This is not just a blog post. It’s a template for succeeding as a poet in 2017.
I’ve written this post for a very specific set of people – people who love poetry and are excited by all the possibilities that it provides right now. People who don’t want to complain, but want to put in the work to take their poetry to the next level.
If that sentence describes you, then this blog post is for you. I don’t care how old you are. I don’t care how well you write. I don’t care where you live.
All I care about is – do you want to improve as a poet? Do you want to build a larger audience for your poetry, and earn money through your art?
If you do, then here’s the deal: you need to read this article.
Do You Feel Like You’re Doing Enough?
Before we go any further, here’s a question – do you feel like you’re doing enough to succeed as a poet?
It’s an honest question, and I want you to break it down by separately answering two questions:
1. Are you doing enough to improve as a poet and write to the absolute maximum of your ability?
2. Are you doing all you can to build an audience for your art?
If you feel like you are, then stop reading this and get back to doing your thing!
If you feel like you aren’t doing enough, then this blog post has found you at the right time. So read it, use it as a blueprint, and then act on it.
What Is A DIY Poet?
Put simply, a DIY Poet is someone who does everything in their power to succeed as an artist.
A DIY Poet takes responsibility for not only writing great poetry, but also for publishing, marketing and building a sustainable business around their poetry.
Am I making this sound hard? Good. Because I promise you, it will be.
But here’s a simple truth – nothing gives you a better chance of succeeding than taking matters into your own hands. And that, more than anything else, is the crux of being a DIY poet.
So in this blog post, I’m going to tell you how to take control of your art and become a DIY Poet. Now, I know it’s impossible for one blog post to cover everything, which is why we’re going to put out one new blog post every week, which will give you in-depth training in poetry, marketing and business. If you want to get weekly updates about this, subscribe here!
How To Become A DIY Poet: The Manifesto
There are four primary elements to being a DIY Poet:
1. DIY Poetry
2. DIY Publishing
3. DIY Marketing
4. DIY Performance
1. DIY Poetry
Look, here’s the deal: the primary job of any poet is to create great poetry. If you’re not doing this, none of the other things matter. It’s as simple as that.
So if you’re here, and you’re reading this, I just hope you’re excited. Because right now is the time to start improving as a poet.
Now, the truth is – this is not something you can do over a weekend, or a week, or even a month. It’s a process, and you’ve got to love it.
So if you’re here, and you’re psyched, here are four things you can do to improve as a poet:
a. Read more poetry:
Nothing improves a poet more than reading good poetry. And not just Instagram poets like Rupi Kaur and Nayyirah Waheed, but also poets such as Nissim Ezekiel, Walt Whitman, and TS Eliot, who have influenced generations of poets and infused poetry with their own voices.
I’ll be honest – reading poems isn’t always fun (because a lot of great poems don’t make for great entertainment) but I promise you that if you sit back and allow the poems to really speak to you, you’ll have a special, moving experience. To get you started, we’ve compiled a list of 5 incredible poems that you can read today – find them at the bottom of this post!
b. Study poetry:
Bad news, guys. School may be out, but the studying is not over! Look, poetry is not just the act of stringing words together. Writing great poetry requires a certain level of craftsmanship, one that comes only by consistently studying and writing poetry. This does not mean that you need to become an overnight expert in form, meter, and poetic devices. What it does mean, though, is that you need to work patiently towards gaining this expertise. Once in a while, it’s okay to skip that open mic and stay home to read up on meter in poetry. In the short term, you’ll miss out on a bit of fun, but in the long run, it’ll just make you a better, more educated poet.
c. Study related art-forms:
Poets (especially spoken word poets) can learn so much from studying other art forms. From theatre artists, you can learn how to let your face do the talking; the importance of body-language: how a slump of the shoulders can speak as much as a hundred words; how to gesticulate without looking like a struggling monkey. From stand up comics, you can learn the importance of the pause, the art of defusing tension, and how to earn and retain your audience’s attention. From musicians, you could learn the intricacies of rhythm, and how to convert your poetry into a beautiful auditory experience. There’s just so much to learn from so many people, so if you want to get ahead, I’d beg you to keep your mind open to all these possibilities.
d. Write more poetry (and evaluate yourself frequently):
Lastly, and most importantly, you will never become a better poet until you actually put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) and write. But again – every time you sit down to write, you don’t have to write with the intention of writing the best poem ever. You can also write to experiment, to explore, to implement the things you’ve learnt. For instance, you can read as much as you want about meter, but until you actually write a poem in iambic pentameter or trochaic tetrameter, you won’t properly know how it works. So write, even when the words don’t come easily to you. Even when you don’t feel like it. Even when the new episode of Game of Thrones has just released and everybody’s talking about it. Write, write, write. In that moment, it’ll be hard, but one year later, you’ll thank yourself for doing it.
