcing your book and telling them a little about yourself. In the emails you send to local media, tell them that you are a local author.

Then email every single person who you know and tell them you have a book and give them a link to how to order it.

Voila! You will sell 20-30 copies of your book and you’ll get $6-$7 a piece. So, shoot, even if you sell two copies, you’ll have made your money back.

You do not need a publisher to sell 20 or 30 copies of jack shit. And you certainly don’t need to pay someone $250 to sell 20-30 copies of a book you can sell yourself for about $10.

My god, you’d be better off to use your $250 to hire a poetry editor to go over your poems before you self-publish them, because at least you get all the royalties.

There is no reason, none at all, to have someone else publish a book that will sell so few copies. You can definitely do that yourself.

Things I’m Thinking About

I’ve been spending a lot of time researching Sue and Ben Allen and trying to get a feel for the Nashville they would have grown up in while I mull over what kind of story I would like to write about them. And the thing I’ve been thinking hardest about is how to write a Southern, white protagonist from a slave-owning family, whose brother died fighting for the Confederacy, whose husband probably died fighting for the Confederacy, and whose brothers-in-laws and cousins all fought for the Confederacy. And yet, whose family also did a lot of that “racial-uplift” crap when it became popular at the end of the century.

So, I think it’s probably the case that the Allens were never not white supremacists, who believed that the proper order of the world was for them to be as magnanimous in their superior places as they could be to the black people they knew who were “acting correctly” and trying to “better” themselves, as patronizing and bullshit as those ideas are.

It’d be dishonest to write them as ever becoming completely comfortable with black people’s equality.

And yet, Ben Allen was given a Buddha from a Persian, as the story goes, and he was intensely curious about the magical practices of people worldwide. I think Sue’s enthusiasm was probably equal, if not limited by the constraints put on women. And Middle Tennessee, like any other place filled with black people, would have been filled with conjure folks. It seems implausible to me, if not improbable, that they wouldn’t have availed themselves of that magical resource.

By necessity, these protagonists of any story I would write–the “best” they could be, given their historical constraints–are racist people who are considered kookie for not being as racist as their neighbors and who ran around co-opting the knowledge of people with less power than them.

And I want to play that right, you know? I don’t want to write a story in which the actions of the good guys aren’t deeply troubling. But I also want to write a story about these people who were doing this funky shit right in downtown Nashville.

So, that’s what I’ve been mulling over.