Use the following ideas during National Poetry Month and year-round to sell more poetry.
Events for children
Success stories from past years
Representatives of the following book stores contributed suggestions for this tip-sheet: The Booksmith (San Francisco, CA), Books & Co. (New York, NY), A Clean Well Lighted Place for Books (Larkspur, CA), Hungry Mind Books (St. Paul, MN), Prairie Lights (Iowa City, IA), Shakespeare & Co. (New York, NY), Shaman Drum (Ann Arbor, MI), Square Books (Oxford, MS), Stroudwater Books (Portsmouth, NH), Tattered Cover Book Store (Denver, CO). Please contact The Academy of American Poets if you have suggestions that might be used next year.
- Find someone on your staff (or a customer) who has a genuine interest in and knowledge of poetry; ask them what they think is missing from your store's poetry section; you may find that you have a customer who will go through catalogs with you to improve the section.
- In your poetry section, create a special display that features books by several winners of a particular award, such as the Pulitzer Prize or National Book Award. Keep abreast of the current winners. Experiment with different awards. Try a display based on the nominees for a particular award. Create and post a flyer that lists winners from a number of years. For a list of the Academy of American Poets awards visit www.poets.org/awards.
- Devote a part of your poetry section to essays and criticism by or about poets or poetry.
- Take advantage of poets who are authors of other kinds of books. "If you like their . . ." (e.g., Louise Erdrich, Raymond Carver, Annie Dillard, Michael Ondaatje, Wendell Berry, Barbara Kingsolver, Margaret Atwood, Jim Harrison, Conrad Aiken, Dorothy Parker, etc.).
- Take poetry books by local authors on consignment. Ask the poets to sign all copies, then let the customers know they're signed. Support them and they'll support you.
- Create handwritten shelf-talkers (a small card taped to the shelf, maybe including a short excerpt from, or write-up on, the book) based on staff or customer recommendations in your poetry section. Or place these cards directly into books, and face the books out. Maybe even make a special end-cap display based on favorite poetry selections by employees or customers.
- Add a scan code to your shelf-talkers to take customers to further information about the poet or poetry.
- Become an official National Poetry Month sponsor through the Academy of American Poets. For sponsorship benefits and rates, contact firstname.lastname@example.org / 212-274-0343 ext. 22.
- Request a National Poetry Month poster for display from Poets.org (automatically sent to all sponsors).
- Photocopy a different poem for each day in April and hand them out as bag-stuffers.
- Give away a volume of poetry each week in April; connect it to whatever you want, a random purchase, the nth customer of the day, etc. Or hold a raffle for people who visit your store, offering a poet's "collected," "selected," or "complete" poems. Ask your sales representatives to donate copies. Use signed copies from an author reading in your store.
- Take advantage of or instigate co-op promotions with publishers. One bookseller gave away a mug imprinted with its own logo and the names of a publisher's poets, and then distributed the mug with each purchase of a book by the publisher. The same bookstore gave away t-shirts promoting a specific book with each purchase of the book.
- Make a photocopied enlargement of a poem from a book you have for sale and place it in your store window, something fairly short and accessible to people just passing by. Some sales reps will arrange for a publisher to provide you with this mounted on poster board.
- Add your poetry events to the National Poetry Calendar on Poets.org www.poets.org/calendar. Promote your events on social media and through local media.
- Have your store participate in Poem in Your Pocket Day. For tips visit www.poets.org/pocket.
- Host a publication party/reading for a local or regional poet's new book. Send invitations to a mailing list provided by the poet. (You might ask the poet to share the work or costs of the mailing.) Ask poets to help promote their events by reaching out to their friends, fans, and social media followers.
- Host a Skype chat with a non-local poet or poets.
- Host a Twitter chat on our store's Twitter feed. You might offer a discount on the poet's book in advance of the chat to help promote the event.
- Host a reading as a fund-raiser for a local organization. Have the organization send a special mailing to their supporters, and then donate a percentage of the profits from poetry sales during a particular time-frame to that organization.
- Offer your store as a place for a local reading and/or writing group to gather. Have a special reception during National Poetry Month with refreshments.
- Host a poetry panel or workshop. Enlist several local poets to discuss their work and/or offer a workshop (on either writing or the publishing process) for aspiring writers.
- Host a theme reading on tax day or April Fool's Day (or any special day in the year).
Events for Children
- Sponsor a poetry contest for children, separated by different age groups. Haiku is great for young writers. Winners might receive a gift certificate for your store and participate in a reading.
- Sponsor a story time afternoon event with a local poet, in which children are led to write and/or illustrate their own poems.
- Create a bulletin board for local or regional poetry events.
- Encourage book clubs to include a book of poetry in their selections for April.
