When I emerged onto the Melbourne poetry scene, I was pretty shy. I was in my late twenties when I first stepped onto a stage in 2009, struggling with culture and identity, and on the cusp of my marriage breakdown.
Today, when people see me perform they think I’m fearless, and it comes naturally to me. But it’s been a long journey of backward and forwards, from doubting myself, to believing in myself, to listening to people I shouldn’t have listened to, to allowing others to hold me back. After a lot of wasted time, I believe (and I know it might sound clichéd) that tapping into, harnessing, believing in, and following your own instincts with drive and perseverance is key to a fruitful arts practice. Because, as my poetry teacher Ania Walwicz said when I first attended her class naïve and wide-eyed, pleading for her to teach me the rules of poetry: “there are no rules. If we all followed the same rules we would all sound the same and how boring would that be?”
What I have outlined above, I believe, was at the core of Ania’s teachings, which is even more significant now that she’s no longer on the planet. We all have our unique way of being artists or poets so what worked for me might not work for you. But today I have been asked to share the steps I took to sell my first poetry book, Love and F—k Poems, which is a bestselling Australian poetry book and self-published.
The critics snub me when I say it’s bestselling, like where are my statistics to back it up, and yes, many of my sales are unverifiable because I sell most of my books when I perform, however (and this is an approximation), I’m approaching close to 4000 copies in sales, most of which I have sold on my own. In 2013 I was the bestselling book in the iconic Polyester Books, and here is a screenshot from Readings:
I think my book would have sold even better had Amazon not decided, for no reason at all, to strip me of all my reviews, and bury me in their dungeon (meaning my book isn’t listed in general poetry searches).
Sometimes I think about how many more copies I’d sell if I had a publisher behind me. I’m glad I took the self-publishing route though because despite having high sales, no Australian poetry publisher would publish my second poetry book, Just Give Me The Pills, which has also sold very well.
But let’s go back to the beginning.
The steps I took to sell Love and F—k Poems
- Ania spoke of bypassing gatekeepers and how culture is controlled by the powers that be. One of our assignments was to make a zine. Mine was called A Poet Is Born. I asked a few local bookshops if they could stock a few copies. Then I went back to check if any had sold. Not really. But it was a good experiment.
- I was writing so much poetry in Ania’s class I decided to put out another zine (which included some of my drawings). My poetry was directly my own inner poetic voice, it didn’t subscribe to any rules, it was my own natural rhythm, which Ania emphasised we try to tap into. I was performing my poetry at local poetry events and I can’t remember who, someone in the poetry community suggested the title Love and F—k Poems. I still, to this day, am terrible at choosing titles. I do ask people I respect who like my work if they have any ideas. I think once you land on the right title, you just know. The others don’t sit right. Love and F—k Poems sat right. I could have sent the manuscript to publishers but I had a very strong instinct that I needed to get something out now, to have something to sell when I performed, and waiting for a possible publisher could take over a year.
- I put the zines in a few bookshops and went back in a week to check: they were gone – and I had an OMG moment. I contacted other stores by phone or email or I went into the store if they didn’t respond and I told them that x bookshop sold out in a week and my bookshop list started growing.
- I was part of an event where Readings (a chain of bookshops in Melbourne) was the bookseller and they took some of my zines. After the event, I emailed the Readings contact with sales figures and they agreed to take it on. Tip: take advantage of every opportunity to further the reach of your book.
- My blog was gaining momentum. I was publishing poetry and articles. When people read my articles they were interested in buying my zine or attending my next gig.
- I organised interstate tours by contacting poetry events directly. I would contact bookshops beforehand and tell them I was coming and did they want me to bring some copies for them. Most said yes. I took extra copies and did more bookshop work while I was there. I wanted to go overseas but didn’t have the money so rather than do a fundraiser I asked people on Facebook and through my blog if they could buy my zine and people did. I went to Cyprus and started to meet people in the poetry community there.
- The zines were selling like hot cakes and I knew I was onto something. A writer friend suggested a deluxe edition book. Again, I thought of approaching publishers, but I didn’t feel that any Australian publisher would take it on. I spoke to Ania and she suggested starting my own press. I knew that Blaise at Busybird had her own press so I thought okay, let’s start Outside The Box Press. I worked with an external design team, Ilura Design (the design arm of Ilura Press who I already knew as I had done an internship there) and Love and F—k Poems (The Deluxe Edition) was born. It had extra poems, enticing those who purchased the zine to also buy the book.
- By this time I had a long list of bookshops and two interns working with me. We had a book launch for the deluxe edition and sold more copies. We approached every Australian distributor with sales figures. They all said no, except the last one, Woodslane. I had a phone call with them and the guy said we don’t do poetry, but I don’t know, I have a good feeling about this, let’s do it (following his instincts too!).
- But I still had to do the leg work, because just because you have a distributor doesn’t mean the book will sell. I created a media release and sent it wide, telling bookshops that my book is available through my distributor. I had my interns doing the emailing through the Outside The Box Press email so it looked professional. I didn’t mention I was self-published because back then it was so taboo. I had a professional website with an online store.
- I created an eBook for Amazon and gave away some free copies. I gave away some free copies of the print book through Goodreads and got some reviews. This generated a buzz.
- I got some funding to travel to Cyprus to work with a translator. Initially we were going to just translate a few poems but when I got there I had this feeling that we should do the whole book, which was crazy, but my translator had her own press and she really wanted to do it. It was hectic and there were a few typos but we went for it and it created a huge splash.
- I approached a few small presses in the UK and US (as Outside The Box Press) and asked if they wanted foreign rights. Honest Publishing (UK) took it on and they have their own distribution. They took on the Greek and English editions.
Of course, there are more things I want to do to increase the reach of Love and F—k Poems but because I have so many other creative projects, it has taken the backburner. But I do plan to relaunch an anniversary edition, with extra poems and maybe my drawings, and put the book on Ingram. At the moment it is distributed through all eBook retailers through Draft2Digital. There is also an audio book that I recorded in 2011 that I have never put out. That’s also on the cards to revisit!
There are things I have learned through the process. Set aside time to make important decisions about your book. List the pros and cons, do appropriate research if necessary, and then set aside dedicated time to execute. If you feel you need to get a book out now because it coincides with something, do it, don’t wait. Don’t beat yourself up if you get things wrong. Learn and move forward, it will only make you smarter and more business savvy. Take advantage of every opportunity. If you meet someone who works in a bookshop, ask if they can stock your book. Believe in yourself and your vision for your book and don’t let anyone stop you.
Koraly Dimitriadis is a writer and performer and the author of the poetry books Love and F—k Poems and Just Give Me The Pills.