Dispatches | December 02, 2008

I know why books of poetry don’t sell. I witnessed part of the problem last month when I attended a conference put on by Missouri’s Center for the Book. Several of the local poets who were invited to read had also signed up to have tables at the book fair to sell their collections. Yet, none of them had set up displays or even sat down at their table for five minutes to talk to conference attendees. Most of the poets swooped in, gave their reading, and then slipped out a side door. Those who did stick around and were a little more social kept their books in their satchels.
The concept of poets as divas seems oxymoronic and exotic and yet they exist. Do poets really lack an audience or do they refuse to do the work necessary to create one? Instead of work, they show practiced indifference. Perhaps they believe it is too crass to sell their books. They wrote it, maybe they believe it’s someone else’s problem to sell it. Or do they suffer from a defeatist attitude? No one reads poetry, why bother?
I used to host a book club at a local bookstore and had little difficulty finding readers. Fiction and nonfiction writers would contact me and ask to if they could add my book club to their “do-it-yourself” reading tours. They seemed willing to sell books out of their trunk if they had to. The publishing industry has always struggled and now with the recession it’s going to struggle even more. Promoting books has increasingly become the responsibility of the writers. Someone forgot to tell the poets.