Email Marketing for Poets

Yes, you’d like the world to know about (and hopefully buy) your book. However, the UK publishes more books per capita than any other country so making your book stand out is tough. Poetry publishers’ marketing budgets are such that poets themselves get to do most of the marketing themselves.

You receive an email from a mailing list you’re on. You’re on that list because you gave permission to the sender to join. This point about giving permission is crucial, without it the sender cannot send you emails without breaking the law.

Wouldn’t it be easy to hit ‘reply all’ and send information about your book to everyone on that mailing list? A substantial number of people will now know about your book.

Unfortunately:

  • You’ve potentially broken the law by breaching the Data Protection Act (a lot of those emails were private emails, not business emails, and people on the original list only gave permission from the sender to use their emails, not you.)
  • You might see it as “information” about your book but it’s actually promotional material and you cannot send people promotional material without their consent.
  • All those people on that mailing list have now blacklisted you as a spammer
  • Those on that mailing list who might have considered reviewing your book had you approached them individually are now definitely not interested in reviewing your book
  • People on the mailing list who have had to deal with threatening emails or online trolls do not see your email as a mere inconvenience.
  • Under English law, ignorance is no defence.

From experience, I’ve found that those who are tempted to use email lists in this way are people who have not had to deal with threatening emails or online trolls and see no harm in getting an email from someone they don’t know. When I’ve pointed out that I’ve received an email that I shouldn’t have received and asked to be removed from the sender’s email list, I’ve been accused of “making a fuss” or “exaggerating the problem” and in one case was told I should be “grateful” as the sender thought I wouldn’t have known about the release had I not (illegally) received his email.

As a reviewer, extensive reader of poetry magazines, someone already on mailing lists from several publishers and a social media user, it’s pretty rare I wouldn’t know about a book that I’m likely to be interested in. I get plenty of unsolicited emails asking for a review, which I’m fine with because, if I don’t know the sender, I usually know the publisher. I am not “making a fuss” when I tell someone they’ve used my email address without consent and potentially illegally.

So how can poets use email marketing without falling foul of the law or gaining a reputation for being a spammer?

Collecting Email Addresses

Essentially any personal email addresses collected for the purposes of marketing should be collected on the basis of opt-in consent, e.g.:-

  • through a website contact form or web subscriber service where users send an email address on the understanding they are subscribing to an email marketing list or newsletter;
    through a competition where entrants give consent to further mailings;
  • do not automatically add the email address of someone who emailed a query. By all means ask if they want to be added or give them a link where they can sign up;
  • do not automatically add an email address of someone you approached for advice, even if they were willing to give you advice – ask if they want to be added to your mailing list;
  • do not automatically add an email address of someone you approached for a review, even if they agreed to review your book – ask first;
  • don’t add anyone who stated that they did not want to be added.

Corporate or commercial email address holders do not need to give consent.y

Sending Emails

  • If sending an email to more than one person, use the bcc (blind carbon copy) option instead of To or cc. This way, you can see who you’ve sent the email to but recipients can’t. You’ve taken away the temptation for a recipient to hit ‘Reply All’ and spam your list;
  • Check you have news to send – don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you need to send an email newsletter according to a fixed timescale or that you will lose subscribers if you don’t keep in touch;
  • Ensure your news is useful – poet writes poem is not news. Poet has new book that can be ordered from publisher or poet is doing a series of readings with date and venue information is news;
  • Check your email has unsubscribe information on (each email needs this information, not just emails to new subscribers);
  • Check your email has a bricks-and-mortar address on – this can be a publisher’s or business address – if sending from within the European Union (not necessary if you use a web service based outside Europe);
  • Don’t include unnecessary links – ‘click here to order’ is fine, summarising an article and including a link to the full article is fine if you’re including more than one. Linking to your website or blog in the main body of your email because you’ve been told it’s “beneficial for search engine optimisation” is not (it’s also not beneficial for search engine optimisation.)

Maintenance of your Email Address List

  • If someone on your address list unsubscribes, actually unsubscribe them. A confirmation is polite, but not necessary;
  • If someone changes their email address and notifies you, change their details;
  • Don’t take email addresses from websites of people whom you think might be interested in your news;
  • Don’t automatically add email addresses from people who contact you – check they are happy to subscribe first;
  • Don’t allow a publisher access to your email address list – take the information the publisher would like to send and include it in your own emails by all means, but the marketing mail must come from you, not your publisher as subscribers have signed up to your list;
  • Don’t sell your list on – you may make a quick buck, but it will be at the expense of your longer term marketing strategy as people will unsubscribe and tell others not to subscribe.

