Poetry and Self-Promotion

This post has been prompted by a letter I received, out of the blue, from a Writing student who’s composing a research essay about the connections between getting published and “self-promotion in contemporary poetry in the UK.”  The letter goes on to say that “self-promotion is a rather poor term…… and that online sharing of work……connecting with other poets, etc., is a more helpful way to think about it.”

Keep calm and blow

I agree that there is something extremely distasteful about the idea of self-promotion.  On social media, I tend to unfollow people who bombard me with nothing but links to their own stuff.  It seems obvious that this behaviour is “anti-promotion” and does nothing but repel me from the writer and their work.

Of course, there is a difference between blatant self-promotion and establishing an online presence.  If you’re a writer, especially if you’re a poet published by a small press (like me!), it’s a good idea if people can easily find you online so that they can read some of your work, buy your book, invite you to give a reading or workshop, ask you to judge a competition or to collaborate on a project.  Or simply tell you that they love your poems (you hope!) or all sorts of other interesting reasons that I haven’t thought of.

A blog and Twitter/Facebook account are obvious ways of making it easy for people to find you.  One big advantage of a blog is that you can talk about lots of topics and not just about yourself.  You can promote other people, their work, and events, and not talk about yourself at all.  Of course, readers are still directed towards YOU because they’re reading YOUR words and can see YOUR name somewhere on the page.  The truth is, this kind of blogging is still self-promotion but a much more subtle and wholesome kind: someone, other than you, may benefit from what you’ve written.  However, maybe it’s not completely altruistic.

blow your own greenWhen I started blogging, and started my online poetry site And Other Poems, in 2012, it wasn’t my intention to promote myself but, shock, horror, this has been what has accidentally happened.  I’m not internationally famous (believe it or not) but more than a few poets, and readers, certainly those who use social media, know the site and know my name.  Is this a good thing? Well, I think it’s helped my pamphlet ‘ The Misplaced House ‘ sell reasonably well, maybe better than if I had no online presence.

Did having an online presence help me find a publisher or help a publisher find me?  (which I think is what’s implied in the letter which prompted this post).   I can’t be sure but I don’t think so.  My pamphlet was published in November 2014 at the same time as a pamphlet by Matt Haw and a full collection  by Chelsea Cargill, neither of whom,  as far as I can see, have a blog or any kind of social media account.  We all sent work during the open submission window.  In the case of tall-lighthouse, Editor Gareth Lewis seems to publish poetry collections he likes, rather than poets he’s heard of.  Maybe it’s a different story for other publishers.

If it wasn’t my intention to be a blatant self-promoter, why DID I start blogging and sharing poems online?  Well, lonelybecause I was lonely.  I’d been reading and writing poetry seriously since 2010 when I was a runner-up at Bridport (I wrote about this here) but I didn’t know anyone in Trowbridge, the small town in West Wilshire where I live, who shared my interest.  I wanted to be in touch with people who were like me.  It had been easy when I was a student in Chichester and at UEA but now I was completely outside any writing community.

When poets started sending their work to And Other Poems, I started reading more widely, not only their work but work by writers like them or who they recommended.  On Twitter, I’m directed towards poets and their work.  People tweet lines from poems they’re reading or post links to their work.  If I read a poem I love, I tend to buy the book.  However, I can’t read everything.  If a writer is shouting “Read my poem, read my poem!” I tend to be put off.  If someone other than the writer, maybe more than a few people, is saying “Oh, read this!”, I might be persuaded. (I know that I’ve read somewhere that there is no link between a sale of a book and its promotion online but I’m sure this will change over time or maybe it’s something that is difficult to accurately quantify.  But I can’t be alone in my online reading/buying habits).

I find out about readings, workshops and festivals from my connections online.  If people didn’t tweet or blog about such things, or post links on Facebook, I wouldn’t know about them.  And the odd bit of blatant self-promotion?  It’s true that, about once a fortnight, I tweet details about how to buy my pamphlet from the tall-lighthouse website and I can’t  say that I’m offended when other writers do the same.  If someone’s overdoing it, there’s always the option to mute/unfollow/or block someone (even me).

