Marketing “How to Write a Poem.”

Towards the end of last year a friend of mine gave me a rather cool suggestion. I’d been telling him about how sales of my book “How to Write a Poem: A Beginner’s Guide” seemed to be healthy and he suggested that I send a free copy to professors who run creative writing courses asking them to recommend the book to their students. I thought it sounded like a pretty good idea so I went ahead and implemented it. Here’s what I did.
I went onto the Wikipedia website and looked up “List of colleges and universities in Michigan” (mainly because Michigan is where I live). What was displayed was a table showing the school, the location, the type of college, how many students each college had and so on. I clicked on the “enrollment” heading and that sorted the table with colleges with the highest attendance at the top. So I made a note of the top ten colleges whose student numbers ranged from about 47k to about 23k.
I then consulted the website of each institution and found the creative writing program page. After a rather lengthy search I came up with the names of the people who ran the programs in the various colleges, and after an even longer search located their contact details.
Next, I ordered 10 copies of the book from the CreateSpace website. CreateSpace is the company I use for publishing paperbacks of my books and copies can be ordered for a fraction of the retail price (if you are the author). The books duly arrived and I set about composing a letter to the various professors I had targeted. I then ordered a box of padded envelopes from with which to mail the books. I packaged up the ten books, along with the letters and took them to the local post office. The postage on each package, if I recall, was about a dollar fifty. The total cost of ordering the books and envelopes and paying for the postage turned out to be roughly $50, i.e. $5 per book.
A few weeks later I sent a follow up email asking if they had had a chance to look at the book and whether it might be useful for their students. I got one reply, from a professor from Oakland Community College who was complimentary about the book but stated that they used another title that covered poetry, fiction and playwriting.
The dearth of feedback did not deter me. In fact, sales went up about 25% from that point on. There is no way of telling if the sales boost was as a result of my marketing pitch or some other cause. The fact is, running relatively cheap marketing campaigns like this can’t hurt and there is always the chance of getting some sales out of them. There are other opportunities; after all I only chose the top ten colleges in one state. There are another 49 states out there who have yet to encounter the beauty and erudition of my book :), and for each of those states there are many colleges who might benefit and therefore many more students who are potential purchasers. That’s tens of thousands of prospective customers. And that’s only one book. And only one country.
I have another book in the pipeline that could be even more relevant for students – and not just students of creative writing, but that can wait for another post….

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