Selling poetry versus selling fiction – a world of difference

I’ve had a few interesting conversations recently with fellow poet and novelist connections, after I wrote my recent post on Author promotion and social media, and it got me thinking about the differences between selling poetry books versus selling novels, novelas or short story collections.

If you aren’t familiar with my published work, I’ve had three poetry collections traditionally published, one novel hybrid published, and one novel self-published. In my experience, there has been a vast difference between the marketing strategies that worked, or didn’t work for each book. Since it’s easier to explain things if you can see them visually, take a look at this table I’ve made:

You can see here what worked and didn’t work for me. For the purpose of the data comparison above, I haven’t included sales by friends and family, only new customers. Let’s have a look at the break-down of the table above and why some strategies work for poetry, but not fiction – and vice-versa.

Open mic nights

This one is simple: open mic tends to be for poetry and not fiction. This could be because poetry is generally shorter and therefore easier to read within a time limit, or because it evokes an emotional response from listeners – I could digress theorising – but the fact of the matter is that I’ve read poetry, short stories and novel excerpts at spoken word events, but have only ever sold poetry, not prose, at live readings. I have sold many dozens of poetry books through open mic nights, book launch readings at pubs, libraries and literary festivals – but no fiction. Since my recent second novel, The Buddha’s Bone, is a novel with poetry interspersed throughout (as the main character is a poet) I experimented recently by reading my character’s poems at a poetry event. This went down well with the audience, and gained me some publicity, but didn’t sell any books.

Book signing events

For the purpose of this comparison, I’ll look at both my debut poetry collection and my debut novel. This is hard to compare as honestly in my experience, it depends on the book store running the event. For my debut poetry collection, held at Borders Books in Cambridge (which, sadly, has long since gone into administration) I sat at a desk for eight hours and sold eight copies of my book to eight strangers. For my debut novel, Gods of Avalon Road, I held a signing event at Waterstones Belfast, and was allocated an evening slot of two hours, during which I sold ten copies to friends and family (I only had 10 copies with me… and had to direct a few to buy online), but sold none to new customers. Do sales by friends and family count? Since writing is my business as well as my passion, I’m going to say no, for the purposes of this blog post – which is reaching new readers who are interested in the book – and not because they know me. Why my poetry books have fared better than my fiction at book signing events could be because, as a niche interest, maybe poetry lovers and readers who saw the event advertised made the trip specifically to buy it? That would make sense if you consider the size of the poetry section in a bookshop; there could be a personal factor to a poet doing a signing, perhaps? Is it more of an intimate experience for a reader to hear a poet read sample poems aloud, maybe? Whereas with an author sitting alongside a table of novels, maybe customers see yet another novel in a store full of novels. Or is it simply not as interesting for customers to listen to a novel excerpt generally; is a book something a reader would rather pick up and read a snippet of alone, perhaps? Who knows?

Online retailers

Isn’t it interesting how readers are willing to buy novels by a new/unknown author when book shopping online, but not a new/unknown poet? All of my sales for my second novel, The Buddha’s Bone, have been entirely through online retailers – none have sold through live events. Yet the opposite is true for all three of my poetry books: I have primarily sold my collections at live events and very few through my own online shop. I’d be interested to hear from any authors who are poets as well as prose writers who have had different experiences – feel free to comment below.

Local bookshops

Over the years, I’ve had a few copies of my poetry books and novels stocked in various local bookstores in whichever city I happened to be currently living in at the time. I can honestly say that my poetry books haven’t sold, with the exception of one that was stolen (as told to me by a rather embarrassed book seller). I suppose that’s a compliment since someone clearly liked my book, but it left me out of pocket because they were out of pocket and didn’t pay for it! On the other hand, my debut novel sold all of the copies that I had left in stock at the local Waterstones over the Christmas period in the year it was released (2019). I’m guessing that the difference is that poetry is a niche interest for most folks, whereas my urban fantasy novel, filed in Sci-fi and fantasy, offered wider appeal. These are just my thoughts, but that seems as likely an explanation as anything. Or it could be for some of the reasons I highlighted above: that if poetry is seen as more intimate and personal, part of the experience of buying it is to hear the poet read it first in order for a reader to really immerse themselves in the book as a whole, whereas a novel becomes yours in the sense that the reader uses their imagination to bring the characters and settings to life. What do you think? This might be a topic that requires a poll. The results could be interesting; or at the very least, shed some light on reader habits that might help authors to target their marketing campaigns.

The Buddha’s Bone on Bargain Booksy

The Buddha’s Bone is up on Bargain Booksy today under Literary fiction deals. If you haven’t already grabbed yourself a copy, you can check it out here.