Those are my thoughts.  How do you feel about it all?  Leave a comment below if you’d like to share your views.

31 thoughts on “Poetry and Self-Promotion

  1. Tom D'Evelyn says:

    I was an agent and magazine editor for years before I started blogging. I still distinguish between writers who merely SELF-promote and those who have something to say in whatever form, including the tweet. It takes discipline to be a blogger and keep attracting new followers, but the displine should start with the artistic conscience. The ultimate form is civil conversation.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Clarissa Aykroyd says:

    Yes, I think to a certain extent it’s self-promotion, but some is far more blatant and cynical than others. There is likely an element of wanting people to recognise your name, know your work, etc, but it’s usually easy to tell the difference between people who are curious and enthusiastic and want to engage in conversation and learn – along with a healthy type and degree of self-promotion – and people who just spam you with ads and self-congratulatory comments.

    When I started blogging about poetry it was mainly an outlet. It has definitely led to making lots of connections and also, I think, to helping get my own poems published (although modestly so far) – none of which I particularly expected. I mainly wanted to write and see where it took me. Sometimes I feel a little odd somehow about how it also seems to have “helped” or made me more “known”. But it’s normal really, especially with any type of smallish artistic community. And if you are making a contribution and making exchanges, instead of just attempting to take or sell, I think it’s all good.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Tom D'Evelyn says:

    Blogs have voices, and a given writer may write in diverse modes. Another aspect of this topic is the blog as a form of publication for a serial poem. I have several blogs. Each is devoted to a different voice. I have a diary blog and a poem blog and a blog where I write about contemporary poems by others. The poem blog is like the diary blog because it follows the life of an estuary pond near my home; for about six years I wrote a Sunday poem (a nod to Wendell Berry). I am an American but write mostly about Irish poets. The situation may seem “American” to many in its expansiveness, though the style of the poetry, besides being polyvocal, is super-condensed. I have to remind myself to promote this stuff. Just posting doesn’t do it.

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    • Josephine Corcoran says:

      I must admit that I don’t give enough thought to promoting what I write on this blog. I certainly don’t like to overdo it as I think it alienates people. I feel more comfortable promoting the poems (by others) which appear at And Other Poems but a direct consequence of that is that people have become aware of me. Anyway, thanks, again for contributing.

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  4. Peter Raynard says:

    Nice post Josephine and I think you have a perfect balance in terms of writing about poetry, promoting other peoples’ poetry and highlighting your own writing; it never feels like self-promotion and is always interesting. Your blogs were an inspiration and model for my Proletarian Poetry site.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Jill Pearlman says:

    You sum up astutely the paradox of the online writers’ community. Coming home on the plane from the AWP writers conference, I sat next to another writer. When I mentioned that I sometimes feel “isolated,” she looked at me oddly, thought for a sec and said she never feels isolated. She has a very active FB/Twitter life. She struck me as a well-balanced person, not the odd bird that many writers, including me, are. It’s taken me several years to embrace the Net. Like you, I cringe at all forms of self-promotion. But I’ve started to let another impulse override anxiety: I have something to say. I agree with Tom’s comment that being part of the civilized discourse can only be positive. Artists and poets can expand ways of thinking and open consciousness. I also write a blog where I advocate for what the arts bring to a polarized world. We can think “in the white space.” Reacting against naysayers fires me up.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Dorothy Baird says:

    This is a very timely post for me as I’ve been thinking about all this myself recently.. I don’t blog; began to once or twice then stopped, wondering who on earth was going to read it and just what might I be able to say that other people could be interested in. Also, with the nearly full-time work I do and family commitments, any left over time I need to spend writing my poems or I’d be blogging rather than actually writing. I had a collection published several years ago and another one due this year, and I know that yes, I really ‘ought’ to be doing self promotion, particularly in this year of it being published…but….I just can’t quite bring myself to make it the top priority that it needs to be in order to actually get done. Is it remnants of my Scottish upbringing? Getting above myself?! Obviously not. I don’t think of other folk who do it in those terms, so … maybe it’s just a new form of shyness?
    The other day I realised that none of my friends – all close lovely friends – are writers and that as a result I’m very much on the margins of any writing community (well, not even close to the margins..), and having a blog or online presence would be one way of rectifying that. But it’s not something I desperately ‘need’…. I don’t feel ‘lonely’ as a writer as one of the other comments was saying.. So round and round I go in circles. And yes, I’ve found the time to write this (!) but it’s not a regular commitment..
    How do you find/make the time to do the blogs? I think the idea of promoting other people’s work is great (gets rid of the ‘who’s interested in my waffle’ element) – and I get your blog in my inbox and very much enjoy the poems, but again, I don’t know how you manage it timewise.. Or is it ‘just’ a case of prioritising?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Josephine Corcoran says:

      Thanks for commenting, Dorothy. I don’t think you should feel pressured to be online, especially if it’s something you feel uncomfortable about. If you want to do it, it’s a good idea. If you don’t want to do it, don’t! I enjoy sharing other people’s work at And Other Poems, it broadens my reading and it’s brought me into contact with writers who have now become friends. I find time to do it because I enjoy it. I don’t have time to read many submissions so I don’t operate an open submissions policy at the moment. I also have periods when I close submissions completely. I try to blog here once a week but sometimes it’s little more than posting a photo. I should mention, as well, that my publisher, tall-lighthouse, isn’t on Twitter and has a patchy Facebook presence, so this blog enables me to provide a link to the tall-lighthouse website. So much depends on individual circumstances. Anyway, many congratulations on your forthcoming publication 🙂

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  7. charles says:

    All quite strange, to me as small-press publisher of poets. Most of the poets I publish are dead, abroad, or simply not interested in doing readings or having Facebook or Twitter accounts. Some of them do, but absolutely no pressure from me to do this. With the ones who don’t put themselves about, maybe fewer sales, but it hasn’t made any difference in terms of prizes or shortlistings. That self-promotion on social media is considered necessary is more than simply daft, it’s a betrayal of of writing. Fine if you want to engage in this way, but this has nothing to do with the writing or why I might want to publish it. The ‘online writers’ community’ – Jill Pearlman’s phrase, above – is very far from being inclusive of all good writers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Josephine Corcoran says:

      Thanks for your comment, Charles, it will be helpful to the student who wrote to me about their research essay on poetry and self-promotion. I love Dan O’Brien’s book which I bought from you, not because it won an award or because lots of people were mentioning it in tweets and on Facebook (of course, my interest was piqued by all of this!) but because Dan responded to my tweet to him and sent some poems to And Other Poems.

      Jill Pearlman is, I think, responding to my comment about being lonely and finding a way to be in touch with other writers via the internet. The internet is a gift for people living in remote places, or who are, for whatever reason, not able to socialise with people sharing similar interests, there’s nothing daft about that.

      What I’m trying to say in this post, and what people have said in subsequent comments, is that there is an accidental element of self-promotion in all social media exchanges and that can be beneficial. The more accidental the better, the more blatant and ugly, the least beneficial. Thanks, again, for commenting.

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  8. Robin Houghton says:

    Thanks for this post, Josephine, really great. I agree it’s a complex situation and I find it interesting when sometimes people get a bit heated about it (as per one or two of the comments here).

    There are many different forces at work here and I think it’s useful to distinguish between having a social web presence (so that you can be found by anyone who’s interested, showcase some of your work and, discuss work in progress or what you’re reading, making new acquaintances in your areas of interest… etc) and just being a self-promoter. Self-serving individuals in all areas of work life have always existed, it’s just that the web gives them a (potentially) bigger megaphone. But it doesn’t really matter, because online they are easy to block or avoid. Not so easy ‘in real life’.

