THE PRAC­TI­CAL WRITER Strate­gic Think­ing

Poets and Writers - - Contents - By danielle han­son

Busi­ness man­age­ment tools for writ­ers.

BUSI­NESS is about mak­ing money, and po­etry is not. But if we think of the con­nec­tions our writ­ing makes with read­ers as sales, the cor­re­la­tion of­fers some use­ful tools for view­ing and en­hanc­ing our im­pact on the po­etry mar­ket. Art is made not only in the soli­tary act of cre­at­ing, but also in the act of re­ceiv­ing by an au­di­ence. The power of art rests in that con­nec­tion. Sales works the same way: You might prep for weeks for a busi­ness meet­ing with a client, but the im­por­tant part is what hap­pens when you’re all seated around the ta­ble.

Busi­nesses must fo­cus on sales to sur­vive. It’s not al­ways a pleas­ant task, but it is made more palat­able when you be­lieve that what you’re pro­duc­ing will en­hance some­one else’s life. That the prod­uct is needed and nec­es­sary for the world. That even if peo­ple don’t know to look for the prod­uct, they will en­joy it and it will im­prove their ex­pe­ri­ence of the world.

Below are some tools com­monly used in the busi­ness world to help teams and in­di­vid­u­als fo­cus their time to achieve the busi­ness’s ob­jec­tives in an ef­fec­tive man­ner. I found them very use­ful dur­ing my fif­teen years as an ex­ec­u­tive at a For­tune 10 cor­po­ra­tion, where I led teams that set pric­ing strat­egy for mo­bile phone plans and broad­band ser­vices, and I’ve adapted them to my writ­ing life. They give me a frame­work in which to plan my time, in­crease my im­pact on the mar­ket­place, and rec­og­nize my achieve­ments.

Tool 1: Mis­sion and Vi­sion State­ments

What is it you’re try­ing to do with your writ­ing? Is it to ex­press and/or work through feel­ings for your own ben­e­fit? Doc­u­ment his­tory for your­self or fam­ily or friends? Cre­ate art for an ab­stract au­di­ence? Be­come fa­mous? These are all valid rea­sons—there are no wrong rea­sons—but be hon­est with your­self. When money is not in play, suc­cess is de­fined by whether you’re do­ing what you set out to do.

Write a mis­sion state­ment that sum­ma­rizes your pur­pose. My mis­sion state­ment is “to cre­ate and fa­cil­i­tate won­der.” I don’t write to delve into my in­ner self. I cre­ate be­cause I want to have some­thing that makes me see the world in a new way—that cre­ates a new world that I hope will de­light oth­ers. And I know there are other peo­ple in the world

whose brains are sim­i­lar to mine, who will be de­lighted as well. I just have to find them (more on this later).

A vi­sion state­ment is sim­i­lar, but in­stead of defin­ing you and what you’re about, it goes into why and how. Vi­sion state­ments can take a few dif­fer­ent forms. With re­gard to my own pur­suit of won­der, my vi­sion state­ment could be, on the more artis­tic side, “to take na­ture by sur­prise by acutely ob­serv­ing the world while mak­ing it new, in or­der to cre­ate won­der for read­ers.” Or it can be more prac­ti­cal: “to cre­ate ex­pe­ri­ences of won­der for read­ers by pre­sent­ing them with new vi­sions of the nat­u­ral world, in pub­lic fo­rums and writ­ten pub­li­ca­tions.”

Tool 2: El­e­va­tor Pitch

This is a thirty-sec­ond speech, so called be­cause you could give it dur­ing the time it takes to ride an el­e­va­tor. The idea is that you hap­pen to get into the el­e­va­tor with the CEO of your com­pany (or your ideal client or reader or in­ter­viewer), and that per­son asks, “What do you do?” You have un­til the el­e­va­tor reaches the in­quirer’s floor to make an im­pres­sion and an­swer the ques­tion. It’s a good idea to have one of these pre­pared for your job. It’s also a good idea to have one pre­pared for your art. I am em­bar­rassed by how long I’ve been stum­bling at par­ties and din­ners, mum­bling some­thing about be­ing a poet, and my awk­ward an­swer to the in­evitable fol­low-up ques­tion of “what kind of po­etry do you write?” In fact, I fi­nally wrote an el­e­va­tor pitch for this ar­ti­cle. Want to hear it?

What do you do? I am a poet. I draw from the com­mon­place and na­ture and com­bine those el­e­ments in un­com­mon ways. I want my read­ers to ex­pe­ri­ence some­thing new and ex­tra­or­di­nary but re­lat­able to the world they know. I think cre­at­ing won­der im­proves in­di­vid­ual lives and, there­fore, our com­mu­nity and world. I also edit and trans­late be­cause I love bring­ing fresh voices to au­di­ences that will be en­riched by them.

Tool 3: Mar­ket Anal­y­sis

Who is your au­di­ence? Where do they get their read­ing ma­te­ri­als? How do you ef­fec­tively reach them? Read a lot of lit­er­ary jour­nals and small-press ti­tles to find your ed­i­tors, who likely will al­ready have some of your au­di­ence gath­ered, just wait­ing to read you. If you’re writ­ing for your own ben­e­fit, you are your own au­di­ence, or per­haps your fam­ily and friends are your au­di­ence.

