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Poetry Readings and Book Sales

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 29, 2012

Most writers have to give readings of their work. Usually this is done to introduce oneself to a new and larger audience, and perhaps more importantly, to generate book sales. As the author of 15 poetry collections, I’ve given TONS of readings all over America. And much of the time it’s been fun. But it can be dreary and sometimes even depressing as well. What do you do, for instance, when no one shows up at your reading? Does the standing room only crowd at another reading make up for that? And just how many book sales ARE generated from readings?

The first poetry reading I ever gave was back in the 1980s at the long gone Black and Read bookstore in Knoxville, TN, where I was getting my undergraduate degree. That reading was shared by several people. My first reading I gave as the featured poet was at the also long gone Davis Kidd bookstore, also in Knoxville. There weren’t very many people at the first one. There were over 70 people filling the small indie bookstore for the second one.  (I was somewhat popular in college.)

Over the years, I’ve given poetry readings at universities, bookstores, sidewalks, bars, coffee shops, auditoriums, and even nightclubs. They’ve all been different too. My most depressing reading was at a coffee shop in Huntington Beach, CA. Not very many people showed up. My biggest readings have been at universities. Quite a few people came to hear me at UCLA and later, back at the University of Tennessee. I’ve read at other universities too. The strangest reading I ever did was at a Phoenix nightclub, where my reading provided the backdrop to an artsy fashion show. Talk about weird! I also really enjoyed the magazine publication readings out in California, especially for Pearl, Caffeine, and Saturday Afternoon Journal. I always looked forward to those.

I did a lot of readings on the West coast and parts of the Southwest back in 1996 in an effort to promote my new book, Places. It had gotten really good reviews around the world, and I’d gotten some good publicity in various newspapers around the country, especially in Tennessee and California. I took copies of the book with me to sell. And the results were always disappointing. Either people had already bought the book at bookstores carrying it, or they just didn’t care to have it, even if I autographed it.

Here are some stats. These are from my memory, circa mid-’90s. The average press run for a book of poetry in America at the time was 700 copies. At the time, 51% of Americans bought one or more books each year. Of that 50%, 1% bought a poetry book. See where I’m going with this? It gets worse. The standard royalty rate for an author is 8%, and since poetry books don’t sell and since only 700 copies are published, poets can’t pay their rent or mortgage on what they make. Indeed, they rarely even break even when you consider the paper, printing ink, postage, phone call costs, travel, etc., of everything involved in getting a book published. Basically, you lose money. So, you try and help yourself and your publisher out by taking copies to readings to sell. But they don’t sell. And that’s tragic.

Of my 15 poetry collections, one was published with only 100 copies. Fortunately, it did go through four press runs, but still. 2,000 copies of Places were published. It sold OK, I guess, but I still have a box and a half of copies of the book in my garage — books my publisher couldn’t unload. My guess is, hundreds….

I was fortunate in that most of my books sold well enough to sell out. Some were re-printed; others were not. And so it goes. Did giving poetry readings help my book sales? To a small degree, yes, I’m sure. Did I become a best selling poet through poetry readings? I’ll stop laughing now. You get the picture. Here’s a final request: go to book readings. Hear what authors are publishing. Buy their books and get them autographed. Authors appreciate the support and the sales. Book lovers — do the right thing. Support poetry readings and all book readings. Seek them out. I think both writer and audience will find it rewarding.

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My New WordPress Page: MY BOOKS – CRAZY PRICES

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 25, 2011

Today I created and published a new themed tab — a WordPress “Page” — that I titled MY BOOKS – CRAZY PRICES. This page is about what I found some of my old published but now out of print books are selling for online, on places like Amazon and Alibris. I was surprised to a very large degree to see what some of these books are going for, so I made a number of screen shots which I embedded into my new tab/Page and I hope anyone remotely interested in such things will check it out. Naturally I’m biased, but I’m terribly curious about who would pay such wacky prices for old books of mine. I’m also curious about how these bookstores and resellers got their hands on “collectibles” in some cases, ie, autographed copies. I will probably never find out, and I guess that’s fine, but it’s still interesting for me to ponder, so please check that page out and feel free to leave any comments if so inclined. Thanks!

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The Best Contemporary Confessional Poetry Books

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 22, 2011

Just because I want to kick start this blog off and get some content out there, and even though I’ve got some topics in mind I want to write about, my time is quite limited these days, so this post will actually be stolen from an Amazon.com list I put together earlier this year. I introduce the list with these words:

“Of course I realize that ‘Confessional’ poetry didn’t just start circa 1970. I recognize the importance of Robert Lowell, Plath, Sexton, etc. That said, I think a great number of the ‘accepted’ mainstream poets considered to be confessional poets today are basically crap, so I’ve compiled MY list of what I believe to be the best, newer, confessional poetry books, written by some of the best poets out there. Enjoy!”

As a poet and writer who is both a confessional writer and lover of confessional poetry and writing, I’m biased and I admit it.  Still, I’m going to list MY top 20. I would love comments from anyone out there who encounters this post.  Disagree, discuss, add to the list — whatever you want. Oh, and I think I’ll add my descriptive commentary on each of these books after the list, in order of the list (if that makes any sense). Cheers!

  1. Play the Piano Drunk Like a Percussion Instrument until the Fingers Begin to Bleed a Bit by Charles Bukowski
  2. Love is a Dog From Hell by Charles Bukowski
  3. Factory (Pocket Poets Series) by Antler
  4. The Southeast Asian Book of the Dead by Bill Shields
  5. Firebird Poems by Gerald Locklin
  6. Stand Up Friend With Me by Edward Field
  7. What Is This Thing Called Love: Poems by Kim Addonizio
  8. Scream When You Burn: A Pound of Sacred Flesh from the Lap of Coffee Culture by Rob Cohen
  9. Stand Up Poetry: An Expanded Anthology by Charles Harper Webb
  10. The Doctor Poems by Lyn Lifshin
  11. Counting Myself Lucky: Selected Poems 1963-1992 by Edward Field
  12. Mad Dog, Black Lady by Wanda Coleman
  13. The Flash of Lightning Behind the Mountain: New Poems by Charles Bukowski
  14. Lifetaker by Bill Shields
  15. North Beach Revisited by A. D. Winans
  16. Deep Red by Donna Hilbert
  17. Goodstone by Fred Voss
  18. MAKING LOVE TO ROGET’S WIFE by Ronald Koertge
  19. In Danger (The California Poetry Series) (California Poetry Series, V. 2) by Suzanne Lummis
  20. Alchemy of Opposites: Poems by Clifton Snider

My commententary:

  1. The first Bukowski I ever read, decades ago, and I still remember to this day how it just blew my mind. I have all of his books, but this poetry book remains my favorite.
  2. Aside from my admittedly biased Buk fav — Play the Piano Drunk… — I’ve long felt this book was one of his strongest books of poems.
  3. One of the most important poetry books in American history. That’s not merely my opinion. Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder & many other big names heaped massive amounts of praise on this book, and with good reason.
  4. While Shields remains controversial re his bio/reputation, his books — particularly this one — just hit you in the gut, over and over, until you feel like you’ve gotten the hell beat out of you, yet strangely you want more.  Massively intense!
  5. Locklin’s best, IMO.  Great book!
  6. Geez, this is a serious classic.  What can you say, really?  This book, from early in the 1960s, went on to impact countless numbers of poets and aspiring poets ever since.
  7. She’s the superstar, and this book shows why.
  8. One of the very best contemporary anthologies I’ve EVER read, focusing, yes, on the L.A. coffeehouse confessional crowd, but packed with incredible stuff (including Bukowski, I believe — oh yeah, and me too — am I biased?).  Get this!
  9. Similar to Scream When You Burn, but a bit more mainstream, IMO.
  10. My favorite Lifshin book, out of all of her millions of books.  She IS the most heavily published author in the history of the world, right?
  11. A wonderful, wonderful collection.
  12. Coleman presents a worldview that is slightly different than that of some of the other confessionals.  Find her classic Black Sparrow books.  Well worth the investment.
  13. My favorite posthumous Bukowski book.  Good stuff.
  14. Another Shields poetic beating, brutal and rough, but you emerge (if you still have your sanity) simply amazed at this poet’s talent.
  15. Winans — major underground influence on the scene.
  16. I like Donna, always have. Good person, good writer. I don’t know if this book would make everyone else’s list for this topic, but I feel it’s worthy of inclusion.
  17. The under appreciated Voss is like the poor man’s Antler, yet I don’t mean that in a critical way.  This book is good.
  18. Koertge. Shoot, any of his books will do!
  19. This is one of my two favorite books by Lummis.
  20. I’m not certain I would always categorize Clifton as a “confessional” poet, per se, but I do feel like this books lends itself toward that feel, and is worthy of making the list.

Well, thank you for letting me “cheat” with some stuff I’d actually already done. I hope this list will find some new readers here and perhaps will encourage someone to read a poet previously unknown to them.

Finally, off topic, I just found this out this afternoon while nosing around Amazon, and I did go ahead and add it to my post from yesterday, but I’m just so stunned at seeing this (for so many different reasons) that I want to mention it again. As of this afternoon, Amazon.com is showing that a new copy of my 2004 book, Cells, is available for purchase through a reseller for $164.13!!!  Craziness! Who the heck would pay that for my book??? I remember thinking it was crazy when a used copy of another one of mine, Artifacts, was for sale at one of these online bookstores for $137 earlier this year. Seriously? I’m not Bukowski or Ginsberg people!

Here’s a thing that honestly irritates me though. It’s not like I made a ton of cash off the royalties of these or any of my poetry books. Truly. So, since I’ve seen a number of my old books for sale online over the past few years for over $100 at a time, there must be some demand somewhere for Holstad poetry collections, right? Yet, because these are sold used, or in this case of Cells today, new via a reseller, I’m not getting a penny from any of this! Yeah, that kind of irritates me. When my books were on sale new for $7 or $12 or $21.95 or whatever, I was damn lucky to get my standard 8% of the gross, which didn’t amount to much. Now that some of my old books are selling for hundreds of dollars, apparently, yeah, I wouldn’t mind getting a cut of that — they’re MY damn books and my words and my poems and my experiences and someone somewhere is making a sweet profit in selling these for those silly amounts. You know? Just my main thought on that topic….

Posted in Poetry | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments »

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