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.

the larger poem

Over the past six months, I’ve been thinking on a theme for my next book. Keeping Me Still was constructed in the way of most first collections of poetry—I took my best poems, found the common threads, and wove it together into the whole, the “larger poem” (the entire book as a poem in itself). 

I’ve played around with different ideas—a book about the funeral home director’s daughter (I’ve written several poems on her), a book about Sarah and Abraham, one on Anne Bradstreet, one where every poem is derived from a title of a hymn. nothing has stuck. Though I love the idea of approaching the book in the manner of a novelist—writing it as a whole, on a common subject—I don’t seem to work that way. 

I’ve read so many collections that I love that Do work that way—Thomas and Beulah by Rita Dove, Lawrence Booth’s Book of Visions by Maurice Manning—and I have always had this secret longing to be a novelist. 

So I’m wondering now if it is that my writing process—so sporadic, rushed, squeezed into my life as a wife and mother and teacher—doesn’t work with that kind of book and that I should just abandon thinking along those lines, or if it is that I haven’t found the right topic yet.
Either way, a poetry book is written poem-by-poem.  I’m not sure if it truly matters for me to have a “topic” and theme for the next book chosen before the next time to sit down to write, or if I choose it a year from now, looking  at the (hopefully by then) dozen or so poems I’ve written since Keeping Me Still. 

What are your thoughts, dear readers, on thematic poetry books verses “mixed tape” poetry books? Which do you prefer reading, if you do read poetry?

Excerpt from a letter from Beatrice, a friend of my Mawmaw’s

I lived right next door to your grandmother and grandfather, Sudie and Dutch, on Geurney in Memphis, we were young then and loved being neighbors. I have many happy memories of them and the children. Especially do I recall Martha Sue and her great taste for BLTs. . .
I quickly recognized your grandmother’s squirrel brooch in Rachel Sets Up House. I see in your work—family—so many phases—real pictures, real people, real happenings. Keep up your talent. The world today (in my late life) needs less TV, film, “excitement” (trash). More peaceful memories. Have I said too much? Bear in mind I’m 95 and I still love to write and read—thank you God! 
Thank you again,
Mrs. Beatrice Hill