on not selling books, not a single one

last Saturday i participated in a local author event at the local barnes and noble. a dozen of us, each with our little black wooden tables, plastic book props, and stacks of books were scattered around the store. i was the only poet. i didn’t sell a single book. 

possibly this was because I was in the back of the store not the front or by the coffee shop, but what is more likely is that my book is a poetry book and most people give poetry a wide berth.

at the signing, still smiling!

before publishing my book, my goal was publishing the book—sort of like the giddy bride planning all the flowers and dresses and colors upon colors—but then once the book was out, That was when real life kicked in, the Marriage.

And since entering into life-with-my-book, i’ve seen more and more that no matter how good your book is, poetry has a small, particular audience, so you have to sift, and search, and find them.

it’s a little more work to convince someone to pick up a book of poems, strange things they don’t think they’ll understand or relate to, rather than to convince them to pick up a novel or memoir, a straightforward story like they are used to.

it can be discouraging—some days I think why did I write this thing that no one wants to read—but that is when I remind myself of the value of a small life, the value of offering creative work to the world, even if the readers are few.

and i know, too, that my editor and press and other “winter geese” completely support and believe in me–i’m grateful to be part of that little literary community and to know that my work was plucked out of the stacks and stacks of submissions, and my editor thought, yes, this book is worth the time. even when not a single book sells at a certain signing.

i’d be lying if i didn’t say i was a little bit bummed about not selling any books; though i’d not expected to sell more than one or two, i had very much hoped to sell at least one. and the pitying eyes of other authors and the event coordinator, oh my.

but i would (and will) go again. it was nice to chat with other authors, particularly others who have published with small presses and know the same benefits and hurdles of doing so. i feel better connected to our small literary community and like i “raised awareness” of my book.

big book stores are perhaps not where the poets ARE–and when scheduling future events, i’d likely do well to focus on indie stores, universities, coffee shops, you get the idea–but how can i complain about a couple of hours spent sipping free coffee in a bookstore, talking to writers about writing? that is a couple hours well spent.

6 Comments

  1. Disappointment has never deterred you and I think that's why you are such a successful person. You don't lose momentum when things like this happen; you rise with new determination.

    If it makes you feel any better, when I worked for a certain unnamed publisher, we very rarely scheduled author signings, even for authors who'd sold thousands of books, because there's just so little turnout for any author. I'm guessing that even the authors of fiction and memoirs at your group signing didn't have lines or waits at their tables. Our PR department relied heavily on blog tours as a marketing strategy; I can email you information on this or I might've already– my memory is failing. I used to set them up for all our fiction authors– I imagine the process would be slightly different for a poet, but the bones of it would be similar.

    Nonetheless, I think it's great you had the opportunity to connect more with your local literary community and, as you said, raise awareness about yourself as an author. People love free things so, maybe at your next signing, you could make bookmarks/postcards with a picture of your book and the URL for your blog? Maybe with free cupcakes or candy? I might be soulless, though– not sure if that takes away from the literary integrity of an event? 😉 I bet if you had something free, you could get more people to come up and start asking questions about your book. We had some local authors at our Barnes & Noble this past weekend, too, and I thought their books looked interesting, but I was scared to approach them because I knew I would feel bad about talking to them without buying a book. At the very least, if you had some free candy or bookmarks, you give passersby the opportunity to approach you, but also walk away comfortably. They can take a bookmark and feel comfortable walking away promising to look you up. Some won't, but I imagine many would. 🙂 This might approach literature as a product rather than literature as art, though…

    I love that picture of you, by the way! You look SO beautiful! Red is totally your color and you look super thin!

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  2. Oh, and I think you should have hung a big sign from your table with more details on your book for people to glance at as they walked by– maybe one of your most awesome lines of poetry– “There is something in love that calls for blood” with a short review blurb– “[A] quietly stunning debut” (Todd Davis)– in all caps so people can see it easily. I think I have the literary approach of an old-time street vendor, though…

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  3. thank you SO MUCH for this advise actually! it was encouraging to me–and no, no one else had tons of people there to get their books signed either, aside from some of their family / friends.

    i had some crappy bookmarks, but i think next time i'll make nice ones, and have some candy. maybe a sign would be good too! i saw a few other authors with those.

    the shirt is from where i get all of my good clothes–Karen's closet–so originally from anthropologie likely. and thank you for the compliments! i've been working hard to lose weight =)

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  4. I am late coming to this post, but I just want to hug you! I love that picture of you and how radiant you look, and I love that you have such a positive spirit. Heather's ideas are great, too. Keep writing and dreaming and hoping, Renee.

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