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Self-Publishing Your Poetry

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.


One of my long-time writer friends quipped, “When’s the last time someone you know bought a poetry book?” I can say that I have purchased a poetry book, actually a few, in the past couple of years.

However, I purchased these books because I knew the authors and their work. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have bought them or even searched for a poetry book to buy. My behavior in this situation actually holds the key to marketing your self-published poetry.

Why Is Selling Poetry So Hard?

Selling poetry is hard because poetry can be a hard genre to define, develop, and comprehend. Is it fiction or nonfiction, or something else entirely? Compared to novels or other long-form content, I’m in awe of talented poets who can turn the writing of a few words into something that conveys feeling and story.

The Challenge of Form, Rhythm, and Rhyme

Some poetry also requires rigorous adherence to form, rhythm, and rhyme, making it even more challenging to write. That’s why many of today’s poets lapse into free verse or other unstructured poetry. Regardless of the form, poetry can be so incredibly personal that it doesn’t convey meaning for anyone other than the author.

A problem I see with some poetry is that the authors force-fit words into something that looks like poetry. Some of them even try to get cute by spacing their poetry on the page to create some sort of shape or graphic. Kind of like in the old, pre-computer graphics typewriter and dot matrix printer days when we would type characters in such a way as to create images. But this force-fit phrasing, if performed out loud, is all wrong, which can completely change the message or story of the poem.

Because I want to better understand the genre, for the past few years, I’ve read the daily emailed poem from the Poetry Foundation, which is based in Chicago. Some of these poems speak to me immediately. Others leave me shaking my head wondering what I just read. Maybe it marked a moment for the author, creating an awkward “you had to be there” situation.

Similarly, for some poetry, you need to understand the whole backstory to understand its meaning or mission. This can create an incomplete product for the reader which also makes it challenging to consume.

Poetry and SEO

The other problem that plagues fiction is that poetry is not SEO-friendly. What would possess someone to search for a poem on Google? When I used Ubersuggest (a great keyword search tool from digital marketing expert Neil Patel) to check on searches for poetry, the highest searched term was “poetry about love,” at 301K monthly searches. Not too shabby, though that volume is not high in the larger search engine picture.

What I did notice in the poetry search is that higher search terms are for specific types of poetry: poetry about love/love poetry, poetry for kids, poetry about life, etc. This provides a clue about how you might want to approach your poetry books. Centering on a theme is better than just offering a mashup of topics in one book.

So on top of the regular challenges of selling self-published books, poetry books have these additional hurdles that make selling them so tough.

If you want the masses to buy your work, bring it to the masses.

If you want the masses to buy your work, bring it to the masses.

Rise of the Instagram Poets and Instapoetry

With the rise of social media platforms such as Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram, many poets turned to these sites to share their poems, probably because they weren’t getting attention anyplace else. In many cases, their work is shared in a picture where they’ve placed text on an artful background. Due to the limitations of space and audience attention span, these poems are often very short.

I follow some of them on Instagram, and my favorite poet, Jeannae Cecelia (@jennaececelia), currently has 86K followers. Her work is very relatable, accessible, and inspirational for a general public audience. I’ve purchased three of her poetry books so far and enjoyed all of them. I’d suggest looking at her Instagram profile for some ideas on building an audience and selling poetry these days. While her work is very short, if your work is longer, consider excerpts of longer poems in your posts.

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There are some other poets in this vein that I follow. But I think Jennae’s work and Instagram activity are worthy of note. To find more Instagram poets to follow, go to Discover on your Instagram profile and type in the hashtag #poetsofinstagram.

Because literary poetry, like literary fiction, can appeal to elitist writers and readers, these “Instagram poets” have often been slammed as not being real poets. But as I’ve discovered through my poetry reading, the Instagram poets’ ability to appeal to real readers is very real. I think they may have started to break the curse of marketing and selling poetry. If you want the masses to buy your work, bring it to the masses.

This is an important lesson for poets, as it always is for all authors. You need to build your author platform.

How Using Instagram Could Reveal Your Poetry Writing Weakness

On Instagram, you are allowed to post a static graphic of your poetry or excerpt. That’s a less scary form of content to develop. You don’t have to speak or be on camera. But let me explain why posting your poetry content on Instagram and video posts, or Reels will expose your poetry writing weakness.

The Importance of Performing Your Work

Poetry is an oral tradition and performance genre. I think this is one reason why so much self-published poetry is so bad. Poets don’t read their work out loud or in front of others, even virtually on video. Like reading your novel out loud to catch awkward passages and errors, reading poetry aloud is a good way to hear if your poem sounds good.

So if you want to build your poetry skill, try posting a reading of it as an Instagram post or a shorter Reels post. Even if you don’t publicly post it, at least read your poems out loud before publishing. Even better would be to have someone else read your poems to you. Out loud. This will be super uncomfortable! But you will understand how people are reading your work without the benefit of the backstory running in your head.

Poetry Marketing Tips for Amazon

When self-publishing your poetry books on Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), your subtitle and book description can be critical to getting discovered. What I’ve observed is that poets often use vague titles for their poetry books. Nothing wrong with that, except that it does nothing for your discoverability. I’d suggest adding a subtitle that tells the reader what type of themes and poetry are included in your book.

For example, let’s say your poetry book is titled Detours. Yeah, that has zero search value. Adding a subtitle such as “Poems about life lessons learned from my health crisis.” You get the idea. Then the book description should tell readers what kind of poems and topics they’ll encounter in your book, along with any backstory information telling them how the book came to be.

Other Outlets for Selling Your Poetry

In addition to selling your poetry books on Amazon/KDP, think about other outlets for your poetry adventures. Greeting cards are an obvious option. However, getting published by some of the major greeting card publishers can be as challenging as getting an agent and being traditionally published. Some poets may choose to sell their own greeting cards on RedBubble or other print-on-demand sites.

Songs are also a possibility. If you have the musical talent to write the accompanying music, you could perform, record, and publish them on Spotify. To learn more about markets that buy poetry and songs, buy the current editions of the Poet’s Market and Songwriter’s Market published by Writer’s Digest Books. Like the Writer’s Market directories, these books offer a wealth of information.

My First Poetry Book (But Maybe Not My Last?)

I “published” (well, sort of published) my first book of poetry in my sophomore year in high school. I was failing honors English miserably, including a failed mid-term on Shakespeare’s Macbeth. It’s too long a story as to why that may have happened. But as a final course project, we could write a book of poetry or write some other stupid paper. Okay, a poetry book for me, though I didn’t have a clue what to do.

I decided to write a collection of haiku, the short structured Japanese poetry format. Being a crafty sort, I did the whole art book thing with it. I got an A, which saved me from getting a horrible final grade. I wish I had kept that book. But it’s lost to time and probably a landfill.

Funny how we might be led to try this or that type of writing, eh? Haven’t written any poetry since high school. But maybe that should be my next thing. Stay tuned.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2022 Heidi Thorne

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