GUEST BLOG: Poetry, publication and self-promotion
16th April 2012 - Kerrie O'Brien
Kerrie O' Brien has been published in numerous Irish and UK literary journals. Her poem 'Blossoms' was chosen as the winning entry in the Emerging Talent category of the 2011 International Yeats Poetry Competition. This year she published her first collection, Out of the Blueness. Here she shares her experiences making a name for herself in the poetry world and offers her tips for writers trying to have their work more widely read and heard. (Find out more about Kerrie and her poetry at her website).
I only started writing poetry seriously in my final year of college. I submitted to some journals, was lucky enough to get published in a few good ones and then I didn't know where to go from that.
A friend recommended a ten-week Advanced Poetry Course in the Irish Writers' Centre taught by Alan Jude Moore. I felt nervous about having my worked critiqued by others and having to produce new work on a weekly basis but it was the best thing for my writing. I met other poets, I got constructive feedback and I ended up volunteering for the Centre which was incredible.
A few of us in the course started a meeting every few weeks to review each other's work which was immensely encouraging and pushed us all to keep writing new poetry. I was meeting lots of high profile writers through the Centre but I didn't know much about the underground writing scene in Dublin. One night I went to The Glor Sessions at the International Bar, an open mic night for writers and musicians, and it opened up a whole new world. I met a hugely supportive community of performance poets of all ages who ran their own writing groups, poetry reading series and journals. The night took place in the packed basement of a bar and there was no microphone so you simply had to be loud and brave. Poetry was suddenly exciting. I started to go to everything.
I started entering competitions and, in 2011, I was lucky enough to win the Emerging Talent Award in the International Yeats Poetry Competition. I was also highly commended for the Over the Edge New Writer of the Year. I had published a variety of poems online and in print at this stage and it was becoming annoying trying to explain to people where they could read my work. Even if you Googled my name, it was difficult to find poems. I decided to set up a website, even though I didn't have a collection yet and it made a startling difference. People began to invite me to readings and I managed to get a gig reading at Electric Picnic as part of the Ignite series. Ignite gives you five minutes to talk about anything you wish accompanied by a slideshow of photographs in the background. The best thing is that they make a professional recording of it for YouTube - it was the best self-promotion tool I could have asked for.
The more readings I did, the more apparent it became that I needed a book to sell. I still felt too young for a first collection but I wanted people to have something to take with them at the end of a reading. I also didn't have enough poems and found it was taking me weeks to write one poem. I told a poet friend about this and we decided to text each other a word every day and writing short poems at lunch time. The result was phenomenal. It showed us that poetry didn't have to be a long drawn out process and within two months we had each written over fifty poems.
Out of the blue a small publisher offered to give me a private print run of fifty chapbooks, the poetry equivalent of an EP. I got forty poems together, I asked a friend to design an image for the cover and they arrived in Dublin two weeks later. We decided to call it Out of the Blueness. I never thought I'd sell fifty but I had sold out within a week through family, friends and mostly by accident. I decided I wanted to launch the book at the Monday Echo (as the Glor Sessions event has been renamed) where it had all started. It was a brilliant night and there were other poets and musicians performing which took the pressure off me. I also made the book available through my website and so far more than 300 have sold which I still can hardly believe.
All of that happened last December. In January I decided to spend two months in Paris to launch the book and read at the Anglophone spoken word nights there. It was a brilliant experience. I met fantastic people and I was lucky enough to end up reading in Shakespeare and Co. as part of their New Writers series.
While I consider myself extremely lucky, anyone can be a successful writer by doing very simple things:
- Get it out of your head that you will never make money through poetry or that is will be a long torturous struggle.
- Do a creative writing course or join a writers' group. You will get good advice, feedback and meet likeminded people.
- Go to readings and open mic nights - you'll find them in every city, the talent will amaze you and they are always full of supportive creative people. Read you work at any literary event that you can, big or small. It's nerve-wracking but all it takes is practice and you never know who will be in your audience.
- Submit your work relentlessly. Always send out half a dozen poems at a time so you are not waiting around for one response. The more you submit, the more likely you are to be published.
- Don't take rejection personally. It happens to every writer all the time. Be honest with yourself - only submit work that you think is worthy of publication. If a poem gets rejection a huge amount of times, consider revising it.
- Create your own website or blog. It's cheap and very easy to do. I made mine through weebly.com but there are plenty of other sites like Wordpress or Tumblr which are easy to use and are great quality. But your domain before someone else does - it's surprising how other people in the world share your name. Put up links to where you've been published and upload photos or videos of readings - it will make you look professional.
- Be active on social media. Link your website to Facebook and Twitter. Even if you don't like them they are a vital marketing tool.
- Think outside the box. There are endless ways to promote your work in innovative ways and make it interesting. I recently made a little video of one of my poems which was really easy to do and it's a different way of expressing poetry.
- Don't be afraid to ask people for readings. People are generally nice and willing to help you.
- While it is a good idea to approach bookshops with your book, do it in a professional way and don't expect them to take more than five copies at a time. They get approached by emerging writers all the time. If you can show that you have sold lots of copies and promote yourself well then they will be more willing to help you.
- And finally the most importance advice I can offer to any emerging writer - persist. There will be times when there are nothing but rejection e-mails in your inbox or you feel you can't do it. This will pass and you never know what is around the corner. If you are feeling particularly blocked I highly recommend The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. Writing is a journey. Enjoy it!
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