The Completely Effable Business of Poetry

I’m not wild about linking to William Logan’s article, but even MY MOM is cutting it out of the New York Times and MAILING it to me:

another self-indulgent dirge for verse

I’ll save you the bother of reading it. Every New York Times op-ed with a headline such as “Nobody Buys Poetry Books Anymore” is the victim of poor copy-editing. The headline, count on it, should read “Nobody Buys MY Poetry Books, Wah-Wah.” The Grey Lady publishes such articles every six months or so, presumably because some poor soul in the editorial department lost a bar bet.

Market forces still apply, even in art. Especially in art. If nobody is buying YOUR poetry books, the single dumbest thing you can do is blame the consumer. Consumers are famously, notoriously, maddeningly reluctant to change their ways to suit your business model. The idea that society should re-jigger its entire K-12 curriculum to create a “natural” marketplace for poetry books is so absurd on its face that it would be laughed out of the meeting agenda of any local school board. (Yet not so absurd, apparently, that it would be laughed out of the opinion pages of the New York Times.)

Given that you CAN’T change the consumer, focus on the things you CAN change, such as: your writing, your editing, your hustle, your role. Change those things, methodically, until you find a way to make it work.

Five years ago, I, too, realized that “nobody buys MY poetry books.” Rather than publish a whiny column in the New York Times (a recourse I hadn’t even realized was an option), I decided to work on the things I COULD change. I stopped trying to sell MY poetry and started trying to help other poets sell theirs. It turns out people WILL buy Carrie Rudzinski’s poetry books. People WILL buy Sam Teitel’s poetry books. People WILL buy The Lit Slam’s poetry anthologies. So many people rushed to download free copies of Alight last summer that it crashed our Website, so in desperation I put NOT-FREE copies on and the book promptly hit #1 in Amazon’s “Gay and Lesbian Poetry” sales category.

Sales stats for Alight's final week on Amazon

Yes, Professor Logan, Amazon has multiple sales categories for poetry books. Maybe that means Amazon is trying to re-jigger the reading and purchasing habits of the larger public. Or maybe, just maybe, people are buying enough poetry books to warrant different niches.

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