- Use publishers, local arts councils, and university writing programs as a resource for finding your local poets.
- Take advantage of publicity opportunities that result from poets being in the news, subjects of movies, the obituary pages, winning prizes, etc.
- Use your in-store newsletter to promote poetry in April.
- Remember to include poetry in any theme-based displays you create. For instance, you might include an anthology of wedding or love poems in a display of wedding-related books.
Some Success Stories From Previous Years
The stores that had the greatest success with National Poetry Month were the ones that invested effort in hosting readings, setting up special poetry displays, organizing contests, offering poetry discounts and mentioning National Poetry Month in their newsletters and to the local media.
The Book Mine (Leadville, CO) held poetry contests for children, young adults, and adults. A local journalist, a creative writing teacher, and a local poet judged entries. Winners received $25 gift certificates to the store and the Herald Democrat published their poems.
After-Words (Chicago, IL) held "Poetrypalooza 2000." Customers were given a list of ten famous opening lines and asked to identify the poets. Half right meant half off a poetry purchase. Anyone who answered all correctly received a free used poetry book.
Teacher's Delight (Lafayette, IN) handed out a poem a day to buying customers, and placed copies of the poem on the counter for anyone to take.
Cover To Cover Ltd. (Randolph, VT) featured local poets in weekly readings, held poetry workshops, and created poetry displays in the windows. Over the course of the year, the local paper printed one of David Budbill's poems each week from his book Poem From a Mountain Recluse.
DDDD Publications (St. Louis, MO) arranged several group poetry readings with local Barnes & Noble stores. All were well attended. Stores saw a 25% increase in poetry sales. The Publications' monthly poetry newsletter, "A Poemazine" is gaining more poetry submissions than ever.
Carroll's Entertainment (Emporia, KS) posted poems throughout the store, including a 4 x 8ft poem in their front window. They offered a 20% discount on all poetry and writing books and displayed poetry books on every end-cap. Poetry sales increased 25% during April.
St. Paul's Bookstore (Concord, NH) Sponsoring an "Original Poetry Contest," the bookstore staff chose one winning poem to publish in the school newspaper. They also held a "Name the Poet Contest" in which students had to correctly identify two out of three poems printed without title, author, or the first line. Winners received a bag with a notebook, a pen, and a poem. Poetry sales increased dramatically with the contests and the 10% discount that the bookstaore offered throughout April.
Inkwood Books (Tampa, FL) The bookstore had great success with their April promotion entitled, "Once More, With Feeling. . .Inkwood's Annual Salute to National Poetry Month: Recite a poem (published, please-no nursery rhymes or songs) and take 15% off your purchase." The store also holds poetry readings and finds that poetry sales do quite well all year round, but especially well in April.
Books & Books (Coral Gables, FL) The bookstore helped put together a program in which locals wrote poems about meals they had eaten at various area restaurants. The restaurants created special menus highlighting the poets' meals and diners received a copy of the poem with their order. Books & Books also offered a 20% discount on all poetry books for the month, resulting in a 20% increase in poetry sales.
The Education Station (Fayetteville, AR) Bookstore staff brought Magnetic Poetry Kits to local classes and presented lessons on poetry. They took pictures of the kids using the Magnetic Kits and incorporated the photos in a store display with the National Poetry Month poster.
Halfway Down the Stairs Children's Bookshop (Rochester, MI) To celebrate national Poetry Month, two special events were held for children: "Story time: Rhyme, Rhythm & Rollicking Fun" and "A Poetry & Popcorn Party." The first allowed children ages two to six to enjoy "the bounce and fizz of great rhyming stories and the sheer delight of words." The second event let young writers share their work with parents and community members. The store also dedicated its front hallway to a "Poetry Gallery" where children and adults could post their poems throughout the month of April.
Storyteller Books and Coffee (Salmon, ID) In conjunction with the local writers group, Storyteller Books sponsored a poetry writing contest. The proceeds from the entry fee went to the local schools, to help them publish a yearly poetry anthology of students' work, grades K-12. The store hosted poetry readings as well.
Huckleberry's Books & Coffee (Vancouver, Washington) In 1998, the bookstore held "Taking It to the Streets," a poetry reading by local poets on the sidewalk in front of the store. For National Poetry Month 1999, the store gave a 15% discount on poetry books as well as displayed a "Poem of the Day" in the store window. They also hosted a "Celebration of Poetry" event where local poets were invited to read at an open mike session.
Square Books (Oxford, MS) The bookstore celebrated National Poetry Month by putting a different poem (selected by store staff) on butcher paper in the window every day and producing seven different bookmarks with poems on them. They held four large readings during April and offered all poetry at a 15% discount. As a result, poetry sales increased 25-30% over those of an average month.