Wednesday, July 31, 2013

How To Buy A Book of Poetry

Several people have asked me "the best" way they could buy a copy of Boyishly which led me to think about responsible poetry book buying. And it's hard to know. Amazon is right there and so easy, few bookstores stock poetry or at least the poetry you might want, and unless you are hearing someone read, how do you know what poetry to take a chance on?

So here's my quick primer in case you aren't sure of how to responsibly buy poetry in this day and age.

1. The first and easiest way is to pick up the book at a reading. This might happen in a bookstore or as part of a series. If it occurs in a bookstore, you'll have to buy the book from bookstore, which is fair enough, since their sponsorship of the reading should get you a new audience. The bookstore should buy the books from the publisher- the bookstore pays the publisher around 60% of the cover price and can return books for a refund at anytime. The publisher also covers shipping in these cases. Ideally, the bookstore would order a couple of copies to keep in stock or, even better, push the book by displaying it prominently or putting it on a Staff Picks shelf.

This doesn't always happen. Bookstores will ask the poet to bring books in themselves; since most poets get paid in books, they can do this, but they are losing money. (A publisher should be making some money on the 60% price from the bookstore but the poet "loses" 40% if they provide the books.) Bookstores typically won't stock poetry books unless you are Anne Carson or Seamus Heaney. They simply take the stack of books you bring in, sell them that night, hand you back the rest, and cut you a check hopefully in a reasonable amount of time.

If the reading isn't at a bookstore, you should be able to buy a book (usually cheaper than the cover price) from the poet. Since the poet has probably gotten paid in books, this is handy for the poet and the buyer. But we've all seen poets who don't bring books, don't bring enough, don't hang around to sell books, don't mention they have books for sale or the price. This helps no one.

2. The next best way to score the book you want is to order it directly from the press. This works out well for the press- their backstock goes away and they can get an idea of who is buying and where. You can also get a sense of what the press is doing by looking at their other authors and work. Just as you may have a favorite writer, it's likely there's a press out there that speaks to you as well. Many presses offer series discounts (get all their books for a year at a discount price) and most offer free shipping when you buy more than one or if you order early. YesYesBooks is my publisher; I was thrilled to be with them because I like their philosophy and their lineup- they take chances on new authors and they are committed to making a beautiful product. As a reader, I'm in love with a lot of the lineup at Wave Books. I don't always love what they do but I'm always interested. But what if you want more than one book, not by the same publisher?

3. Wanting more than one book by more than one publisher is a good time to turn to SPD, Small Press Distribution. They are a distribution house for lots of small, quality presses. This is a great way to also buy some work you don't know. They make recommendations, have a best-seller list, and even offer a Mystery Box- 4lbs for 10$. Like a bookstore, the press doesn't make as much money per book, but libraries and bookstores and even simple readers like me and you often don't want to go from press site to press site; SPD works as a kind of validation and clearing house.

4. You can also theoretically order any book from a bookstore; again, this seldom works out. Unless it's some major distributor, bookstores don't like to order things. Some bookstores are exceptions to this- for instance, So & So in Raleigh is a very poetry friendly spot; Regulator in Durham not so much. Any chain, probably not at all.

5. Amazon- pays little to the press and is a hassle to deal with. But they are there and they are cheap and they do get you a book fairly quickly. I've used them too, but let's just admit you lose a little piece of your soul every time you do.

The bottom line is, read some poetry. It's good for you whatever way you get it. And it would make me particularly happy if you included Boyishly in that "to-read" list.

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