Small presses have low profit margins, with less staff – sometimes just one person. They focus on printing beautiful books that speak to you from the shelves. But they don’t focus on publicity.
Most of the thousands of small press books published each year receive little to no critical attention. How can one navigate this space and move over to the successful side? Is it possible for self-promotion to be more than a checklist of chores, maybe even something enjoyable?
Let’s ask Erin Hoover!
Erin Hoover is the author of Barnburner (Elixir Press, 2018), winner of a Florida Book Award in Poetry. She teaches as the Murphy Visiting Fellow in Poetry at Hendrix College and has worked as an editor of Southeast Review, VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, and co-founded the Late Night Library.
Hoover’s approach for self-promotion is community centric. She leveraged on her existing community of literary connections to successfully promote Barnburner.
Hoover was a single parent of a two-month-old child when Barnburner was accepted. Having worked with the promotion of numerous other small press poetry books over the years, Hoover’s expectations were realistic. Instead of dwelling on her challenges, she shifted her focus to what she could control.
She used up the remainder of her student loans to hire an hourly freelance PR person who helped her connect to large media outlets and book festivals. For individuals who expected a personal touch, she reached out to them herself.
It wasn’t easy, she says; “It’s hard for me to ask for things, but I had to develop that skill. Hadn’t I been an editor? Hadn’t I been someone who produced podcasts to promote other people’s work?”
She requested prints of galleys from Elixir Press and sent for reviewers and schools. She set up phone calls with other poets on her press, and poets with small press books that she thought did exceptionally well.
Some of the strategies in her year-long promotion plan included:
- Sending out books to writer influencers, even those she didn’t know personally.
- Sending out books to ALL of her literary contacts, even the ones she hadn’t connected with in years. Bonds were reforged, and organic opportunities sprung up.
- Reaching out to established poets in her lit community to join-pitch a “conversation” with her.
- Setting up mini tours in places where she had existing community support (Northeast tour, Oregon tour, Florida tour).
- Expanding connections by reaching out to friends of friends in the literature community.
While Hoover attributes much of her success to the community she built promoting other people’s work for years, she still believes anyone can leverage on this technique.
The literary community wants to help, as long as you don’t shy away from asking!
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.