(or 5 myths and 6 truths on how to earn money being a poet)
Money and poetry. I see. At first glance, one has nothing to do with another. There’s no money in poetry. But, (wait for it!) there is no poetry in money too. It’s that simple. And if there is among you one
poor misunderstood poetic soul – this blog post is for you. And for all of those who cannot understand you.
So dear poets, I fully sympathize. A successful writer can, with a little effort, earn some money and a third-rate painter could also make ends meat if a hotel chain or bank like his landscapes or sunflowers, but only a few poets ever managed to make a living out of poetry. Even Robert Frost, an extremely popular and widely read at his time, had to get a job as a teacher to make a living. And all others, like Whitman and Emily Dickinson – if we had an information on their whole income that came out of their poetry, it would probably be devastating. In previous centuries if anything, poets could hope for patrons or invitation to a dinner at a mansion of a nobleman, where they could entertain his drunk guests, or perhaps even to get a bit land from the king if they’ve written a verse or two in praise of his marches and massacres.
In addition to standard misunderstanding why would anyone earn money out of poetry, there’s also a fact that poems are usually short and written in a very short time. How can anyone appreciate your work when it’s done within 15 minutes?! You need to work hard to write a novel, and of course, such work has to be adequately rewarded. And anyone who has ever written a poem knows that songs are not changed much once they are completed (unlike a book). Poet stands by a window and watches rain falling or looks at the golden locks of his fair lady, scribble something on a piece of paper and has finished his work for the day. No wonder that writers and intellectuals generally despise poetry. And that most people think that poets should work for nothing.
If, however, you find people who understand all the power of poetry, poetry is often promoted in a completely wrong way. People organize poetry events where youth (or elderly with liver failure) are trying to awaken their friends with their poems and they aren’t paid to do it. Or even crazier, some poor poet issues a book in 3 copies and organizes literary evening at which (again, unpaid) literary critic pronounces couple of the most boring things on the planet and then the author (or his buddy) reads his work to journalists who came there just to eat something. You have to admit that this is, in addition to being a really creepy scene, a bit outdated approach.
And frankly, we are never quite sure that we know what poems are really about. We can read them on and on and guess their meaning until the end of time, and again we won’t figure out what a poet wanted to say. But that is (presumably) their beauty – they easily get to you, they rhyme, and they are mysterious. Besides a meaning that readers add themselves, one doesn’t get into a certain mood faster than by just reading (or listening to) a poem; every song you hear on the radio is a kind of poetry (we can argue on that, ok).
If anyone cares, Greek word poem means made thing – a combination of techniques and patterns. What this really means is that feelings are converted into words that are put into coherent whole with a specific pattern. And no matter how people think five-minute ravishment is easy, being a poet is not an easy task. You put your most private thoughts on a paper and give it to others who will examine, dissect, analyze and criticize. That’s why most people never admit that they even write poems. And when you’re writing poetry, you can never (ever) stop. Words can often haunt you and you can’t settle down until you throw them on a piece of paper and fulfill some inexplicable primal urge. And then it turns out that no one really appreciate what you are doing. That’s why today I decided to deal with the most common misconceptions related to poetry and then offer (quite good) solutions in order to show you how to make money out of your poems.
5 common misconceptions about poetry + 3 ways how NOT to earn money writing poetry:
- There’s no more great poetry nowadays. Oh-my-God! Every time someone comes to me and preach about how it used to be better then and how now nothing is good and all is irretrievably gone, I always suggest they should invent a time machine (and not return). I’m sick and tired of hearing about how poetry is dead – over and over again people repeat stupid phrases like there is no more culture or all great literature is destroyed… So it’s best that we no longer produce anything because there are no chances for anyone to become a “great poet”, right?! Just wait – which scientific research exactly proved that? Where are those statistics? Do you think that any poet has beed proclaimed a legend within 2 days, or his statue was built and his poems placed in a textbook for third grade right away?! It takes time, promotion and quality for some poem to become legendary. Only after a few years (or centuries!), we realize the full power of a song (or an author); much like with movies, paintings, books…
- There are many factors that contribute to a downfall of poetry: media, market, crisis, politics, education… (fill in the blanks with terms you prefer). Again – oh my God! Thanks to the internet, poetry is coming to its readers faster than ever; it has never been easier to get through to someone. Just a decade ago, people wrote postcards that landed on the right address only after several weeks. And even though a time limit of postcard reception has not improved, you can now put up your poem on a social media (you don’t even need to have your own website!) and it’s very likely that couple of hundred people from around the globe will see your work in just a few minutes!
- Nobody reads poetry. Let’s not generalize things. It all depends. Where do you think thousands and thousands of pages of poetry on the Internet came from? Who transcribed and wrote that? Many people around the world love reading poetry and if you don’t know those kind of people, it doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. It’s easy to find excuses and blame it all on the problems in your country, educational system or catastrophic idiocy of new generation, but nothing can prevent quality text to reach out to a wider audience. Communication today is more than open and poetry has a variety of channels. Even if it was true that reality shows hinder reception of poetry and that poetry is truly on the edge of an existence: which masterpiece in any literature in the last few decades has been banned and stopped from being read?!
