Selling Beowulf

Selling Beowulf

When I decided to “self-publish” Beyond Beowulf, I had a notion that it would be listed on and that everyone, therefore, looking for books on Beowulf would find it – and buy it.

In the event, “everyone” is not necessarily looking for books about Beowulf and Beyond Beowulf languishes in the lower echelons of the Amazon rankings. It can be disheartening to find that there are 500,000 books selling better than one’s own. (I take some comfort from the fact that a certain number of those better selling books are my own.)

But iUniverse, the “self”-publisher, doesn’t leave its authors totally unsupported. If your sales reach a certain level, they can achieve “Star” status or “Publisher’s Choice.” And that means that your book may be placed on the new books table at Barnes and Noble for eight weeks.

But – there is always a “But” – your cover design needs to be approved by the B & N buyer and you must file an approved “Marketing Plan” with B & N. If I had wanted to file marketing plans, I would gave gone to business school! Poetry and marketing plans are parallel and non-intersecting universes.

And yet, I need to have a benevolent concern for all those millions of persons who have not had the benefit of reading my book. So I have downloaded the 32 pages of material provided by iUniverse to guide me along the paths of marketing. “What makes this book unique?” they ask. That’s easy! What other sequel to Beowulf is there? “What key factors make this book worth buying?” they ask. Now, that’s a whole ’nother subject. There are lots of absolutely unique books not worth a penny. But can I be honest? Can I say, “It will improve your mind and spirit?” Is that why people buy books? Not to judge by the best seller lists in the Sunday paper. They buy books because they hate George Bush or because they want to improve their own marketing plans or because they have a voyeuristic interest in the disorganized lives of movie stars or famous athletes.

What hope, in such a world, is there for the truly unique book that aims only to satisfy those who love language for its own sake and that begins with the premise that we can learn from the lives of others, even fictional others?

I have no answer for the rhetorical question. But I will do my best to develop a marketing plan, and we shall see what happens.

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