2. DIY Publishing
Let’s face it: 2017 is the best year ever to be a poet. You know why? Because publishing is more democratic than it has ever been. Poets nowadays have an access to readers that previous generations could have only dreamt of.
As recently as 20 years ago, getting your poetry published was hard. In the 1970s, a group of poets had to literally start their own publishing house just to get their poems to more readers. Now, in 2017 you don’t have to do that. All you need is an internet connection, and you can publish your own poetry.
Here’s a list of 6 platforms for publishing your poetry. Use them well!
a. WordPress Blog:
Using either wordpress.com or wordpress.org, you can start a blog to publish your poems. This blog that you’re reading right now is built on wordpress.org, and we’re very happy with it. The biggest advantage of starting a wordpress blog is that it increases your searchability on the internet, and helps more people find you. Go here to learn how to set up your own wordpress blog today!
Instagram is a great place for poets. There’s a reason for this – Instagram is built on the culture of aestheticism, and poetry is inherently an aesthetic art-form. So create good poetry, convert it into picture format (1200 px * 1200 px) and upload it on Instagram. I’m not promising you you’ll become the next Rupi Kaur, but if your marketing is good enough, you can get hundreds or even thousands of readers on Instagram.
This one’s a bit of a no-brainer. If you’re a performance poet, you need to shoot videos of yourself and get them on the internet. Youtube and Vimeo are the best places to do this, because – (a) a lot of publishing platforms (think buzzfeed/scoopwhoop/storypick) look for fresh content on these websites, and (b) when someone googles you, videos that you’ve uploaded on these platforms will turn up on Page 1 of the results. Setting up a YouTube page is simple, so if you’re motivated, and you have videos ready, you can set one up right now!
While AllPoetry doesn’t have the sheer number of users that Instagram and Youtube have, it’s got one big benefit – the focus is on poetry. If you use the platform right, you can develop your own following and get helpful feedback on your work, so I’d advise you to publish there right away!
e. Poetry Apps:
I’ll be honest. I’m always on the lookout for new poetry-platform apps. You know why? Because for any artist, being an early-adopter of a new platform can be hugely beneficial. Since every new platform has a small, tight-knit group of users, joining early on lets you become a part of that community and gain a following early on. Then, as more people join the app, they see you as an influencer (since your 500 followers is way higher than their 0 – in contrast, having 500 followers on Instagram is meaningless, since it’s already an established platform). This helps you grow your following exponentially.
Right now, a couple of apps that interest me are YourQuote and Mirakee. They have 100,000 and 50,000 followers respectively, so this is the best time to become an influencer on either platform. But the real trick is to stay ahead of the curve, and find the next big platform – before everyone else does.
f. Online Magazines:
Getting published in local, national or international magazines is great, because it helps you reach new audiences, which you couldn’t have reached otherwise. A lot of people look down on local or small-scale magazines, but if you’re a young and upcoming poet, you should be aggressively pursuing young magazines, and doing your best to get your work published in them. Some magazines that are accepting submissions (or will be accepting submissions in the near future) are Muse India, Cha: Asian Literary Journal, Four Quarters, The Bombay Review, Open Road Review, AntiSerious, The Trouvaille Journal and Warehouse Zine.
When anyone tells you that putting up your poetry online for free devalues your poetry, tell them this – Skrillex released his first EP on MySpace for free. Arctic Monkeys distributed free CDs at live shows, and encouraged fans to share the music with their friends. Kendrick Lamar released multiple mixtapes for free download. Giving your poetry away for free does not devalue it. It only helps you get more readers.
It’s simple – if you don’t publish your poetry, how will your readers find you?
I publish my poems on Facebook and get a lot of traction. Should I publish them on other platforms too?
Publishing your poems on Facebook is great in terms of gaining an immediate audience, but you need to publish your poems on a blog or on YouTube if you want them to have staying power on the internet. So go ahead and publish on Facebook and get those likes and shares, but then re-publish those same poems on a platform, where they can be found if someone searches for them on Google.
3. DIY Marketing
So you’ve published your poems. That’s great. But it’s just Step 2. Publishing poems is meaningless unless you get views on them, and for that, you need to get marketing!
Below, I’ve listed out 4 awesome platforms on which you can market your poetry, and I’ve also laid down a roadmap for you to succeed on each of them. Following the advice below, you can literally start marketing your poetry today.
And here’s some good news for you – you can use all 4 platforms for marketing, but all you have to do is succeed on one platform. It doesn’t matter if you have just 200 followers on Instagram, if you also have 20,000 followers on Facebook. So my advice is – read this, pick a platform, and get started today!!
