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David S Taub

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  1.  It all comes down to this

Promoting Your Poetry and Writing. - Part 8 of a 9 part series
by David S Taub
Saturday, June 22, 2002

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Promoting Your Poetry and Writing.
(Part 8 of 9)

If someone tells you that marketing and promotion has nothing to do with poetry, or writing in general, or at least nothing to do with the 'success' of your writing being seen and heard, either they are kidding themselves or kidding you!

This was a topic I covered and emphasised in a six week online course, which I ran for Nancy Kobryn's 'Online Academy' teaching organisation. It may or may not come as surprise to you that some very successful writers and poets come not from a traditional academic background, but in fact a commercial background - including marketing and promotion. As an example, Dana Gioia in California, whose poetry and articles have appeared in a number of very large publications, has featured on various radio programs including the BBC (England) discussing the subject of poets' backgrounds.

And in spite of what you may or not perceive as the various 'ingredients' which go in to the making of a poet's success, it is a fact that many, if not all, of the 'top name' poets are active promoters and 'marketers. That includes the former USA's poet Laureate, Robert Pinsky, featured in one of IPM's issues [For which this article was originally written]. How do I know this? Well the fact that he has a 'press kit', which I received on request, may convince you.

And though some of them may point out it is not they who 'personally promote themselves', but rather a 'publicist' (albeit maybe in the guise of 'secretary' or agent), there is no real difference between 'third party representation' or 'self-promotion'. No difference, that is, when it boils down to the end result of having one's name and work 'exposed' - 'promoted' - to the big wide world.

I am always bemused how some folks get in their mind that 'self-promotion' compared to 'third party promotion' is 'unsavoury' - bragging even! If it will make you feel 'cleaner', then sure, go ahead and employ someone to do your 'dirty work' for you!

Is the concept of 'promotion' something new in the world of writing? Not if my understanding is correct, where I have heard on a number of occasions, that the world-renowned Ernest Hemmingway spent more time promoting than writing!

But when all is said and done, without sharing, presenting, promoting (whatever word you feel comfortable with), there is no basis for bemoaning your 'lot', if 'everyone else' seems to receive attention except you! And believe me, having worked with some of the most experienced professionals in the field of Marketing, Promotion and Public relations, it is extremely hard work, requiring (as previously mentioned in other articles of mine) a 'long-term consistent persistence'.

Any professional in the field of marketing and promotion will tell you that one of the main 'tools' for successful and effective promotion is 'market research'. And if 'marketing and promotion' is such a taboo for poets, why are there so many resources on the market for us poets?

For instance, there is what is probably the world's largest listing of poetry publishers, of all shapes and sizes, - The Poets Market. The 1999 edition lists somewhere in the region of 1,800 publications world-wide.
Personally, I have never really used it to 'pro-actively' seek out publishers, to submit work to. Rather, I have used it as a reference source. Similarly, I would not suggest you dismiss a publisher you may come across, simply because they are not listed in this marketing resource. I merely consider it a very good representation of what is happening in the poetry publishing world.

Should you come to the decision to develop a 'marketing strategy' in an attempt to get your work more widely into print, what might be a good approach?

In spite of my repeated advice, and the advice of most editors / publishers to undertake some market research before engaging on a vague 'mail-shot exercise', this still seems to go unheeded by a vast number of folks trying to establish their work in the world of poetry. But consider this advice in the context of one of the 'laws of marketing', which was told to me by a marketing friend who personally worked with one of the world's most successful British 'entrepreneurs' - Richard Branson - founder of the 'Virgin' empire. Maybe the name sounds familiar - the Virgin music chain-store in England, Virgin Atlantic airways, etc.

The 'law', I am told, (which is based on statistical research) states that a 'random mail-shot' is considered to have been successful if it gets a 2% return. How does this relate to submitting poetry? Well effectively, if you were to send your poems out to 100 publishers, knowing only that they 'print poetry', you can count yourself lucky if 2 accept your work!

Your 'chances' increase the more 'targeted' you aim your submissions. It is worth the time and effort in the long run identifying where your work may most likely 'fit'. In fact, you can make it quite a fun exercise if, instead of feeling your 'fate' rests with the publishers' decisions, you turn your 'approach' around and decide which publishers you will and will not give the choice of reviewing your work!
In other words, you draw up a list of what criteria they must meet to review your work!
Each person's 'criteria list' will vary, obviously.

For example, what criteria must a publisher meet, before I will consider submitting my work to them? (And if you are thinking, "Hey, isn't this arrogant on your part?" I would ask those of you who have a child or sibling, "Hey, wouldn't you carefully select who you want as a child-minder to look after your kids?").

I think if I had to try and list what I consider some of the most important qualities that I look for in a publisher they would include:

Diversity of styles and diversity of 'topics'. Concerning the poets they feature, I would look for diversity of 'geographical locations and cultures'. I also point-blank refuse to submit to a publisher who only wants 'previously unpublished work' or the other extreme of only 'previously published work'.

Applying these criteria, it is quite easy to eliminate publishers from a listing which gives 'guideline details'. Furthermore, it does no harm, when contacting those publishers you have selected, to explain why you chose to write to them, asking for a back issue to examine, prior to your final choice of submitting your work to them. If you re-read my personal criteria, you will realise that, in essence, it goes some way to identifying the more 'open-minded' and flexible publishers. Curiously enough, and based on personal experience, I have also found these type of publishers tend to be more 'sociable' and in contact with other like-minded publishers - better networkers.

Copyright David Taub (, 1999

Due to appear as a series in "Florida Palm" (Florida Writers' Association membership magazine), 2002

David Taub is a member of
The British organisation 'National Union of Journalists' (NUJ);
The Florida Writers' Association;
Columnist for the UK magazine 'Poetry Now';
Freelance writer for various UK and USA magazines;
Co-author of Language of Souls (listed on

Part 8 of a 9 part series

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Reviewed by Tami Ryan 12/7/2003

Thanks so much for this informative, interesting article.

Just as an aside? I did find the overuse use of quotation marks distracting. Although I found it an initial adjustment, my editor reminds me that quotation marks should only be used when a term is unfamiliar to the reader. (Also, quoting "The Gregg Reference Manual", "when using technical terms, business jargon, or coined words or phrases not likely to be familiar to your reader, enclose them in quotation marks when they are first used.")

For example: In the following sentence, if you aren't comfortable with the word [law], perhaps you could use the phrase [the unspoken rule OR the rule, as I understand it]. "The 'law', I am told, (which is based on statistical research) states that a 'random mail-shot' is considered to have been successful if it gets a 2% return."

"Your 'chances' increase the more 'targeted' you aim your submissions." In this sentence, quotation marks wouldn't be needed at all, as the words are easily understood as they stand alone.

(I'll be quiet now...)

This was well worth the read. I look forward to reading the entire series.
Thank you,
Reviewed by Tonia Polak (Reader) 11/12/2002
This article offers some very sound advice for the struggling "artist". You have a very broad knowledge base in this field and I'm grateful that you've chosen to share it with us here.
Reviewed by Janet Caldwell 9/13/2002
As a poet who is about to sign my first contract, thank you. LOL I am scared to pieces. Honestly, Thank you, I do read you though I don't comment.

Regards, Janet xoxoxoxo
Reviewed by Betsy Pegg (Reader) 7/5/2002
I absolutely loved this! Finally someone who writes honestly about poetry/promoting & writing. I'm going read everything of yours I can get my hands on. Thank you.
Blessings, Betsy Pegg :)
Reviewed by Lori Moore 6/22/2002
Thanks again. Only one more... I have really emjoyed this.
Reviewed by Sandie Angel 6/22/2002
Nice write, great information!

Sandie Angel :o) / May Lu $*_*$
Reviewed by Tomas Ughdair (Reader) 6/22/2002
Hi David,
All good sound business advice,as in all the arts.
Where in whom you know is always more advantageous,that what you know.
I remember when I had music BA's sweeping the floor and making my coffee,when they knew the Head of a music Academy,was due to arrive,nine times out of ten that person never even noticed their beautiful playing,having already given a nod and a wink regarding who should be this years discovery.
Very interesting write.
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