A Brief Guide to Email Marketing for Writers Summarised:

  • Have a strict opt-in only policy on collecting email addresses;
  • Use bcc rather than cc or too so that recipients can’t see the email addresses of other recipients and aren’t tempted to spam your email list;
  • Never assume someone who contacts you or responds positively to a review request is happy to be added to your mailing list – always check first;
  • Ensure your emails are useful and contain information subscribers need to know;
  • Action updates and changes to email addresses or contact details as soon as possible;
  • Ensure you include unsubscribe and clear identification on every email.

Leicester Writers Showcase Ella @ 100Leicester Writers Club Everybodys Reading event flyer

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Journeys In Translation Leicester 30 September 2017

Journeys in Translation Event during Everybodys Reading“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” Nelson Mandela

With the Journeys in Translation event on the horizon, I’ve been thinking a lot about translation and in particular the challenges in translating poems. Journeys in Translation took 13 poems from “Over Land, Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge” and via a Facebook Group and local call-outs asked people with knowledge of one or more languages than English to translate one poem into another language. Some translators were happy to translate more than one poem. So far the poems have been translated into 22 different languages, Arabic, Assmanese, Bengali, British Sign Language, Chinese, Danish, Farsi, Filipino, Finnish, French, Gaelic (Irish), German, Greek, Hindi, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Shona, Spanish, Turkish and Welsh. Not all poems have been translated into all 22 languages, but every poem has an Italian, German and Portuguese translation. At the Journeys in Translation event, the original poem will be read along with one translation. There will be displays of posters featuring original poems and translations.

One translator commented that usually she translates into English rather than from English (her mother tongue) which put her outside of her comfort zone. She felt this led her to understand the frustration of not being able to instantly find the words she needed which gave her a “sense of powerlessness through loss of communication tools”. This prompted her to think about refugees trying to describe the lives they’d left behind, particularly where equivalent words aren’t available, and the further loss this creates. However, the close reading needed to translate a poem prompted her to think about the human aspect of the refugee crisis and how normal and comparable the refugee’s stories were.

There were examples of words for which there was no equivalent in the target language. For instance, apples are not native to Bengali so there is no word for ‘apple’, which led to a discussion about whether to leave the English word in the poem or use a Bengali word for another fruit, e.g. pomegranate instead. Did the original poet intend the focus of the line which was being translated to centre on the apple or on the act of a brother and sister sharing food? Would losing the word ‘apple’ create any loss of cultural significance? In the Biblical story, apple was the fruit that Eve ate so, in some contexts, an apple isn’t simply something to eat. In Shona, there is no direct word for astronaut, which presents a challenge when translating a poem about a girl who wants to be an astronaut.

Some poems presented other challenges. “but one country” is a speculum or verbal mirror image poem and some translators deliberately chose it to see if they were up to the challenge of recreating the form. Some translators altered the title from “but one country” to “only one country” which is more grammatical but ignores the way the original title makes the reader sit up and think because it’s not the expected word order. Translating the poem is not as straightforward as translating one line and moving on to the next, because each line has to work in both stanzas. The shape offers an additional test because the lines have to fit into their place in the poem’s shape otherwise the shape is distorted. In some translations, the original globe shape became more like a mountain looking at its reflection.

Some translators stuck to literal translations but others wanted to try and use the rhymes, internal rhymes and other sound patterns from the original poems into the translations. Occasionally that meant substituting alliteration and assonance in one place with alliteration and assonance in another.

Colloquialisms presented another challenge – did the translator use plain language as in the original or try and poeticise the language to make the translation look more like a poem? Metaphors need care in translation. Even though tigers don’t make dens (they take over a cave or hollow or smiliar natural shelter), one translation used “den” rather than “cave” to sustain an animal metaphor. The English sense of “alien” for “other” frequently doesn’t have a direct equivalent in other languages. In prose, there is space to offer an explanatory translation rather than a direct one, but poems don’t offer that space. However there were also benefits when translating some words: the Spanish word for ‘waiting’ includes the concept of hope, which enhances its context in the title of the poem “Waiting”.

After the Journeys in Translation event, there are plans to display all the translations on a blog.


Leicester Writers Showcase Ella @ 100

Leicester Writers Club Everybodys Reading event flyer

“four and twenty” anthology (Pinggg….K!)

“four and twenty” celebrates five years of Pinggg…K!, one of Leicester’s more eclectic poetry and spoken word nights. Pinggg…K! meet on the last Tuesday of each month welcoming metrosexual verse (in keeping with Rikki Beadle-Blair’s soap Metrosexuality), acoustic music and visual art. Icelandic artist Magnus Gesstson opened his Galleri Gestur at Pinggg…K! The set is one of open mics and featured performances. Featured performances have included Dean Atta, Mellow Baku, Rob Gee, Cora Greenhill, Helen Ivory, Carol Leeming, Maria Taylor and Lydia Towsey amongst others.

From the spoken word nights a serious of blackbird/earthworm joking couplets emerged with cartoonists in the audience providing illustrations. In turn these inspired blackbird poems. The best have been selected and compiled into this anthology, which takes its name from the nursery rhyme where four and twenty blackbirds were baked in a pie.

Liz Gray’s “When Harry ate Sally” plays on the sounds of words,

“it’s an…
.            earthbirk
.            earthwork
.            birthwork
.            birthword
.            both words
.            earthwords
.            worms!
.            earthworm!”

which then repeats “earthworm” seven times before ending

”       black
.               birth
no!
.        black
.              bird!

it’s an
.         earth
.            worm
.                black
.                    bird
.                       poem.

.             ah!

what was it again?”

In front of a familiar audience who are able to join in, this is probably fun. I’m not convinced it translates so well onto the page. Where a page poem is not reliant on specific typography or shape, I believe it also has to work as a performance. A performed poem also has to work on the page. That sometimes means cropping repetitions and considered whether a joke can still work on a second, third or fourth reading.

Andrew Walton’s “eyeless in Gaza” is more successful.

“why do Blackbirds, with banners and placards,
eyes brimming with tears at wanton destruction,
comrades come rally,
against injustice,
senseless slaughter,
poor innocent Earthworms?

because…

Earthworm lay…
bruised and battered
concussed and shattered,
amidst ruins of what once was home
she had no answers.”

Interspersed throughout the poems are the couplets and cartoons:

“why were earthworm’s ears so hot?
blackbird blogging on the spot!”

“why did blackbird hop then stop?
she saw earthworm body-pop.”

As a souvenir it has a charm and fun. The energy of performances are captured, as is the friendly inclusive atmosphere of Pinggg…K!

Regular spoken word nights in Leicester include Word!, Shindig, Anerki, House of Verse and nights organised by Poetman. The end of September also sees the start of the Everbody’s Reading Festival.


Journeys in Translation Event during Everybodys Reading

Leicester Writers Club Everybodys Reading event flyer

Write your Poem first, worry about Readers later

Figure skater performing a layback spin

Figure skater layback spin

On a busy rink with no one paying attention, a figure skater will land their double axel perfectly. Five minutes later, with their coach watching, the figure skater will wobble just after landing the jump. A month later, on an empty rink with a prize on offer, the skater knows the only way she’ll land that double axel is to imagine there is no one behind the barriers watching her.

There are generally two reasons for writers’ block:

  1. You wrote yourself into a dead end and need to back out by a couple of stanzas and take the left instead of the right turn.
  2. You’re staring at a blank page or screen and that idea you had just won’t articulate itself.

The blanking issue generally comes from performance anxiety: either you’re putting yourself under too much pressure – “You’re a Writer, Write!” or you’ve finally carved out some time for yourself to write and now you can’t – or you’re worried that you won’t find a reader/editor who will like what you’re trying to write. Naturally the more you urge yourself to write something, the blanker the page looks. It becomes more like a bully, “Look at all this blank space you could fill with words, but you won’t because you’re not the writer you thought you were.”

The cure is to take away the anxiety and that’s never as simple as it sounds. Try these steps and adapt them to suit you.

  • Take a break. This might be as quick as getting a cup of coffee or a longer break to take a walk.
  • On your break, think about what you want to achieve with the poem you’re struggling to write. How would you want a reviewer or workshop to discuss it? Why do you want to write this poem – are you trying to raise awareness of a subject or resolve an issue or record a memory before it’s completely forgotten?
  • When you get back to your blank page, quickly write down in note form what you want to achieve.
  • Now your page isn’t blank anymore. You’ve still not written your poem but you know where you want it to go.
  • Don’t worry about the beginning, start in the middle or work backwards and sketch out what shape the poem should take.
  • The writing may be hesitant, uneven or full of false starts, but you are writing.

You’re writing because, like the figure skater, you took your focus off the audience and placed it back on the poem.


Leicester Writers Showcase Ella @ 100

Journeys in Translation Event during Everybodys Reading

Writing Retreats

Whether in (mostly) rain-soaked Wales or (mostly) sun-drenched Greece, the aim of a writing retreat is to enable writers to take a break from everyday concerns and have a focused space for writing. Most retreats offer a structure, whether that’s just a post-dinner discussion on works-in-progress or a schedule of more detailed teaching workshops, and some will specify whether they are aimed at beginners or those with some publication experience.

