Last week saw the final date in the short tour that promoted Murder of Krows 2.
With audiences averaging around 15 per night (excluding performers!) Abigail Wyatt and I felt that
the tour was a great success.
A few Cornish Lit readers have suggested that people might be interested in a brief explanation of how one goes about organizing the production of a poetry anthology and tour. So, if this is something that you are thinking of doing yourself, read on….
The first hurdle you may need to get over is the one of self-justification. This is something that I have addressed in the “Afterword” of Murder of Krows 2. The two fundamental questions are:
- Is my work/ the work of others that I like or respect worth publishing?
- Is publishing my own work “vanity” publishing with all the negative connotations that go with that word?
This depends on several factors: many respected poets begin by publishing their own work; many small poetry presses are run by one or two people yet command a great deal of respect from lovers of serious poetry (examples include Barque Press and Punch Press). Often these operations are just a couple of people with a passion for language and the means of production.
What makes you any different?
The flipside of the argument is that there is an awful lot of poetry out there. There is also an awful lot of inadequate or poorly edited poetry out there. There is also an awful lot of poetry as therapy. Are you going to add to what is essentially poetic detritus or does the work you stand behind have something to say which people may be interested in?
Don Paterson (who I don’t always agree with) states: “serious poets, I should say, don’t start off amateurs, but apprentices – just like any other vocation”. Therefore, it may well be wise to heed this when considering putting work out there. Just because you’ve written it/ read it and liked it doesn’t mean it’s ready.
So how do you know its ready? You don’t – not really. Having said this, here are a few ways in which you could gauge whether there is sufficient interest in the work you have produced or are representing.
- Have you performed it at open mic nights/poetry readings? Do people give you feedback?
- Have you made contact with more established poets who you respect and asked them what they think? Many are prepared to do this although obviously not all of them.
- Have you published any of your poems previously? Where? Did your receive any reactions?
So now I have discussed the issues of whether to publish, let’s consider how.
Murder of Krows 2 looks reasonably professional (so people tell me!). It was designed on a MacBook using Microsoft Word 2011. This is hardly ultra high-tech. Therefore, I would suggest some kind of visual eye and common sense are all you need to design a reasonably good looking poetry pamphlet. Hopefully, so far you have noticed my repetition of the word “design”; making the hard copy of a poetry book can be a little more challenging as well as expensive.
When it comes to producing hard copy you have two options: amateur or professional – both of which have their advantages.
An amateur collection can be produced on a photocopier for next to nothing. If you can recruit some friends who are half way decent artists then you can even make it look quirky and interesting in a 1970s “Sniffin’ Glue” kind of way. This is a perfect if you want to get your work out there and sell it cheaply. There are also independent bookstores that, if you are polite and gracious, may be willing to stock it sale or return. A few pieces of advice: don’t make the mistake I made with the first Murder of Krows by making the writing too small or copyrighting each author’s name under the poem which is entirely unnecessary. Look at other poetry collections to get an idea of style and layout and what to include.
The professional option is only appropriate if you have a lump of spare cash, complete belief in the work and a relentless energy when it comes to promoting it. Abi and I decided to “publish” Murder of Krows 2 with higher production values because we believed in the work (not to denigrate any contributors to the first one) and felt that this was appropriate this time. In addition to this, we had managed to persuade some well-established writers who we respected to submit. This meant that we were able to use this to potentially sell more copies than we would have done otherwise. This is an approach well worth taking but I would only suggest approaching people whose work you genuinely admire, (and that you are able to substantiate this admiration) otherwise your opportunism will quickly become apparent.
If you are still keen to go down this route, you need to make contact with a printer. At this point I will give Booths in Penryn a completely shameless and unasked for plug as they did an excellent job of our anthology. Local writer, illustrator and publisher, Chris Odgers of Sawhorse Books, also uses them and the production values apparent in his work are also to their credit. Another factor to consider in depth is how many copies you should produce. My advice would be 50 unless you know you have an insatiable fan base. Make sure you see a proof before printing and that you check it carefully otherwise you will have 50 inaccurate copies that you are legally obliged to pay for.
The penultimate stage in this process is promotion. Realistically, you are not going to sell any books to people who are not friends and family unless you promote very thoroughly. The reading for the first Murder of Krows attracted thirty plus people but it was promoted on this blog, the local papers and Radio Cornwall. In addition I sent “press packs” to every bookshop in Cornwall as well as putting up posters everywhere and e-mailing and texting everyone I knew or had ever met. I also asked Alan Kent to read which added an established name to the event.
A quick reminder: all of this attracted thirty people. Don’t misunderstand me: thirty keen and enthusiastic supporters of the anthology but it was a lot of work getting them there!
A final point regarding promotion: please do not think that Facebook is the world just because you use it. In my opinion, although it is valid – it is only one form of promotion and not an exceptionally high impact one at that. Ask yourself: which is more striking – a well designed poster in a bookshop that you frequent or a Facebook update?
Of course before you promote your event you will need to have arranged venues, dates and have list of reliable performers (even if you are promoting your own work, you will need a “Support Act”). Here are a list of venues that I have found to be supportive when trying to put on events:
In short go for local independent places but remember that they are doing you do the favour. Don’t expect them to welcome you with open arms – do your homework and make sure people come otherwise their time has been wasted.
That’s about it. I won’t give you my guide as to which are the most appropriate wines to go with a Sestinas (written in quadratic hexameters) as that may well be a bridge too far.
I hope this has been useful. Please feel free to re-blog, re-post, re-quote or downright challenge or disagree with this advice. However, I would appreciate being notified at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally (you knew it was coming) there are only 15 copies of Murder of Krows 2 left…..please buy them and make the world a more poetry loving, literate place. Copies can be bought by e-mailing me at: email@example.com