Here’s some bad news for you: marketing on Facebook does not mean simply putting up posts on your profile and getting likes and shares on them. If you claim that you’re marketing on Facebook, but you don’t even have a Facebook page for your artist persona, then you’re doing it wrong. Similarly, if you have a Facebook page but the name of Facebook page is anything but your name or author pseudonym, you’re doing it wrong. Sorry to break it to you this way, but it’s a fact: if your name is Sameer Mathur and your Facebook page’s name is Sparkling Butterfly, you’re not using Facebook right.
So here’s what you need to do:
Step 1: Set up a poet page for yourself on facebook (here’s a reference, and another)
Step 2: Put up a good cover picture (you can use canva.com to design one) and a good profile picture (preferably a picture of you during a poetry reading/performance)
Step 3: Start posting your poems (as text, images, and video) on a frequent basis (once in four days should be good)
Step 4: Along with that, use your facebook page to share your thoughts on things that matter to you. This will help you come across as a more rounded person. (Warning: Please be authentic, though. If you don’t care about something, don’t pretend that you do just because you think it’ll get you a few more likes. Most people will be able to see through your act.)
There are, of course, more nuanced ways of marketing yourself on Facebook, but this is a great way to start. In a few weeks, we’ll share an in-depth post about Facebook marketing. Make sure you subscribe to our blog so that you don’t miss it!
As I mentioned above, Instagram is a great place to publish your poetry, and it’s also a great place to market your work (since it has a shit-ton of users).
There are 2 keys to succeeding on Instagram –
i. Posting Frequently –
As with any other social media platform, you need to post as frequently as possible without compromising on quality. Sharing a high-quality post once every four days is a good way to start. Remember – the key is to strike a healthy balance between frequency and quality.
ii. Visual Quality –
If you want to succeed on Instagram, your posts need to look good. There are no two ways about it. You can’t just post your poems in Times New Roman over a white background and expect them to get attention. I’m not saying you need to have to create complex artwork for each post, but I am saying that every post of yours needs to look good. It’s really as simple as that. For those of you who don’t know Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator, I’d recommend that you check out canva.com as a tool to create quick, clean designs. (If you don’t have a background in graphic design, I’d strongly recommend that you approach a friend who knows design, and get their help in creating a design template. You can then tweak that template and use it for all your posts.)
If you want to see a great example of how a poet can use Twitter, check out Kaveh Akbar’s profile. Start off by looking at his stats. He’s tweeted 22K times, but he’s liked double that amount of tweets. Then scroll down, and look at how much he’s engaging with people. He retweets a ton of things, answers questions, and tweets about upcoming poets.
And that, dear poets, is the key to succeeding on Twitter – engagement. Search for as many amateur poets as you can, and engage with them as much as possible. Retweet their poems, give them constructive feedback, answer questions that they ask. Once you consistently provide value to them, they will follow you, and then, when you post a link to your poem or video, they will want to watch it. But just make sure that before you ask them to read/watch your poems, you’re providing them with real value. Jab, jab, right hook, guys. Jab, jab, right hook.
Listen up – you need to be publishing your poetry on Medium.
Unlike AllPoetry, Medium is not a platform that’s tailor-made for poets. However, it’s not a platform that I’d discount, especially for poets who have been writing for a while and are consistently producing high-quality poetry.
The tactic I’d recommend for Medium is – target publications. There are plenty of good poetry publications on Medium, such as Poets Unlimited and Chalkboard, and if you get published through any of them, your number of followers will immediately receive a quick boost. Just go to the Publication Page, find out how you can submit your work to them, and send them your work. But remember, you have to send high-quality work, or you’re just wasting your time!
4. DIY Poetry Performance
Right. You’ve done the hard work. You’ve written great poems. You’ve published them. You’ve marketed them. Now you want to establish a deeper connection with your fans. This is where DIY performance comes in.
Hosting your own show can be scary – simply because there seems to be so much to it!! But believe me, there are few things more exhilarating than putting up a great poetry show, and once you break it down, you’ll actually find that it’s not as difficult as you’d think. The key thing is to take a practical approach. Below, I’ve listed out the 5 steps to putting up your own poetry show:
Step 1: Create a set-list for your poetry performance
This is the most important step. Nothing else matters if your poetry sucks. So the first step is to make a set-list of good, solid poems, which are worthy of keeping an audience’s attention.
Tip: If this is your first show, don’t do it alone! Get 3 other poets of the same level as you to perform alongside you. It’ll make for a richer experience for both you and the audience.
Step 2: Logistical Decisions
Once you’ve created your set-list, you need to ask yourself the following questions:
i. How many people do you want in the audience?
ii. What do you want to set as the ticket price for the show (and how do people pay)?
iii. What sort of equipment do you need for the show?
