Getting Started As A DIY Poet: The First Steps


Getting started is hard. We know. It’s scary to take that first step!

However, if you’re reading this, you have the tools to succeed as a poet. After all, all you need is an internet connection and a love for poetry. The fact that you’re reading this shows that you have both!

But here’s the sad truth – most of you won’t make it, because most of you won’t even start. And that seriously breaks my heart, because that means most of you are giving up before you even give it a proper shot.

Last week, we posted a complete blueprint to succeeding as a poet in 2017. This week, we’re here to help you get started.

Most people give up before they even start. Please don't be one of these people!

Step 0: Identifying Where You Are

Before we get to actually starting, you need to do some hardcore introspection. What kind of poet are you? What level have you reached? You need to answer these questions before taking the first step.

To make this process simpler, let’s break it down. As you know (if you read last week’s blog post) there are 4 primary facets to being a DIY Poet:

  1. DIY Poetry
  2. DIY Publishing
  3. DIY Marketing
  4. DIY Performances

Now, using video-game parlance, let’s define 4 levels which you could be at:

  1. Beginner
  2. Amateur
  3. Semi-Pro
  4. Pro

The best thing you could do now is take a piece of pen and paper, and write down what level you’re at for each element of being a DIY Poet.

Identifying Your Level

Self-awareness is supercritical here. Please don’t rate yourself as a pro in DIY Poetry if you’ve only been writing for one year. If you say you’re a pro, that means you’re as good as Jeet Thayil or Nissim Ezekiel or Sarah Kay. Those are the real pros.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably at the Beginner/Amateur stage in terms of your poetry. Remember – there’s no shame in admitting that. In fact, it’s good, because it allows you to see just how far you have to go, and how much more beauty you can create!

In the same way, rate yourself as a pro in DIY Marketing only if you actually have a job as a marketer. And as a pro in DIY Performances only if you have actual experience in managing ticketed shows.

My point is – judge yourself coldly and honestly, and take your first steps accordingly.

Taking The First Step As A DIY Poet

Here’s something important – you can only start by doing one thing:

a. Improving your poetry, or

b. Publishing your poetry on more (or better) platforms, or

c. Marketing your poetry on more (or better) platforms, or

d. Holding a  DIY poetry performance.

The first step, by definition, can only be a single step. Too many people get lost because they want to do everything at the beginning itself. So they start 3-4 things simultaneously and end up completing none of them.

So what you do is, pick one of the four options, and start with that! Below, I’ve detailed out how you can take the first steps in DIY Poetry, DIY Publishing, DIY Marketing and DIY Performances. Read on to find out how you can get started!

DIY Poetry – Getting Started

Here are the 3 steps you can take to get started as a DIY Poet:

Step 1: Read read read! 

We will never stop saying this – the best thing you can do to improve your poetry, is to read great poets’ works. You can start by reading the works of these legendary Indian authors. Alternatively, you could take our personal recommendations and begin by reading these 4 poems:

i. Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong by Ocean Vuong

ii. Poems From An Email Exchange by Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib

iii. The Wolf’s Postscript To ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ by Agha Shahid Ali

iv. Advice To Women by Eunice de Souza

Important Note:

When you read a lot of poetry, you’ll inevitably come across poems that you dislike. You might even dislike some of the poetry we’ve recommended above. But here’s the deal – that’s okay. It’s okay to dislike some poems, even if they’ve been written by literary stalwarts.

In fact, instead of blindly liking classic poems, it’s healthier to analyse them, and form your own opinions. This will make reading poetry a more engaging and fun process for you, and will also change the way you think about poetry!

Step 2: Write a poem!

Just like athletes or dancers or football-players, poets need to practise on a regular basis. There are no two ways about this: you want to become a better writer? Write.

 

We understand that a lot of you have full-time jobs or heavy course-loads at college. So you don’t have to write every day. But it is imperative that you write regularly. Make a commitment to write one poem a week. Or promise to write once a month, and then do that. The point is, ultimately, to commit to a frequency, and then stick to that as if your life depends on it!

Here’s a prompt to get you started on your first poem:

“If today were my last day on earth”

Take this prompt as a challenge, and get writing today!!

Important Note:

Not every poem you write has to be awesome. When you write regularly, some poems will inevitably suck. But guess what? That’s okay!! First get into the habit of writing, then worry about quality!

Step 3: Take Online Poetry Courses!

One surefire way to improve is by studying poetry. 20 years ago, that would’ve been difficult, because unless you studied poetry in college, or knew an English teacher, you would have no means of learning. But now the internet exists, and study-material on poetry is available to anyone with an internet connection.

Here are some YouTube channels that produce great content:

i. Poetry Defined

ii. Poetry Show 

iii. Poetry by Shmoop

And here are 2 Coursera courses that you can enroll for:

i. Sharpened Visions: A Poetry Workshop

ii. Modern & Contemporary American Poetry

Pick the course/channel that seems most attractive to you, and get started!

 

DIY Publishing – Getting Started

If you have a decent body of work, or you’re confident about creating a large body of poetry in the coming months, then it’s time to start publishing!

The three media you can use to publish your poetry are: text, video and audio. What medium you choose determines your strategy for publishing, so the first step you need to take is to pick your medium of publishing.

You can publish your poems as: Text. Video, Audio

How Do You Pick Your Medium? 

This is a question that all of you have to toy with, and the truth is – there’s no simple answer.

My advice would be – go with your gut. Which medium excites you the most? Would you be excited about putting up one poetry video a week? Or would you prefer it if people got to read your poems? Or are you artistically-driven, and would you prefer to present your poem in an artistic, visual-driven format?

Only you can answer these questions, which is why only you can pick your medium.

Below, I’m going to analyse each medium, along with their pros and cons, but at the end of the day – listen to your heart. And do what you want to do. It may not be the right answer, but it will be the fun one. And after all, if we’re not going to have fun doing this, then why do it at all?

1. Text

Pros: Easy to produce

Cons: Not as engaging as audio and video

Why Text?

Most of us grew up consuming poetry as text – in school books, or old poetry collections that we found lying around the house.

Presenting your poetry in text format provides one big advantage to consumers – it gives them control over how they consume it. They can pore over a stanza, or linger over a line, or close their eyes and appreciate the beauty of a metaphor. This is a privilege that listeners don’t get when they listen to poetry in audio/video format.

My advice is – if your poetry looks good on paper, publish it in text form, even if you’re also publishing it in video/audio formats.

Which Platform Should You Use? 

If text is your preferred medium, here are the best platforms for you:

a) WordPress Blog

b) Medium

How Do You Get Started?

a. WordPress:

If you have the money and the time, the best thing you could do is build a WordPress website for yourself. You can learn how to make a basic website in just one hour by following these instructions!

Important Note:
You need Rs. 15,000/- to get started with a website on WordPress. This will buy you a domain name and a hosting service for your website. If you don’t have this money available at this time, don’t publish on WordPress right now. Use Medium instead.

If you do start a WordPress website, here are the first 5 steps you should take:

Step 1: About Section

Add an “About” section where you describe the goals and purpose of your blog. This is also where you put in your bio.

Important Tip:

Do not be flippant about the “About” section. Don’t use overly casual language, and comb carefully for typos. Remember – people who come to your website may not know anything about you, and their first impression of you will be formed by what they read in the “About” section of your website.

Step 2: Contact Section

Add a “Contact” section to your website, so that your readers can reach out to you. If someone likes your work, there should be a way for them to reach out and tell you personally!

Step 3: Upload Poetry!

Do you know what your 3 best poems are? Good. Upload them to your blog. If you haven’t written 3 poems that you’re truly proud of, my advice is – forget about the website (for now) and get back to working on your poetry!

