Thursday, May 5, 2011

How I Sold Out My Poetry Collection

On April 1, I officially released my self-published poetry chapbook ENTER. Before the month was over, I'd already sold out--and not just to friends and family. Copies of ENTER are either at or on their way to nearly all 50 states and quite a few countries, including Canada, Mexico, Ireland, Germany, Israel, Australia, and India. Today, I had to turn away my first would-be buyer, because all the copies are claimed. In this post, I'll detail what I think I did to sell out the collection within a month of the official release.

It took more than 17 years and 10,000 crappy poems to finally assemble the 21 poems in ENTER.

Work on craft
It all begins with the craft, and I've been filling up composition notebooks with crappy poems for more than 17 years now. I'm fairly certain I've written more than 10,000 poems in that span. Out of that spectacular wave of failed verse emerged the 21 poems that comprise ENTER.

Build an audience
The writing comes first, but a poet (or any writer) can start building an audience on Day 2. In high school, I'd fill composition notebooks with my poetry and pass the books around to my friends asking for them to indicate which ones they liked best. I used their input to help me figure out what appealed to my target audience. In college, I signed up for creative writing courses, which are heavy on the workshopping, and I read at a few open mics (shy as I am). Post-college, I was flung into speaking and then jumped at the chance to blog about poetry at Poetic Asides. If it weren't for the audience I'd already built, I probably would not have had the courage to attempt releasing ENTER. So while the writing is important, so is having a readership to share it with.

Make unique experience
I've known for a long time what I like and don't like in poetry collections--just the presentation of them. And for poetry chapbooks, I really like the old fashioned foldover variety without too much in the way of flowery design elements. Actually, my wife Tammy was lucky enough to have two very good chapbooks published through Rose of Sharon Press and Verve Bath Press. Anyway, I wanted something simple and personal to share with my readers. That's what I think ENTER is.

Two words: Limited Edition
It's hard to sell out if there is no finish line. I didn't know what to expect when I set my limited edition at 101 copies. Now that I've sold out before finishing the first month, I'm wondering if I set the bar too low, but I may have picked the perfect number. After all, there are now 101 copies of ENTER that are perfectly personal and unique. I can get more ambitious next time around.

Building anticipation
The official release date was April 1, which I chose because I had two writing events lined up for early April: the Blue Ridge Writers Conference and the Austin International Poetry Festival. However, I didn't wait until April 1 to start building excitement about the project. I made my first announcement on December 15, followed by an update on December 21. On January 6, I began accepting payments for pre-orders. I think I had nearly half the copies claimed by April 1.

And those are the main reasons I think the collection went as fast as it did. In future posts about the collection, I hope to cover kind of the back-end process and lessons learned. In the meantime, read this super sweet review of ENTER from Maureen Doallas.


Follow me on Twitter @robertleebrewer


It's too late to get a copy of my poetry collection, but it's not too late to check out some of my favorite collections by other poets:


Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing how you did this, Robert, and congratulations on your success!

Robert Lee Brewer said...

Thank you, Kathleen! And sure thing.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations, Robert! I'm glad I was one of the lucky ones to snag a copy. It really is a great collection -- I keep re-reading my favorites.

You should get to work on the next one...


Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing. Self-promotion is a necessity these days; and you've obviously done a good job.

Unknown said...

This Poetic Asides alumnus says "congrats" to you Robert!

Robert Lee Brewer said...

Thanks, Amanda! I do have a newer set of poems that I've been working on. ENTER kind of gave closure to my early writing and released me to chase down these newer lines. I doubt I'll self-pub again this year, but next year's not off the table.

Thanks, Patricia and Brandon!

Anonymous said...

i will let you know which is my favorite when i receive and read my copy.
nance in oregon

Sheila said...

great, Robert! glad I got my copy as well. I will be posting a review of ENTER soon.

Also, learning a lot from you as I just released my "old fashion" chapbook on May 1st(with a fairly similar anitcipation build as you used.) I must admit, I straight out stole your idea and made mine limited to 101 copies as well, but being that I do not have the audience you do, I am far from sold out.

However, I feel like a success regardless of how many copies I sell because it was fun and I feel like I accomplished something grand.

best wishes,

Robert Lee Brewer said...

I hope you do, Nance. Your copy should drop this week.

Sheila, be sure to let me know when the review is up. I'd love to read it. I'm totally fine with you stealing my idea. Good luck with the experience. And yes, you have accomplished something grand (and fun).