If you’ve already read The Buddha’s Bone, please consider leaving a review on any of the online retailers where you got your copy. It really helps my book reach other readers and gives it more visibility. Even a star rating on Amazon.com, Amazon UK or Goodreads makes a difference!

Supernatural horror manuscript update

I’m happy to say that I have finished my red-pen revisions for novel WIP#4 this week. They aren’t typed up yet, but it’s a relief to have finished those – and just in time for a well-earned family mini-break this weekend to celebrate my birthday.

I think I’m a bit cruel to myself. Check out the number of sticky-tabs marking the pages with red pen. I’m being glib, of course. As a writer, how can I expect to improve my craft if I don’t give it the red-pen treatment?

I have come a long way with my approach to editing a manuscript. About a decade ago, I hated editing with a passion. Back then, I enjoyed writing a novel, but not revising it. Once a final draft was complete I wanted it done – finished – published. Out into the world and onto the next project.

Producing a quality book simply doesn’t work that way. Wouldn’t it be worse to find typos, or worse – plot holes – in a book after publication? It sends a shiver down my spine to even think about it. Luckily I now have myself an editorial team ready for my current manuscript, to give it the once over after I have typed up the red pen amendments – next week, of course!

The Buddha’s Bone reviewed on Rita H. Rowe’s blog

Many thanks to Rita H. Rowe for her fantastic 5 star review of my book, The Buddha’s Bone. You can read it on her blog, on Goodreads and on Amazon.

Overall, Rita felt that The Buddha’s Bone was “a sometimes confronting and thought provoking piece of work that enmeshes the reader in the darker side of life”.

Rita is also a fellow author of novels, Becoming Ruthless, The Bad Seed, Never the Moon and She Remembered. You can follow her on Instagram and on Goodreads too.

Author promotion and social media

This week I’ve been getting quite philosophical. The beginning of a year is as good a time as the end to reflect. I had been thinking about twenty years ago at a time when I had been submitting a children’s novel I had written during my second year of university. Back then, it wasn’t a requirement for authors to have social media platforms to promote their work; in fact, most of the usual platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, didn’t yet exist back then. Nowadays it’s quite a different story. If an author approaches a small press publisher, more often than not, they’ll be asked for the URLs for their social media accounts and a brief run-down of how they intend to promote their work. I can’t count how many times I’ve had to provide links to all my social media accounts when submitting a novel manuscript to a potential publisher.

Personally I use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Goodreads to share updates on my writing; but by no means do I expect this to result in guaranteed sales. Social media is what it is – social. I enjoy mingling with the writing community on Twitter and Instagram. I’ve found some of my ARC readers through those platforms, which has been very helpful for an Indie author. As an introvert, I enjoy the social connection with book bloggers, readers and writers who I don’t otherwise know in the real world. I’m happy that my Instagram and Twitter accounts have organically grown over the past three years since I’ve set up both accounts. Check out my first introduction post on Instagram yesterday for my new followers.

I still do feel however, that if an author wants any real sales, investing in advertising is the best way forward, rather than relying on social media. I’ve made some awesome bookish friends through Twitter and Instagram, but ultimately I channel my energy into KDP ads, Bargain Booksy promotions, Ingram Advance advertising and more recently an upcoming print ad listing in Myslexia (which will be appearing in the March 2022 issue), to sell books. Is social media necessary for an author though, in this day and age? It’s hard to say, since I don’t personally know any authors who haven’t at least got a website. The fact of the matter is, if a reader wants to know more about a book or an author, the first place they’ll look is on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. I know I do, so having a digital footprint does matter; at least, to a certain extent. It’s hard nowadays to be truly reclusive anyway, isn’t it?

Literary and life goals for 2022

Happy New Year! I hope 2022 has gotten off to a great start for you and that, like me, you have remained covid-free. January began for me with a lovely 4 star review for The Buddha’s Bone posted on New Year’s Day, which made my day. Always what an author wants to hear. I’m into double figures with my Goodreads and Amazon reviews now. That may not be much to some authors, but it’s cause for celebration for me.

Managing sugar addiction through ketosis

During the winter break I indulged somewhat, eating all the chocolates that I had received as Christmas presents. Needless to say, I’ve gained 18lbs/8kg. It’s my own fault I know, feeding my sugar addiction. If you’ve read any of my previous posts on sugar addiction and my keto journey, you’ll know I struggle with trying to manage this. Manage being the key word; my addiction will always be there. Acceptance is the first step to managing addiction and I know my limitations. I’m now back on keto, the lifestyle that suits me best and makes my body feel at its optimum, both physically and mentally. Being in ketosis completely eradicates my cravings for carbs and helps me manage my sugar addiction. I started keto again for the 4th time in 2 years on December 27th, and I’ve adjusted to ketosis very well by intermittent fasting and going strictly under 30grams of carbs a day. My goal is not so much a weight-loss target as it is a desire to gain control of my sugar addiction, though I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t want my weight to yo-yo as much as it has; in the middle of 2021 I lost 14lbs then gained 18lbs back by the end of 2021. Lack of a steady, consistent weight surely isn’t good for my body and that is my focus – to try and achieve control of my health.

Pregnancy or a paunch? It’s personal!

On a related, but slightly tangential note, an acquaintance who I hadn’t seen since before the winter break asked me, out of the blue, whether I am pregnant. Since she glanced at my stomach, I can only assume that my weight gain over the past few weeks is obvious. What I don’t understand is why, why, WHY someone would ask another person they don’t know very well such a question? I am of the opinion that even if a person is very clearly 9 months pregnant, the etiquette is, you simply don’t ask unless they bring it up. In my case, my ‘pregnant’ stomach is simply visual evidence of my struggle to control my sugar addiction – and even if it wasn’t, why should someone make unwanted remarks about another person’s physical appearance? I personally don’t get it. What do you think?

Literary goals for 2022

Onto a positive topic now! I’m starting this year by reading through the printed final draft of my forthcoming novel. I printed this using Lulu back at the start of December, but didn’t get any work done on it over the winter break as I was spending some quality down-time with my family. It’s going well so far; I’ve only found a few typos and no continuity errors and considering I’m halfway through, that’s not bad going. My plan is to get this to my editors by spring time, send it to my beta readers by early summer, have it ready for ARC reviewers by the end of summer with a plan to publish in October 2022. Since it’s psychological fiction/ supernatural horror, a release date in time for Halloween will be appropriate.

That’s all from me for now. If you’re the type who sets new year’s resolutions, then I hope they’re working out for you, even if you’re simply taking it day by day as I am.

A Christmas Eve celebration – a 5 star review for The Buddha’s Bone

What’s a lovely Christmas present for an author? A 5 star review! I checked in to Goodreads this morning and saw that another review had been posted for The Buddha’s Bone. It’s such a wonderful review that it has made my Christmas Eve even more special. You can read the full review on Goodreads – many thanks to Audrey Cleeves for such lovely feedback. If Audrey reads this at all, just wanted to say I’m delighted that you enjoyed my book so much and took the time to share your thoughts.

The same goes for everyone who has taken the time to read and review my book on Goodreads, Amazon or Waterstones where the reviews have been posted so far. It really means more to me than you know and I’m very appreciative to have such fantastic readers along with me on my author journey.

In the meantime, since I’ll be relaxing with my family over the next few days, it’s important for me to say to you to have a great weekend whether you are celebrating any festivities or not. So, on that note: Merry Christmas; Blessed Yuletide; Happy Hanukkah; Kwanzaa blessings; Io Saturnalia; Happy holidays; Seasons Greetings; or simply, have a great weekend.

Literary plans for the Christmas and New Year holiday

Check out this fabulous Secret Santa I got during my last week at work. Nothing beats a good horror novel and some Lindor chocolates.

Did I mention that my day job is in secondary education? Maybe at some point in a long buried blog post I mentioned it. If not, then now you know that working in a grammar school pays my bills and not my writing, apart from in a far-flung dream. Now that it’s the end of term at work, I have two weeks to catch up on reading and writing time. I’m outlining my next novel while waiting for the printed final draft of novel WIP#4 to arrive from Lulu for another read through and some red pen treatment.

Aside from working on my own novels and poetry books this year, I’ve managed to make a dent in my reading list too. On Kindle alone, I beat my reading streak of 16 books last year, with 21 this year. If I factor in the paperbacks I’ve read that would push the total number of new books I’ve read to over 30 (and closer to 40 if I count favourite rereads). Not too shabby.

Literary plans aside, it’ll be a low key Christmas with a few chores thrown in. The washing machine picked a prime moment to break a few days ago, so a trip to the laundromat will be in order before the replacement comes. Not what I needed, but it’s sod’s law I suppose. Some early spring cleaning is on my list too, including a big de-clutter of books, toys and clothes to go to the charity shops.

Other than that, not too much on my end. Hope you have some good Yuletide fun this season!

The Fairy Lights – a spooky yuletide short story

The Fairy Lights

A spooky yuletide story

Copyright © 2021 Leilanie Stewart

 

Aisling taped the last fairy light to the narrow stairwell of her terraced house. The colourful, battery-operated lights snaked up the handrail, around the banister on the landing above, across the ceiling and down the other side of the stairs towards the hallway. She slid the switch to the right, making the lights blink. No: too garish; never mind the fact that it gave her a headache. What if one of her guests had epilepsy and was triggered by the sensation? Too much risk. She slid the switch through the middle setting – off – and over to the left side, which put the fairy lights at a static ‘on’ setting. Perfect. She stood back and admired her handiwork with a smile. A bit of festive jazz would add seasonal cheer to her party, the first she would be hosting.

Before she left her house to get party supplies, Aisling switched off all the Christmas lights: tree in the living room, front window LED Santa, snowman and snowflake, nutcracker lights strung across the kitchen and lastly, the fairy lights running up the stairwell. She pulled on her boots and coat and set off up the street to the main road to do some shopping.

When Aisling returned half an hour later, she was laden with two canvas bags full of drinks – both alcoholic and non-alcoholic – as well as party treats. She had tried to buy as wide a range of food as the local convenience store would allow for: vegan canapēs; a selection of Christmas cheese nibbles; a gluten-free yuletide log and of course, the all-time party favourite food, cocktail sausages. She fumbled with the latch key to the door and squeezed into the narrow hallway sideways to allow room for the two bulky bags without squashing anything.

Aisling stopped without shutting the front door and stared up the stairwell. The fairy lights were switched on. Hadn’t she turned everything off before she had left the house? Yes, she was pretty sure she had. She went over it all in her head: tree; LED lights; string kitchen lights; fairy lights. Yes, she was positive she had switched everything off.

There was only one explanation for it; the fairy lights had to be faulty. The three settings of the switch were indeed close to each other on the battery case: left for on, middle for off and right for blinking. Maybe a minor malfunction of the wires allowed for it to switch on by itself. Not to worry; Aisling set down her shopping carrier bags in the hallway, pushed the front door shut with her foot and traipsed up the stairs to have a look. She lifted the battery case in her hand and looked down.

Aisling stared at the switch. It had been flicked to the left.

But that was impossible. She was positive that she had slid the switch to the middle setting – off – when she had left the house not half an hour before.

There couldn’t possibly be an intruder in the house, could there? A chill came over her as she set about the house checking every room. All the windows were shut and nothing looked disturbed. Besides, even if a burglar had broken into the house – in half an hour, no less – why would they have turned on the fairy lights as a marker that they had been and gone? It made no sense.

Aisling stopped on the landing and looked up. A small hatch opened into the attic. It measured maybe twelve by eighteen inches; narrow, but enough for a person to fit through. She thought back to a thriller she had watched a few months ago, of a couple who lived in rich people’s attics. They sneaked about by day and came out by night when the family who lived in the house were asleep, or when they were out at work and school. Could that be a possibility? It was an old, terraced house in Stranmillis Village in Belfast, probably built over a hundred years ago, judging by fact that it had a built in coal-bunker out in the back yard that now housed the boiler. It had a shed too, a built-in brickwork compartment next to the coal-bunker that was covered with a corrugated iron roof. The shed had once been, most likely, an outside toilet for the occupant at a time when neither electricity nor internal plumbing were commonplace. Such an old house probably gave access to roof spaces and other nooks and crannies where a person could hide.

The thought was unsettling, but that wasn’t why Aisling ruled it out. No, she ruled it out for another reason; if a person, or persons, were living in her attic space then food or possessions would have gone missing. Nothing had been stolen, moved or misplaced in the three months since she had moved in. Furthermore, she was a Queen’s University student like most of the people living on her street. Like many other students she could think of, Aisling was broke. What good would it do for a person to live in the roof-space above an undergraduate Classics student with more debt than money to their name?

No; Occam’s Razor. The simplest explanation is usually the best one. What did Aisling’s gut feeling tell her about the mystery of the fairy lights switching on by themselves?

That the fairy lights hadn’t malfunctioned. They hadn’t switched on by themselves.

That no living person was living in her attic.

No living person.

Aware of the chill still lingering around her shoulders, Aisling hunched them close to herself and rubbed her arms for warmth as she glanced over the banister at the fairy lights, shining benignly at her. If only they could speak to her, to tell her in their own words what had happened. Who – or what – had switched them on?

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Stocking stuffers – buy Indie this Christmas

Christmas is coming! Even if psychological fiction isn’t your thing, or urban fantasy is just not your cup of tea, what about that friend you’ve been looking for the perfect gift for?

Or it could be that you simply aren’t into poetry. But what about that family member who loves reading zany poetry? Humourous verse?

Why not buy Indie this Christmas? Give a gift and make an author happy this yuletide. What about a stocking stuffer for Saturnalia? (I’m getting silly now, but you catch my drift!)

Gods of Avalon Road is my debut urban fantasy/paranormal romance novel. The Buddha’s Bone is my second literary/psychological fiction book.

The Redundancy of Tautology is a collection of acerbic verse. A Model Archaeologist is a humourous collection of poems and Chemotherapy for the Soul is…well, soulful poetry to put it simply. Links to buy my poetry books can be found here.

Enjoy – and seasons greetings! ☃️