If this is the first time you’re putting up a show, I’d recommend that you keep it simple. Aim to have 30-50 people in your audience. Set a ticket price that doesn’t seem too high (and that you’d be willing to pay yourself). And don’t try to go for too much fancy equipment. Honestly, if you’re a poet, a mic, mic stand, and amp is all you need.
Tip: If this is your first show, don’t let logistical requirements weigh you down. Keep things simple, and keep the focus on the poetry. After getting 3-4 small shows under your belt, you can go for a more elaborate set up (larger venue, better decorations, fancier equipment, etc)
Step 3: Book a Venue
The next step is to book an appropriate venue. Bookstores, cafes libraries, small auditoriums, and bars are the most obvious options at your disposal. The key thing to do, while booking a venue, is to approach as many places as possible. Pick a profile for your ideal venue (e.g. – cafe in South Kolkata with 30-people capacity) and then make a list of all the places that fit this profile. After that, contact all of them. Emails are good. Phone calls are better. Walk-in meetings are the best.
Tip: If this is your first show, don’t be too picky about the venue. If you find a good venue with an accommodating owner, lock it down as soon as possible and get on with the rest of your work.
Step 4: Get people into the room!
If you’ve executed DIY Marketing for your poetry before announcing the show, then selling tickets should be relatively easy. You can simply leverage your Facebook/Instagram/Twitter/Medium channels to sell tickets to your show.
Apart from that, however, it always pays to put in some extra effort into selling tickets for your poetry show. Here are a few interesting marketing ideas which you can execute –
i. Pay a designer to make a high-quality poster (here are some good event-poster references) and then put it up in as many colleges as possible;
ii. Send well-worded email invitations to all your friends;
iii. Do a Facebook/Instagram Live 1 week before the event, where you perform a few poems and invite people to the show;
iv. Distribute flyers one day before the show, in the venue where you’ll be performing. If someone shows interest, offer to perform a 1-minute poem for them right there, to give them a teaser of what’s to come!
Step 5: Event And Volunteer Management
Well, you’ve done it. Your set-list is ready and all your poems have been memorised. You’ve got a packed room, and all your equipment is ready and working. Now, there’s just one thing left – you need to make sure that your event runs smoothly.
First things first – always have volunteers to help you out with your event. Remember this – on the day of the event, you need to do as little as possible. The reason is simple: you have a kickass performance to deliver, and you need to focus on that as much as possible.
So assemble a team, and give them each a responsibility. An ideal volunteer team for a small-scale poetry show should have 3-4 members. Brief your volunteers thoroughly on the day before the event. Make sure they know exactly what they need to do. And then trust them to do it. Trust me when I say this – letting go of the organisational stuff will help you deliver a better performance.
Secondly, make sure that you maintain an event-flow, and that you stick to it. An event-flow can look something like this:
6:30 pm – Lights out
6:40 pm – Emcee introduces the show
6.45 pm – First poet takes the stage
7.00 pm – On-the-spot ticket-sales stop
… and so on, until the end of the show.
Make sure that every volunteer has a copy of the event-flow, so that everyone’s on the same page when it comes to the timeline of the event.
Having a well-planned event-flow and a well-briefed team of volunteers will ensure that you are able to run a successful event!
Understanding The Long-Term Game
Do you know what a DIY Poet’s biggest enemy is? A sense of entitlement.
Let me explain. As a DIY poet, you cannot expect success. You can work for it. You can bleed for it. But you can never think that you deserve it. Because if you begin to think that way, you will give up at the first sign of failure. Do not feel like you are entitled to anything.
You cannot become a DIY Poet overnight.
Whatever you do – don’t play to win one week from now. Play to win one year from now. Take the little failures in your stride, and don’t let them derail you. Only 10 people liked you page? Good, keep going. Only 1 person attended your show? Good, be grateful to that one person and give them the best performance they’ve ever seen. Your best friend told you that your poetry sucks? Good, go back to the basement and spend one month studying poetry. After the month is over, write a poem and show it to you friend.
Because the truth is – this is not holiday camp. This is not a weekend retreat. This is 1 hour of effort, repeated 365 days a year. Don’t believe that you’re entitled to anything. Don’t believe you deserve anything. Believe you have to earn it. And then go out there and earn it.
This is the Manifesto: Learn the skills. Enjoy the process. Put in the work. And then, after you’ve done all that, then you can think about success.
I’ve laid out a blueprint right here. Literally – it’s yours if you want it. Now go out there and become a kickass DIY Poet. And then watch how it changes your life.
Here is the list of poems we promised you above: