How to market your poetry reading: finding and keeping your audience

This blog post is about how to market your poetry reading, how to find and grow your audience and turn them into raving fans, who will spread the word about your poetry readings themselves, using the most powerful marketing tool there is, word of mouth.

Check out the other posts in this series:

  1. How to organise a literary event – and why it’s easier than you think
  2. How to market your poetry reading
  3. How to market your poetry reading: your ideal audience

So how do you find your audience?

So how do you find your ideal audience members? Where are they? Well, I said in the previous post that YOU are one of your ideal audience members, so start by asking: where are you? Where do you hang out, what websites do you tap into, where do you go for information, what poetry readings do you go to? That’s where you’ve got to start. Make a list. Target those places first. Do you know what everyone at your poetry reading will have in common, for sure? They all go to poetry readings! (This might be their first one, but that’s not going to be true for the majority.) After you’ve targeted the places you go for poetry reasons, target the wider spread of poetry events in your local area and adjacent towns.

Word of mouth

Word of mouth doesn’t mean tell everyone, it means get the information out to the right people, to the people in your ideal audience. So, do this:

  1. As soon as you know the details – the date, time, venue and readers – go to poetry readings yourself. If you can possibly fix the details three months in advance, do it. That gives you plenty of time to go to readings. If you can’t fix the details in advance, go to poetry readings anyway and collect email addresses.
  2. Contact the organisers in advance. Ask if you can stand up and plug your event, leave a sign-up sheet for your email list by the door, or leave flyers on chairs. If you have been to that reading before, and you’ve said hello to the organiser, they are much more likely to say yes to this request, especially if you have an online presence or a professional and friendly-looking flyer. If you have a team of people, do three events each. Ask people in the audience to tell their friends.

Word of mouth – when you target your ideal audience – is the best form of marketing for your poetry event.

Taking the word of mouth strategy further

The organisers of an existing poetry event are likely to know people interested in poetry. You support them, they’ll support you. Support them a lot, and show you’re professional and friendly, and they email their mailing list for you.

You can get even more Ninja about involving ‘influencers’ like this. Invite someone you know organises or is involved with another reading event to read at your event, or invite a poetry editor who also writes poetry. That way, they will spread the word for you, and their list of contacts will be more established that yours.

Depending on where you live, there may be a writing organisation or a Poetry Library or local poetry press nearby. You’re also likely to have a local independent bookshop and a public library where you can leave flyers. I recommend that you do this:

  • Research organisations (and people within them) to approach. (If you don’t know any writing organisations, find a couple of writing magazines and / or their websites as they are a good place to start your research.)
  • Email to introduce yourself and asking if you can take some flyers in (especially if these organisations are fairly accessible in relation to your venue).
  • Turn up with some flyers and ask where you can leave them.
  • A college that runs poetry courses may advertise to their students for you – send a flyer and ask for it to be passed on to a named tutor if you can find them online.
  • The publisher working with any or all of your readers may also advertise to their list.

“Make money selling cakes”

Marketing isn’t evil or shallow. Sometimes poets are scared to sell their event; they don’t want to be pushy, it’s embarrassing to promote yourself, to blow your own trumpet, and we might be a bit suspicious of marketing in general. I recently went to a roadshow for mums who want to start their own business. Someone there was giving out flyers that said “make money selling cakes”. It was a baking franchise opportunity. This is a really good example of marketing that definitely isn’t evil or shallow! The flyer was advertising a specific opportunity. It was obvious what it was, and clearly communicated. Whether you’re ‘evil’ or not depends on what you’re marketing, and whether you’re doing it in a professional, friendly, reciprocal way (that is, an ethical way). If you’re selling poetry I can pretty much guarantee that your marketing is not evil or shallow, and you can – of course – control whether it’s professional, friendly and reciprocal.

Blow your own trumpet

The above paragraph about marketing is by way of introduction to this. Say what’s good about you. A lot of people have trouble with this. If you find it tricky, team up with the other poets you are reading with, and write something for each other. Where have you been published, where have you read before, have you studied anywhere relevant, have you won or been shortlisted for any competitions, have you got any good reviews? Include only relevant stuff. (If you’re over 21, I don’t recommend going any earlier than 18 with your experience, unless you won something extremely significant as a minor or you were a Young Person’s Laurette or similar.) If you’re a beginner, include special interests, how long you’ve been writing, how many readings you’ve done, any short courses you’ve completed. Write it up. This is going to be the introduction to YOU: either on a flyer or on your blog.

Get something up online

There are plenty of poets who don’t have their own website, but if they have stuff out there you can usually find pages about them on poetry websites, and on YouTube.

If you want to market your poetry readings, it is a good idea to have a website with your own name in the domain. There are plenty of books and blogs out there that will show you how to do it. I like the yellow Dummies books – I used one to teach myself WordPress. You can find it here. However, that can be scary and overwhelming if you’re new to the whole marketing your poetry thing. So start with a free site. You can get a free WordPress.com site in just a few minutes. Go for the basics at first. Put up one page. Tell us a bit about you (see above about blowing your own trumpet) and give us the practical details about the poetry reading. Link to the venue so your audience can find you. Once you’ve got something up online, you can share it on social media, or email it to your friends.

Have an email list

There are various software companies offering list building – such as Mail Chimp – but you can start with a grid printed on a piece of paper. Ask permission, then pass it round at the poetry readings you go to, or leave it by the door. That way, when you email people you can target those already interested in poetry events.

Ready for the next step?

Once you’re ready to take things a bit further with your online presence, have a look at how other poets do it. These are people I know about. Find your own examples by googling poets you like.

Judy Brown

Inua Ellams

Martin Figura

Robin Houghton – as well as writing poetry, Robin has published books on blogging and on twitter, so her website is a great one to check out. Have a look at this page.

Katrina Naomi

You can also get inspiration by looking at the set-up of writing websites, such as:

The Rialto

The TLC

The Freeword Centre

Once you’ve seen what’s possible you can get a web developer to help you, or one of your tech savvy friends, or (my preferred route) you can teach yourself, using online tutorials and ‘How to’ books borrowed from the library. This is the trial and error approach. I find it fun. Not everyone does – so work out where your strengths lie. If you need it to be cheap then ask a friend to help in return for a free dinner cooked by you! Everyone knows someone who knows someone who can use WordPress. If in doubt, ask.

Don’t forget to check out these marketing resources:

Event management for dummies by Laura Capell.

101 Ways to Make Poems Sell by Chris Hamilton Emery.

Robin Houghton’s books on marketing for writers.

Guerrilla Marketing for Writers by Jay Conrad Levinson, Rick Frishman, Michael Larsen and David Hancock

Joanna Penn’s blog and ‘How to Market Your Book‘.

James Scott Bell’s Marketing for Writers Who Hate Marketing.

Happy organising. x


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2 Comments

  1. David Alexander June 25, 2019

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