On the flipside, if you’ve written 100 poems that you’re proud of, still start by publishing only three – the best three. Your readers will form their first impression of you on the basis of these poems, so make sure they’re fit to represent you!

Step 4: Define A Posting Frequency

Set a posting frequency, and stick to that. For instance, promise to post one poem per week, and then do that. Whatever happens, don’t break this commitment.

Step 5: Get Familiar With WordPress

The real magic of WordPress comes alive when you master the Plugins. You can improve your site’s search engine rankings (SEO), track metrics, and even set up an online store! Which is why, once you’ve done the basic work of setting up your blog, you need to learn how to make the most of this platform. Here’s a great resource for mastering WordPress. Follow the steps mentioned here, and you’ll be able to use WordPress effectively to get a larger audience!

b. Medium

If you start a Medium Blog, here are the first 3 steps you need to take –

Step 1: Upload Poetry!

Publish your 3 best poems! Just like with WordPress, your job is to publish the 3 poems that you are most proud of. After that, set a posting frequency (the more frequent, the better!) and stick to that.

Step 2: Engage, Engage, Engage

Engage with other poets on Medium. Set yourself a target of commenting on one poem per day. Your comments could offer praise to the poet (if you liked the poem) or constructive criticism (if you didn’t). Do this for 30 days straight – and I promise you you’ll build up a healthy following, even if you don’t publish a single post!

Step 3: Follow Poetry Publications

Follow poetry publications on Medium! Remember – in the long-term, the key to amassing a large number of followers on Medium is to get published by publications. So, keeping this in mind, follow as many poetry publications as you can, to see what kind of poetry they share!

Trust me – follow these 3 steps, over a sustained period of time, and you’ll be well on the way to success!

WordPress vs Medium – Which Should You Choose?

This isn’t an easy one, because both platforms have their pros and their cons. It’s easier to get initial readership on Medium, but search engines love WordPress. It’s easier to handle a Medium account, but a WordPress website gives you more options for how you present yourself.

So ultimately, it comes down to your personal goals.

If you’re looking to set up more than just a blog, but an entire website around your poetry, choose WordPress.

If you’re looking for quick traction for your poetry, choose Medium.

But the key thing is – pick one platform, and start!

2. Video:

Pros: High audience-engagement

Cons: Difficult/expensive to produce

Why Video?

Put simply, people watch videos online. The success of channels like Button Poetry shows us that there’s a huge audience for poetry videos. It’s a no-brainer, really – if you’re a spoken word poet, you need to be making videos.

If you're a spoken word poet, you need to make videos!

Which Platform Should You Use? 

If video is your preferred medium, here are the best platforms for you:

a) YouTube

b) Facebook

How Do You Get Started?

Step 1: Recording Tools

I’ll get straight to it. Ideally, a spoken word poetry video should have the following elements:

i. Clear and audible vocals,

ii. Good lighting,

iii. Subtitles,

iv. Light background music (which doesn’t overpower or interfere with the vocals).

Without these elements, your poetry video has a lower chance of succeeding.

So the first step you take, as a DIY Publisher, is to gather the equipment and tools that you need to publish a HQ video. Here are the tools you need –

For recording video – DSLR camera / high-end smartphone

For recording audio – Zoom Recorder / any phone audio recording app

For adding subtitles and background music – Windows Media Player / iMovie

For sourcing background music – Youtube Audio Library / Josh Woodward

Remember – you do not need to buy all this equipment. Most of you will have friends who have at least some of this equipment – borrow it from them (and then give them a treat later!) Alternatively, you could rent the equipment for a day, if needed. And of course, all the online resources listed above are free!

Step 2: Location For The Shoot

Step 2 is to find a location (or multiple locations) where you can shoot videos on a regular basis. The key factors to look at while picking a location are lighting and noise disturbance. Please don’t pick a place where you will be interrupted by truck horns every two minutes. And make sure that wherever you shoot, there’s good natural or artificial light, so that you’re actually visible in your videos!

