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Moneymaking Poetry is an Oxymoron
by Dan Case

My comments on poetry and the lack of money one can make selling it, produced a flood of emails.

I did make one mistake. I stated, "Check out any bestseller list… no poetry." Well, I wasn’t entirely correct. Bernadette Geyer wrote, "Got good news for you, Dan! Billy Collins' book of poetry, Sailing Alone Around the Room, is on the Washington Post hardcover bestsellers list, despite the fact that it's called the Hardcover Fiction bestsellers list… Hopefully things aren't as bad as you think for public acceptance of poetry." I checked the bestseller list myself. I could only find one book of poetry, The Best-Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. A book of The Best-Loved Grocery Lists of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis would make the bestseller list. I’m afraid, Bernadette, that things ARE as bad as I think.

There were a lot of people who agreed with me. Paul Brucker wrote, "Dan: You're right to throw a cold splash of reality into the face of the self-published poet who thinks she can strike it rich from peddling her book. It's a raw deal to be a poet and expect to make money and recognition from one's work. Not only is poetry considered effete by the masses, but there are masses of poets competing for a sliver of bandwidth. Consider the literary journals that state upfront that you've got, at best, a 2 percent chance of getting your poems accepted (better if you're already part of the editor's network).  And among the poets are 25,000 folks who have graduated from poetry MFA programs since the 1980s -- all clamoring for attention."

I also received this note:

You are SO RIGHT!!! I am a published author, acquire books for a living and write poetry for the pure pleasure of it. I've self published one book, Notes From A Chameleon and have sold to friends, at book gatherings and events...but I have no illusions. I never even bothered with a UPC code or ISBN...because it's not going to go in any bookstore anywhere on this planet. Unless I suddenly become incredibly famous. And I'll put my money on the lottery instead. It's a better gamble.

Ginnie Siena Bivona, Acquisitions Editor, Republic of Texas Press

Okay, Okay! You poets out there… do not despair. It IS possible to make a living writing poetry. You just have to find the right niche. I said that I would like to hear from anyone out there who was contrary to the norm, and I heard from one poet, James Scott, who has found a great niche market for his poetry.

Hello, Dan!

I'm writing to agree with Susan and her insulted friend and disagree with you on poetry as a marketable book form.

My name is James Scott, and I travel the country as The LOUD Poetry Guy, performing in schools, libraries, and festivals. Seven years ago, I self-published LOUDER!!!, and in an industry where the average children's book sells 5,000 copies lifetime, I have already sold over 8,000 copies, hardback, and 1,000 audiotapes. There are other folks, like Brod Baggert out of Louisiana and Kalli Dakos out of the DC area, who also sell a tolerable number of books as part of their livelihood.

The Ogden Nash's and others didn't come forth from a stream spouting rhyme. There are many poets out here who are creating a market for their individual books, and as a group they are having a huge and positive impact on young writers and their views about poetry. One bit of national publicity, and LOUDER!!! could easily sell 200,000 copies in a single fall season. Then I would be one of the Ogden Nash's of the world!

James Scott,The LOUD Poetry Guy

Good luck James, it’s nice to know someone out there is making money with poetry. As for this newsletter… you’ve probably heard the last word on moneymaking poetry.

© Copyright 2002, Dan Case

Dan Case is the editor of Writing for DOLLARS! the free ezine for writers, featuring tips, tricks and ideas for selling what you write. You can receive a free ebook, 83 Ways To Make Money Writing when you subscribe. http://www.writingfordollars.com

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