    Having said that, I don’t believe all serial self-promoters are evil – there are large numbers of people who just don’t know any better. As you know, my business is online communications and (disclosure alert) I train and mentor writers in how to establish an ‘author platform’ or ‘social web presence’ (whatever one wishes to call it), and I meet people all the time who’ve been told by their publisher that they ‘need to be on Twitter’ or who feel somehow under peer pressure to blog or use Facebook. They don’t want to spend time on social media, they think it’s a waste of time, and they’ve no idea what else to talk about except their latest book, because that’s what they’re there for. I really don’t see any point in ‘doing’ this stuff unless you’re open to its positive possibilities and willing to learn new skills, get out of your comfort zone and embrace the challenge.

    You’re absolutely right when you say that altruistic behaviour begets a nice return of kudos. Not only that, but it feels good to help others. I guess it’s the basic human instinct on which charities and volunteer organisations rely. It’s a fine balance though. There’s a difference between ‘doing something for other people’ and ‘doing something for other people and drawing attention to it.’ Personally I find this more irritating than the blatant (and somehow more honest?) ‘buy my book’.

    The social media thing doesn’t suit everyone. I can understand individuals being reluctant to ‘be social’, but I don’t really understand why a poetry publisher (if it is a business) would not have some sort of social web presence. They have nothing to lose and everything to gain in terms of increased readership and exposure to opportunities that would otherwise not materialise. They also do their stable of poets/writers a disservice if they don’t support them in this way – we live in a digital age, whether we personally like it or not.

    I do slightly bristle when it’s suggested that poets who actively network online are probably lesser poets that those who don’t, the implication being that if you ‘need’ to do all this social media stuff then clearly your work isn’t fine enough to stand alone, and that’s because you’re obviously posting photos of Justin Bieber and not spending enough time in your garret.

    Sorry for the length – I almost deleted this and was going to put it on my own blog as a separate post, but decided it was best to place it here within the conversation.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Josephine Corcoran says:

    Thanks, Robyn. Shame I don’t have a little side-table available, complete with a bottle of wine, for you and Dorothy to sit and talk things over! I think I just want to say again that it’s never a good idea to do something that makes you feel uncomfortable and there are many different ways of establishing an internet presence. I can’t imagine that there are many poetry publishers telling their poets to be on Twitter but I can see it’s completely different for writers of other genres. I take on board your comment about poetry publishers having a social media presence but there seem to be a surprising number who aren’t that active there – could this simply be to do with lack of time as well as a belief that it isn’t essential? Finally, I admire what you’re doing to establish a small press and promote your writers and the imaginative way you combine online and real life events to support them. Clearly, this approach is working well for you and TellTale Press. Thanks, once again, for taking the time to comment.

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  10. David Pollard says:

    The Corcoran site as always worth a good look – too interesting to pass over and I find I have spent half an hour reading it. And, oh dear, yes, I have bought the book.
    So let’s see: a prose book in the making, a long poem in revision, a publication to prepare, readings to get ready, design work. . . and then there’s also a life to be lived outside of all this. How to find time to blog? I have a site (davidpollard.net if you’re interested) but rarely change it. It has lots of visits but no messages. Should I be more active? My two poetry publishers so far – Waterloo and Perdika – have sites which don’t seem to be very active – but then again they have a huge amount to do also. My next is with Agenda so we will see.
    So let’s make a pact with myself. I will post a new blog once a week. That should take about an hour or so and I will report back to the Corcoran on how it goes.
    And – really – thanks for the blog. I dip into it more than most.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. drewdog2060drewdog2060 says:

    I agree with you, one should not spam people as it is bad manners and turns them away from you. I will mention on my site if one of my books receives a good review. However I also welcome guest posts and have published quite a few including articles by other writers.
    Is your collection available in ebook or recorded format? I am blind and can not read print. I use the text to speech facility on my Kindle and software called Jaws which translates text into speech and Braille using a Windows computer.

    Kevin

    Liked by 1 person

  12. David Pollard says:

    Josephine
    Agree about Amazon and tried Leanpub as an alternative but they make poetry very difficult to format and they sold zilch. I have put many Waterloo Press poets up on Kindle and some of my own. They sell in dribbles. Would be happy to do yours if you create a site for yourself which is easy and give me the necessaries.

    Liked by 1 person

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