Step 3: Setting A Frequency For Video-Creation

This is the most important step for any video-producer. Look, I know that all of you want to go viral and get instant success and get overnight fame, but for most of you, it’s not going to happen.

So what you need to do is, build to succeed in the long run. And what every successful YouTuber will tell you is this – if you want to win, put out quality content, regularly. Once a month is solid. Once a week is better.

The key to success is – put out videos, regularly, over a sustained period (6 months to 1 year). Then expect to see results.

Step 4: Publishing Your Videos!

Okay, so you’ve shot some kickass videos, you’ve added subtitles to them, you’ve set up a publishing calendar, now it’s time to actually publish your videos!

Here are the 2 best channels to publish your videos:

i. YouTube:

Setting up a YouTube Channel is easy. After you set up your channel, watch this quick tutorial on how to make your home page look professional. (Please skip the first 30 seconds, though!)

Once you’ve done this, you’re ready to start publishing videos! If you’re an absolute beginner, this video has some good tips on how to strategise your content and get traction on YouTube!

ii. Facebook:

If you’re publishing videos on Facebook, please do it from your own artist page and not from your personal profile. The reason is simple – a facebook page can serve as a great platform for your videos, but your personal profile is too messy for it to act as an official publishing channel for you.

I’ll be writing more about creating an artist page in the DIY Marketing section of this blog post, so scroll down to find that information! For now, all you need to know is this – if you know how to upload a post on facebook, you know how to upload a video!

3. Audio: 

Pros: High audience-engagement

Cons: Difficult/expensive to produce

Why Audio?

I think audio content is going to play a huge role for poets in the coming few years. Imagine if people could listen to your poetry while browsing the internet, or while cleaning their rooms, or while jogging in the park. Audio poetry with good, complementary background music will enable people to do all of that.

Which is why I’d advise all poets to explore this medium for publishing.

Which Platform Should You Use? 

i. Soundcloud

ii. YouTube

How Do You Get Started?

If you’re looking to produce audio content, my advice would be to smart small. Because there’s no established market for audio poetry, you’ll have to find and build your own audience.

Step 1: Produce Audio Poetry

Record your poems using a Zoom Recorder, or a voice-recording app. You can source background music from YouTube Audio Library or JoshWoodward.com.

For editing your files, you can use GarageBand (for iOS), WavePad, or Wave Editor (for Windows).

Step 2: Publishing Your Poetry!

My advice is: start by using Soundcloud to publish your audio poetry. You can also use YouTube to publish audio files (simply add a static image to the screen – preferably a picture with the name of the poem. If you want to outsmart your competition – add lyrics to the video, so that if they want, listeners can read the words of your poem while listening to it!)

Once you gain a following on Soundcloud and YouTube, and become comfortable with producing audio poetry, you can put your content up on platforms like Bandcamp or iTunes. This will enable you to make money directly off your art!

DIY Marketing – Getting Started

Remember, publishing is different from marketing. Publishing is simply the act of putting up your content in a place where other people can find it. Marketing is the act of making sure that people actually find it!

The Basic Principle Of DIY Marketing: Providing Value To Your Readers

Here’s something you need to understand – as a DIY Marketer, you cannot afford billboards, or TV spots, or omnipresent facebook ads. What this means is, as a marketer, you can’t pay your way to success.

Which means that you really need to earn your success. And how do you do that? By consistently providing value to your readers.

Now, value comes in different shapes and sizes. What’s valuable to one person may not be valuable to another. Which is why you need to find out what’s valuable to your readers, and provide it to them.

Are you noticing that people want to hear more of your poetry? Good. Spend the time and effort to put up more poems, and then email it directly to them. Do people want to hear more about your journey as a poet? Good. Put up a blog post or Facebook status where you tell your story. Do people want to learn to be as good as you are? Good. Put out tutorial videos on how they can improve as poets.

Find out what your customers value

It’s really that simple. This is the fundamental principle of DIY Marketing: find out what your customers value, and then provide that to them, frequently, relentlessly, honestly. After that, they will be more than happy to provide value to you, by giving you their time, or their attention, or their money. And when that happens – that’s when you’re in business!

DIY Marketing – Choosing A Platform

Marketing itself is an incredibly broad term. What’s important for you to understand is that you’re primarily a poet, not a marketer (unless you’re also a professional marketer). So don’t attempt to go too deep down the rabbit-hole of marketing. It’ll only overwhelm you.

Instead, let’s start small, by setting one initial goal for your marketing: gaining a following for your work.

For the purpose of gaining more followers, there are two platforms that work better than all others: Facebook and Instagram. Let’s analyse how you can get started on each of these platforms!

Getting Started On Facebook

Step 1: Create An Artist Page

Creating a Facebook Page is incredibly easy. Just go to this link, choose the appropriate categories, and your Facebook Page is ready! Start off by editing your cover picture and profile picture. Preferably, your profile picture should be a picture of you performing. If you don’t have any such picture, then make sure it’s a (good-quality) picture of you!  

Step 2: Edit Your “About” Page

Your “About” page should serve three functions:

i. It should tell the reader a little bit about you (only vital information, please!)

ii. It should tell the reader the purpose of your page, for example, “I will be sharing all my poetry here” or “I will document my journey as a poet here”

iii. It should tell the reader why they should follow your page, for example, “I will post a new poem every 3 days. ‘Like’ my page if you want to read them!”

So when you write out the description for your “About” page, make sure it contains these 3 elements!

Important Tip:

Try to limit your description to 50 words. The cardinal rule of social media marketing is – use as few words as possible. Always.

Step 3: Your First Post

Your first post is, essentially, your statement of purpose. In your first post, write out the purpose of your page, and what you aim to accomplish through it. By doing this at the very outset, you will be giving your followers an instant reason to connect with you, and to wait for your next posts!

Step 4: Your First Followers

Now that your page is up and you’ve published your first post, it’s time to get some followers! The best people to begin with are your Facebook friends. So do the following two things:

i. Invite all your friends to like the page (there will be a button for this, in the same way as there is a button to invite people to an Event Page on Facebook.)

ii. Make a list of at least 50 people whom you really trust, like, or admire. Send them all personal messages on Facebook, inviting them to follow your page.

Using these two methods, you should get your first 100 likes within 2-3 days!

Step 5: Your First Marketing Campaign

Right. You have a good-looking page. A well-constructed first post. A hundred and fifty followers. Well done, well done.

But now it’s time for the actual work to begin.

A Facebook marketing campaign is essentially a series of posts that follow the same theme. To properly get your started, you need to run a campaign on facebook! This campaign should have at least 5 posts, posted over a maximum of 10 days, and each post should be connected to the other. This lends a sense of continuity to the page.

Example – a great marketing campaign is being executed by Bangalore-based poet Angshuman Sarma right now. He’s asked his followers to submit pictures to him, promising to write poems on the first thirteen pictures he receives! It’s simple and engaging, and the 13 people he writes poems for will be fans of his for life!

So use your creativity, think up a campaign that will bring joy to your followers, and start executing it! Seriously – what’re you waiting for?

Getting Started On Instagram

Step 1: Create An Account!

The first step on Instagram is to create an account for your poetry. Remember, people on Instagram are super-picky. So it’s important to have an account that’s solely dedicated to poetry. Otherwise, you’ll lose followers at an alarming rate. Add a good profile picture and a catchy description, and you’re good to go!

Step 2: Create A Design Template For Your Poetry

On Instagram, good design wins, bad design loses. Do not post blurry pictures or stock photos. Instead, create a design template for your poetry, and use that (or variations of that) for your posts. If you don’t have a good eye for design, beg a designer friend to help you out (and then give them a treat afterwards!) When you do post photos, make sure they’re not generic, and that they add real value (in an artistic sense) to your readers’ timelines!

Step 3: Upload Your Best Poems

Just like with WordPress and Medium, don’t overload your Instagram profile right in the beginning. Instead, handpick your best poems (or bite-size poetry quotes) and post them!

Step 4: Follow and Engage With Similar Profiles

Step 4 is a fun one, because this is the step where you get to explore Instagram. Using relevant hashtags (such as #poetry, #slampoetry #performancepoetry) search for poets who are similar to you. Here’s something important, though – follow only those poets whose work you really connect with. Why? Because these are the people who are most likely to like your poetry and engage with it. Don’t follow people just for the sake of following them – in the long run, it’ll only hurt you.

Once you’ve followed enough poets, begin engaging with them. Give them feedback or encouragement about their poetry. Tell them how they can improve, or how much they’re impacting your life. But make sure that you really mean whatever you say.

Step 5: Post Consistently!

This one’s a no-brainer. And yet, you’ll find many people who fail at it. Posting good content is difficult, but unless you’re posting at least once a day on Instagram, you won’t grow at a quick rate. Just like with Facebook, you need to come up with campaigns for Instagram. So put your head down, get to work, and get posting!

Step 6: Use The Right Hashtags

On Instagram, using the right hashtags is essential for growth. It’s the only way for new readers to find you. My advice is – write down a list of hashtags that are appropriate for your work, and add them at the end of every caption!

Step 7: Insta Stories!

I think Insta stories can be a game-changer for your marketing. Imagine if every day, at 7 pm sharp, you performed a 10-second poem for your readers and added it to your story. Or whenever you read a good line of poetry, you added it to your story. The biggest advantage of Insta stories is that they help you engage regularly with your readers, without overloading your profile and flooding people’s timelines. Genuinely – what’s not to love? Read this quick tutorial on Insta Stories, and get started!!

Facebook vs Instagram: Which Should You Choose?

Phew. The question of the century – if you had to pick one, would you market on Facebook or on Instagram?

Just like with Medium and WordPress, it depends on your personal goals. For instance, older audiences (aged 30+) are flooding facebook (and not as active on Instagram), whereas younger audiences are moving to Instagram and Snapchat.

Additionally, it depends on the kind of content you’re creating. Instagram cannot host videos longer than 1 minute in length, while Facebook videos are getting more impressions than YouTube videos.

Hence, both platforms have their pros and cons. So pick the one that is more suited to your immediate goals, and then, in the long run, get on both!

DIY Performances – Getting Started!

In our last blog post, we covered this segment very comprehensively. So we’re not going to go over it again.

Instead, we’re going to do something fun. If you’re planning to host your own show, fill up this form, and we’ll help you promote your show! Yes, that’s right, we’ll use the Airplane Poetry Movement facebook page to help you get traction for your event.

So if you weren’t anyway planning to hold an event, now might be a good time to start thinking about it!

(This offer expires on September 10th, though, so make sure you hurry!)

Keep It Simple – Do NOT Overcomplicate

If you overcomplicate things in the beginning, you’ll never make it to the end. Don’t try to start too many things simultaneously; it’ll only overwhelm you, and leave you with a higher chance of giving up.

Instead, choose just one thing to start with. Maybe it’s making a pledge to read one poem a day for the next seven days. Maybe it’s to set up an active account on Medium. Maybe it’s to set up a Facebook Page and do one Facebook live video.

Whatever it is, keep it small, keep it realistic, and most importantly, get it done.

Do that, and you’ll be on your way to succeeding.

Pick just one of these 4 goals, and get started with that!

This is just the beginning! Every week, we’re going to release one blog post, which will help you in your journey as a DIY Poet. If you want to receive the latest blog post in your inbox, subscribe now!!

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