Julia Bouwsma is the author of two poetry collections, Work by Bloodlight (Cider Press Review, 2017) and Midden (Fordham University Press, 2018). She lives and works on an off-the-grid farm in the mountains of western Maine, serving as Book Review Editor for Connotation Press, Library Director for Webster Library in Kingfield, Maine and Community Advisory Board member for the Maine Writers and Publisher’s Alliance.
Based on her experience with small presses both as an author and publisher, she shares the following tips for authors promoting small press books.
- Most authors dread self-promotion. They think of it as a series of discrete chores composed of tedious spreadsheets and awkward emails. Walk away from that mindset by building a literary community. The more literary community you can build around yourself, the more natural and organic self-promotion can feel.
- Online communities are great if you are a rural writer. If your state has an organization to support its writers, join and become an active member, including volunteering whenever opportunities arise. Residencies and conferences, class visits, offering editing or copyediting services. Do what fits best for your life—a little can go a long way.
- Publicity can look like a lot of different things. Different models work for different authors. It’s okay to start small (e.g. leading a workshop at your local library) and gradually expand your radius.
- Supporting the work of other writers is supporting your own work! Who are the writers whose work you connect with and whose work is in conversation with your own? Who are the writers in your community who are doing work you don’t know about? Discover and explore their work; share it through social media or blog posts or by writing / publishing book reviews (this last one has been huge for me!). Help organize or curate readings. These are all amazing ways to roll around in what we love, and to enrich our own work while making new friends.
- Identify the specific conversations in which your book is engaged (eg. Work by Bloodlight: homesteading / farming, place; Midden: Maine history, place, social justice). Are these conversations particularly timely? Are there specific organizations in your area that engage these themes and would be interested in working with you? (Eg. Maine Humanities Council bought books and arranged a reading for me in a local jail and Maine’s bicentennial has led to increased opportunities for the book as well).
- While it’s important to create first-year “buzz” around your small press book, it’s equally important to remember that you are in a long-term relationship with your book. And as in any long-term relationship, that means there will be ups and downs. There will be times when you can’t wait to show your book to everyone under the sun, and there will be times when you are feeling self-conscious or introverted or just really tired. Honor the stage where you are at. Take a break when you need a break. Say no when you need to say no. Don’t castigate yourself if your best doesn’t look like someone else’s.
- Remember that it’s all a fluid, interconnected process—and that opportunities in the present, even very small ones, often lead to opportunities down the road that you simply can’t yet see.
Shafeeka Hafeez grew up escaping into a world of books where she discovered a love for writing and a fascination with trees. When she’s not taking up a new marketing skill, or typing out a blog post, you can find her Googling the best therapy for abandoned cats.
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