Looking at the wealth of retreats available, how do you decide whether one is suitable for you? Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Are you viewing a retreat as another means of procrastination (e.g. I can put this project on hold until I get to the retreat)?
  • Do you have a project you can take to a retreat or are you looking for a retreat to kick-start or get you back in the habit of writing?
  • Do you want to write or are you more interested in the social side of a retreat?
  • Are there specific skills you want to work on or do you want to be left alone to write?
  • Are you looking at the location and thinking of places to visit/see nearby or are you looking for a location that offers no distractions?
  • How confident are you in your cooking skills?
  • What’s your budget?
  • How important is wi-fi?
  • Will a retreat offer you something different from what’s already available in your locality?

If you’re looking to procrastinate and/or thinking of places to visit, then a holiday without pressure to write might be a better option. A holiday isn’t a waste of time if it also offers chance to dream, think, research and explore ideas in a different environment. Sometimes a break from the notepad or keyboard can bring you back recharged and refreshed.

If you’re looking to work on a specific project or want to be left alone to write, than a retreat without a heavy structure of workshops would be better. If you’d like a retreat to revive inspiration, look for one where the workshops are geared to getting participants to write rather than edit or revise existing work.

Some retreats will ask participants to help with cooking the evening meal. Some retreats may not have internet access. Also check if you are expected to share a room and whether that suits you.

If budget’s a problem, seeking out local or online writing communities or courses might be a more realistic option. Some universities and colleges offer online courses (MOOCs) taught via video and reading materials with online forums to discuss what participants are learning. Some retreats may offer bursaries or local arts funding might be available and these might be worth exploring if you can prove that you have a measurable aim and can show whether you will achieve those aims in attending the retreat.

Signs a Writing Retreat may not be right for you

  • The brochure isn’t clear about the aims of the retreat or there aren’t enough details for you to be clear about what’s on offer
  • The pricing structure isn’t clear about what’s included and what are additional extras
  • The retreat offers workshops but doesn’t say who the tutors are or doesn’t let you know who the tutors are in advance of booking
  • There are no testimonials from previous participants or, if it’s a new retreat, no indication of what experience the organisers have in administering retreats
  • You don’t have a clear idea of what you need to bring to the retreat – “turn up and write” isn’t a plan, but “improve this skill” or “work on a body of poems towards a coherent pamphlet/collection/performance” are.
  • You don’t have a clear idea of what you want to achieve – are you looking to improve technique, work on a specific project or just get together with some writers to revive inspiration and try a new direction in writing?

Like creative writing courses, retreats either fill you with enthusiasm or leave you cold. Neither matters, because it’s about whether it is right for you, but, like most things, research and preparation will enable you to pick the right retreat for you and ensure you get the most out of the experience. A retreat isn’t necessarily about getting published and poems written during a retreat may not be the ones you seek to get published, but those poems do offer practice, experience and will help you develop as a writer.

Does Your Writing Environment Impact your Poems?

Creative work needs solitude. It needs concentration, without interruptions. It needs the whole sky to fly in, and no eye watching until it comes to that certainty which it aspires to, but does not necessarily have at once. Privacy, then. A place apart — to pace, to chew pencils, to scribble and erase and scribble again.

Mary Oliver

Virginia Woolf famously wanted her own room, Mary Oliver prefers solitude and J K Rowling wrote in cafes while her very young daughter napped (although I’m guessing now she has a home office.) Some writers take over the kitchen table after other residents have gone to work or school. Others have an office, some at home, some in a separate building so they have to leave home to go to work. Some write directly onto a computer. Others insist on writing out first drafts by hand.

How much does environment impact on writing?

The last six pieces I wrote – reviews and five poems – were all written in different places under different circumstances:

  • I wrote my reviews in the lounge of a rented apartment, computer on my lap, TV in the background because the person I was with wanted to watch it.
  • One poem was drafted by hand in a notebook while I sat in a parked car, background noise supplied by the breeze and birdsong. The person I was with was playing a game on their phone.
  • Another poem was written by hand in a notebook whilst I was sitting on a public bench overlooking the sea, background noise a combination of lapping waves and seagulls.
  • Another poem was written by hand in a notebook in a noisy café.
  • Another poem was written straight onto a laptop at home. This was probably the only uninterrupted draft.
  • Another poem drafted in the notepad app on my phone during lunch break in a noisy office where the radio leaks from the neighbouring warehouse.

The reviews have been accepted. One of the poems has been accepted, the others are still being worked on and aren’t ready for submission yet. The accepted poem was the one written in a noisy office.

