The Hermit Poet

February 6, 2008

Making the Most of Your First Book: Setting the Stage

Filed under: First Book Advice — admin @ 2:29 pm

As promised, here is the first installment of a series of posts which will examine what a poet can do to make the most of his/her first book. Most of these posts will revolve around the critical period between a manuscript’s acceptance and the first year anniversary of a book’s publication. This particular post however will also look at some things we can do even while we are still sending it out. For the most part, I am simply chronicling my own process, noting where I’ve missed out opportunities, posing the occasional question to more experienced/published writers, and detailing what has worked and not worked for me.

PHASE 1: Setting the Stage

  1. Author pic. It never hurts to have a good picture of yourself that can be run in a press release. Avoid having to take a digital photo of yourself (or recycling a very old or embarrassing photo) in order to get something to your press in time for the announcement. Having a couple good hi-res digital images of yourself isn’t narcissistic, it’s good planning. Make certain you have something that will grey-scale well (ie. they will probably need to photocopy the release, so your picture should look good in b&w too). A good author pic also helps when you are building a press kit.
  2. Website. Once you have a manuscript and are shopping it around, you should also invest time/money/both and get yourself a nice looking website. There are a lot of places that offer very good economically priced packages — you will likely want both a domain name (eg. and web hosting (the online location where your website will be stored). I personally like — prices are very reasonable and there hasn’t been any problems with downtime or access. Expect $5.99/year for domain name alone (useful if you already have hosting elsewhere) and $60-$100/year for a package with both (you may find cheaper deals if you look or are just lucky). I’ll go into website details in another post — but essentially your website is your virtual business card — it represents you in the world and should look professional and be well-organized.
  3. Be an active part of your local poetry community. Go to open mic readings and read your work. Not only are you building an audience of potential customers when the book comes out, you are also gaining valuable experience in doing public readings. Being comfortable in front of a large (or small) group of strangers is going to be very important to you as a published author in the future. You need to be able to gauge your audience so as to create a reading/listening experience that engages a wide variety of people. If you have opportunities to be a featured poet, work hard to craft 20-30 minute sets (depending on the reading) which provide emotional, topical, and tonal range — no one likes to hear the same note over and over. Ask for feedback from friends in the audience. Some poets even have themselves taped or videoed and study their performances afterward to look for places to improve. The key is to become comfortable with your work and your own voice. Again, I’ll go into more detail in a later post.
  4. Business cards. Give out business cards with your name, email address, and website address. Only give out your phone number to people you trust (obviously). The business card becomes a way to establish yourself as a professional writer and is a physical reminder to the people you contact that you are available for readings and features. I give out poet business cards to other poets, but also to hosts of readings and random people I meet who express genuine interest in the fact that I write poetry and am working on a book. I order my cards from — for a very inexpensive charge, they let you custom design your own card with templates and even give you the option to upload your own graphics. They are very fast as well.
  5. Attend other poets’ readings and features– really this is just a part of 3, but a reminder that things go in two directions. Watching other writers can help you see how a good reading might be or what pitfalls you may want to avoid. More importantly, supporting others can help you find writers who share common interests — this may lead to writing groups, joint readings, invitations to participate in other events, or introductions to publication opportunities. At the very least, listening to other writers will broaden your perspective on what a reading may be and how a poet might interact with his/her community.
  6. Chapbooks. Producing your own or getting one published through a chapbook contest or press — having a chapbook to sell/trade is another way to begin the process of creating an audience for the book. If you are doing your own, try to stick to poems you’ve already published — this avoids taking unpublished poems out of the submission pool through a chapbook publication.

Ok, that’s a start. What other things have people done to begin building an audience for a book, or to make the transition to published author a little easier?

ADDENDUM (Updated 11:21pm Feb 6, 2008)

Additional suggestions and thoughts:

  1. Create a personal Google or Yahoo group. As Oscar notes below, this is a excellent way to alert friends and poetry fans of upcoming events (book launch, readings, and other literary news) in a professional manner. (I’m going to do this over the weekend)
  2. Decide on your cover image early. I really wish I had thought more about this in advance. Knowing which image you want to appear on the book’s cover and obtaining whatever permissions might be necessary to use it can help make your book designer’s life a lot easier. It also takes stress out of your life. In my case I had an image, but didn’t have a good scan of it (too low res). Now I have to dig through my boxes, locate the original photo (taken pre-digital camera), and get a high res scan done (I no longer own a scanner, so I’ll have to go someplace that has a good one).

3 Responses to “Making the Most of Your First Book: Setting the Stage”

  1. Nic Sebastian Says:

    Very interesting reading. I’d like to interview you on a related topic. Is there any way you could email me so I can send you information about the interview series I am working on?

    Best, Nic

  2. Oscar Bermeo Says:

    Thanks for this.

    I would also encourage authors to start up a personal Yahoo or Google group to alert friends and casual poetry fans about upcoming literary events. Not only is this a professional and non-intrusive way to maintain contact, but it is also is a good base to help your future publisher start getting out the word about your future book.

    Take care.

  3. Cati Porter Says:

    Hi Neil,

    As someone who has a first book coming out later this year, I was excited to find this post and am eager to read more.

    I can’t think of anything to add at this point, so I’ll just say thank you for your willingness to share your experience with us.

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