- People think that they are poets too easily: people put some of their lyrics at their social profiles and imagine they’re poets. So what?! So f***n what?! Let them think! Let them write! If this keeps them off the streets, great! There are so many worse things that people can do. Let them put poems on Facebook. And only if you see a hint of perversity that should be reported to the authorities, start worrying. Meanwhile unfollow these profiles and read Shakespeare. Blake. Pushkin. Po. Baudelaire. Rilke. Lorca. (oh well yes, I can go on forever)
- Publishing houses are in crisis. Whether or not are they is a relative thing, but you have to understand that publishing companies are now turned towards commercial publications which is natural; similar principle rules in all industries – from music to movie. And if you’re wondering whether quality poetry should be left alone to find its audience, my answer is: how about poetry making an effort to reach out to its own audience?! Poets should develop their entrepreneurial mind and learn how to sell their poetry.
- If you write poems, you can easily earn money on poetry competitions. No. No you can’t! This is an option, but not a good one for various reasons. First of all, most poetry competitions don’t give out any fee if you win. Absolutely none. Zero, nada, nul (and don’t be fooled to sponsor a book of songs that no one will ever buy). And even if the reward is financially substantial, you still need to win. It’s ok to go if you want to socialize and get acquainted with other poets, but what if the jury doesn’t understand your kind of aesthetics? I know that it’s important to participate, but it’s not bad to earn something also.
- You can publish your book of poems. I already wrote about this, but let’s go over this again. If some publishing house is abnormal enough to agree to publish your book of poetry (which cannot be sold because it’s simply – poetry), royalties from your book will amount to a maximum of 9%. Yes, nine (and quite possibly less). It’s much better to publish an e-book where your royalties can go as high as 70%.
- Poetry is read at weddings and funerals. Okay, but I think it’s hard to make a profit out of this. Or am I wrong? If anyone wants a to steal this (not so brilliant) entrepreneurial idea, please go ahead: www.PoetryForAll(HappyOrNot)Occassions.com
6 solutions for poets – or how to REALLY make money from poetry:
- Create greeting cards with your lyrics. If you want to create your own brand of greeting cards, you don’t need much investment to make a business out of it; if you have any creativity, all you need is a hard paper, nice handwriting and a Facebook page. Besides selling cards as an independent artist, you can also sell your greeting cards over sites such as Etsy and verses to companies such as Hallmark, Blue Mountain, Designer Greetings, Amber Lotus Publishing etc. as they often buy off someone else’s lyrics for their cards.
- Print your verses on t-shirts, cups, etc. In addition to greeting cards, your poems can be printed out on t-shirts, mugs, wedding invitations, bags or children clothing. You can sell these products on sites like Etsy and Ebay but also on Amazon that can be a great option. Printing poems on t-shirts is not a bad idea if you want to offer a song to a band or musician, and then continue to sell promotional material.
- Put your poems online and get paid from advertising. There are many popular “pay-per-view” and “ad-sharing” sites such as Hubpages. All that they require from you is to put your poems exclusively on their website and join so-called “Ad Program” – you make money when people click on adds while reading your poetry (similar as with YouTube).
- Self-publish your electronic book of poetry. Nowadays you can publish a book without publishing house and earn as much as 70% from one copy. This is called self-publishing: you set a price and you control the whole process and you can even publish a paperback (so-called “Print on demand”). The whole procedure takes about 5 minutes, you don’t need publishing company and your e-book is presented all over the world. If you want to know more, check out my article on how to publish your e-book on any language on iBooks or another one where I talk about all the (possible) details on how to publish your book on Amazon.
- Create a blog or website. If you want to be serious about writing (or any other business), it wouldn’t be bad to have your own website where you could present yourself. In addition to being a great way to show your creativity and publishing your poems as much as your heart desires, you can also make money by becoming an “affiliate partner” and displaying advertisements from sites such as Nuffnang, Amazon, eBay, Adsense, Infolinks etc. If you want to know more, here’s a site where you can learn all about affiliate marketing.
- Write poems at parties! On the streets of world’s largest cities, beside mime artists, singers or still people who move when you give them a quarter, you can also find poets who will write an ordered poem for compensation (eg. about you). Depending on where you live, poems-at-parties may be a better and rather unconventional idea that I’ve found here. The point is to agree with the party organizers to attend an event and bring your typewriter or write lyrics on paper directly for all attendees (as part of the event). As much as this may sound crazy, you can never know what people are willing to give money for, so you can try something like this (and even if you don’t earn anything, you will surely have a great time).
In the end, all you really need to do is – to have fun. If you love poetry and feel good writing poems, you will see how various (and sometimes weird!) ways appear where you will be able to make money from being a poet. The energy that you put into your lyrics is the most important thing and that’s what people recognize and what attracts attention. Of course, you cannot stop people from writing poetry even if poets are never paid for what they do. But with generations that have looser and looser concentration every day, poetry may be the only literature that people will read – and therefore a privilege that they will be willing to pay for.