Marketing Your Work by Marketing Yourself: Learn to Present Your Work So It Sells
by Jonathan K. Rice
I have been to thousands of literary events over the past thirty years or so and I’ve hosted a number of those myself. I was also a manager at a major book store for many years and have met many local and well-known authors. As a bookseller, poet, editor and publisher I have learned what some authors do that makes me want to buy their books.
I’ve heard some authors who are really great writers not connect with their audience by simply not reading a portion of their work very well or talking too much about something not very interesting that loses the listener. I have also heard poets and writers who connect really well with an audience by not reading very much of their work, yet engage with the audience as individuals so well, that most of them would not leave without buying a book.
No matter where or when you grew up, you have heard it said that practice makes perfect. If you’re a golfer, you practice your swing. If you’re a musician, you practice playing your instrument. Just as you hone your craft as a writer, you hone your craft as a speaker, and that takes practice.
You can practice in front of a mirror all you want, but you’re only looking at yourself . I suggest getting involved with a group of people, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be a group of writers, although that helps. What’s even better is finding an Open Mike reading in your community. Attend one and check it out. Listen. What reader interests you most? One who speaks shyly in a soft monotone that you can barely hear, or one who projects his or her voice with energy and inflection. Watch body language. A relaxed and confident reader connects with the audience. A stiff and nervous reader doesn’t. Afterward ask yourself: What was read? Did it make sense? Was it interesting? Was it fun? Did I want to hear more?
The next step is jumping in. Every reading has its own rules and time limits. Respect the group and other readers by respecting the rules.
Don’t be shy. Writers can be notoriously shy. Their defense is that writing is a solitary craft. It may be, but you can’t sell a story or a book by shying away from a public reading. You may be an emerging poet or writer, but you have to start somewhere. There are many successful authors who begin this way.
Relax. Breathe. Introduce yourself and if you’re working on a book, mention it by title. Be prepared. Don’t stand in front of the mike awkwardly flipping through pages of a manuscript or book. Have your poem(s) or prose passage selected beforehand. Keep your comments to a minimum. Don’t read something so long that you read it too fast. Don’t read something slowly to fill your time. If you have to explain what you are about to read, then read something else. Unless your subject is serious, a lighthearted and fun approach helps. Make people want to hear more, or better yet buy your book.
Participants in the workshop I’ll be leading will have the opportunity as time permits to read their work in front of the group.
Jonathan K. Rice is founding editor and publisher of Iodine Poetry Journal, which is in its fifteenth year of publication. In 2002 he co-edited the chapbook, Celebrating Life, a project funded by Barnes & Noble in celebration of National Poetry Month and in memory of Dorothy Perry Thompson, noted poet and instructor at Winthrop University. He is the author of a chapbook, Shooting Pool With A Cellist (Main Street Rag, 2003) and a full-length collection, Ukulele and Other Poems (Main Street Rag, 2006). His poetry has also appeared in numerous publications and he has been a longtime host of poetry readings in Charlotte, NC, where he lives with his family. In 2012 he received the Irene Blair Honeycutt Legacy Award for outstanding service in support of local and regional writers, awarded by Central Piedmont Community College. Iodine Poetry Journal has had the distinction of having work included in Best American Poetry 2006, which was selected and edited by former U.S. Poet Laureate, Billy Collins.