If I needed privacy, a place of my own or insisted I could only write drafts on my laptop or in a specific notebook, I wouldn’t get much writing done. Habit has made the ideal writing environment redundant.

I tend to do a lot of drafting in my head before committing words to paper or screen. I have a reasonable memory and experience has taught me that if an idea is good enough, it won’t get forgotten. It will haunt you until you write it. However, it may start in the form of a rough pottery urn but then may shatter and the shards regroup into an elegant china coffee pot and then it may decide that a coffee pot isn’t much use without cups and a milk jug so will reach out and link to those shapes too, bringing them together on a graceful tray. At this point, I’ll pour the coffee and start writing, wherever and whenever I happen to be. I’m not fussed about drafting by hand or on screen.

Ideally, I’d be able to sit at my desk at home with a familiar keyboard and screen. Reviewing has disciplined me into reading from a screen just as I would read from a printed page so I don’t fall into the lazy habit of skim reading from a screen, although I will skim read a boring article in an online journal just as I would speed reading a boring article in a print newspaper. Ideally, I’d have something close to silence (inevitably nature will intrude, the fridge will hum, the computer itself is not always silence). I can filter out predictable noise such as a radio or background chatter, but it’s hard work and makes the writing process more tiring. I have never been able to filter out someone else humming, whistling or tapping in the background whilst I write a poem, particularly if the humming/whistling/tapping is arrhythmic or I don’t recognise the song and can’t make the distraction predictable.

Habit has taught me to seize the moment and write with the environment and tools available. If I wait until I can get home and sit at my desk with minimal distraction, it would only give me a narrow window of opportunity to write and, of the last six pieces, only one was written at home. I would lose a lot of poems if I waited for the ideal environment or indulged in the luxury of only using a certain type or notebook or pen or downloading apps or switching off the internet hub to make me focus on word processing instead of social media.

For most of us, the best writing environment is the one we create with the place we happen to be in and the tools at hand. Worrying about the ideal environment or creating the right set of circumstances is just like waiting for the muse to strike: procrastination.

 


Leicester University’s Centre for New Writing is undertaking a three year collaborative project, Colonial Countryside, which will mobilise child historians to develop new audiences for cutting-edge research about British country houses’ Caribbean and East India connections. Peepal Tree Press will publish and resource new writing. To kick-start this project, a pilot event will be held with Colmore Junior School in Birmingham and Kenwood and Harewood Houses. A crowdfunder has been opened to pay for 20 children to visit country houses and related archives along with a historian and a writer to support the children in creating a podcast about their experiences.

The JustGiving page for the project is available here: https://www.justgiving.com/campaigns/charity/uniofleicester/colonial-countryside


 

Does your poem end where it should?

I usually talk about titles because a good title will make a poem stand out in a list of contents and could be the difference between the reader choosing to read your poem or the one on the page after yours.

However, a good ending will entice a reader to read and savour your poem again. A bad or underdeveloped ending will wreck the reader’s experience. What makes a good ending?

Have you wrapped up your poem like a ready-made kit?

If you’ve resolved every question, explained every image and tied up every loose end, your poem may feel complete but your reader will find it frustrating. What you’ve done is excluded the reader from interpreting your poem or failed to give them space to develop an emotional connection. Instead of giving your reader the kit and guide, you’ve already made-up the kit and left the reader thinking that was pretty but pointless.

Do you deliver the promise of your premise?

Poems have their own internal logic. If your poem is grounded in an urban landscape, suddenly veering off into fantasy for the final couplet will irritate. That doesn’t mean your urban landscape can’t have a surprising piece of architecture or that your poem can’t end with the narrator suddenly realising that s/he’s no longer on planet earth, but give your reader some clues earlier in the poem. Even in twist-in-the-tale stories, the clues to the twist were in the story if the reader was paying attention.

Have you over-explained?

If you cut the last two lines of your draft poem, does it still make sense? Trust the reader to understand your poem. If you feel the need to explain your ending, then your poem is not ready for publication. You can guide a reader towards the conclusion you’d like them to make, but you must allow for a reader to make a different interpretation.

Have you employed a Deus Ex Machina?

Readers feel cheated if the downtrodden hero/ine who never gambles discovers a winning lottery ticket or some wealthy relative (who hasn’t been mentioned in the story so far) turns up out of the blue or a fairy godmother waves a magic wand. Cinderella’s fairy godmother enabled her to go to the ball, but it was Cinderella herself who left her glass slipper behind so her prince could find her again.

In a poem, the narrator needs to resolve their own problem.

Is the form dictating your poem?

In an early draft, your poem might have looked like a sonnet but, if you’re struggling with the ending, it might be better to release it from a sonnet’s straitjacket.