Tool 4: SMART Goals

Set goals for your­self. These should be Spe­cific, Mea­sur­able, Achiev­able, Rel­e­vant, and Time Lim­ited. What does this mean? Spe­cific means you need to fix on a num­ber. If your goal is to send out your work to jour­nals, what do you mean by that? Will you send twen­ty­five po­ems to jour­nals over the next twelve months? Or re­send work within two weeks of it be­ing re­jected? Or if you’re set­ting writ­ing goals, are they ten pages a week or two hours of writ­ing ev­ery week­day? Be spe­cific. Spe­cific

goals are Mea­sur­able. As for Achiev­able, in­stead of set­ting a goal around the num­ber of pub­li­ca­tions or books sold, which you don’t con­trol di­rectly, set them around the num­ber of read­ings you do or sub­mis­sions you send out. Track your progress against them. Your goals should be Rel­e­vant, mean­ing they should tie to your mis­sion state­ment. They should be steps to­ward what you’re try­ing to achieve with your art. If you’re writ­ing a fam­ily his­tory for fam­ily con­sump­tion, send­ing out your work to jour­nals is not rel­e­vant, but send­ing it to your cousin might be. And your goals should be Time Lim­ited: Do this ac­tion by this date.

My SMART goals for 2018 are to send out my work to more than one jour­nal at least once ev­ery two months, to trans­late a book and pre­pare it for sub­mis­sion to pub­lish­ers, to or­ga­nize a com­mu­nity of writ­ers in At­lanta to give feed­back on one an­other’s work and meet to­gether monthly, to re­lease the first book un­der my ed­i­tor­ship with Dou­ble­back Books, and to do at least eight read­ings in sup­port of my sec­ond book launch. These all re­flect my mis­sion and vi­sion state­ments, and they re­late to my el­e­va­tor pitch. These are all ways to con­nect with read­ers for my own work, to sharpen my skills as a writer to be­come more ef­fec­tive, or to in­tro­duce other writ­ers’ work to an au­di­ence.

Along with SMART goals, you might set what I call stretch goals. These are more vi­sion­ary ob­jec­tives. They might be more ag­gres­sive SMART goals, which you hope to achieve one day but might re­quire more work than you have time for now. Or they might be more as­pi­ra­tional. Mine is the num­ber of copies of my books I want to sell—I cal­i­brated my ex­pec­ta­tions after ask­ing my ed­i­tor and ed­i­tor friends the av­er­age and high­est-sell­ing books they typ­i­cally see—and the num­ber of po­ems I want to have ac­cepted for pub­li­ca­tion, which is based on my lat­est years’ trends. These goals tie di­rectly to con­nect­ing with my au­di­ence but in ways not di­rectly un­der my con­trol.

And these goals should be ways in which you can de­fine suc­cess for your­self and feel good about your writ­ing life, in which ex­ter­nal re­ward and feed­back is dif­fi­cult to get. By mak­ing SMART goals around the fac­tors you can con­trol, you can meet them. By mak­ing stretch goals, you can pic­ture out­comes that will in­form your SMART goal set­ting.

Tool 5: Per­for­mance Re­views

At the end of the pe­riod you set for your SMART goals, give your­self a per­for­mance re­view. Did you meet your goals? What worked and what didn’t? Ad­just and re­set your goals for the next pe­riod. Do you have strengths you’ve seen? Weak­nesses that are af­fect­ing your abil­ity to reach your goals?

If you set your goals too ag­gres­sively, reeval­u­ate. By hav­ing a feed­back loop, you can im­prove your ef­fec­tive­ness, plan bet­ter, and cel­e­brate your achieve­ments.

Tool 6: Gen­eral Work Skills

Be or­ga­nized and doc­u­ment your sub­mis­sions. The Po­ets & Writ­ers Sub­mis­sion Tracker (www.pw.org/sub­mis­sions) al­lows you to track your sub­mis­sions, search for ones that have been out for too long (I al­low mag­a­zines a year), and log any feed­back you get. Set cal­en­dar re­minders for dead­lines and around your sub­mis­sion goals. Honor com­mit­ments to your­self and oth­ers. Take your writ­ing se­ri­ously and act pro­fes­sional about it. Pre­pare for read­ings; prac­tice what you’ll say. Have your el­e­va­tor pitch and vi­sion state­ment ready to re­cite. Put to­gether a clean, pro­fes­sional web­site that is easy to nav­i­gate. If you make busi­ness cards, don’t make them fussy or cute— keep them clean and pro­fes­sional.

Tool 7: Net­work

Did you cringe at this word? It’s vi­tal. Good net­work­ing is about build­ing com­mu­nity. Meet the other writ­ers in your area. Sup­port their work. I’m in a book club, a po­etry work­shop, a women’s small-busi­ness group, and a women’s group as­so­ci­ated with a univer­sity in town. I’m on the ed­i­to­rial staff for a press and a jour­nal. I’m part of an ac­tive and highly in­ter­con­nected neigh­bor­hood. I’m part of a church. I’m part of an ex­tended fam­ily. There are peo­ple in all these groups who want to read my work be­cause I wrote it. And you know what? Some of them love it. Some of them have it next to their bed, dog-eared. Some of them say they take a break dur­ing their day to read one poem, like sneak­ing a square of choco­late, and that it’s their fa­vorite part of the day. Net­work­ing is about love, sup­port, and gen­uinely ap­pre­ci­at­ing what other peo­ple put out in the world and not be­ing bash­ful about let­ting them ap­pre­ci­ate what you’re putting out there. Ac­cept the sup­port, cul­ti­vate it, and give it to oth­ers.

Tool 8: Gen­er­at­ing “Sales” Leads

The com­merce of writ­ing. This is where the rub­ber meets the road, where the au­di­ence gets your work into their hands, where the pos­si­bil­ity of the con­nec­tion is re­al­ized. The leads come from your net­works, from your read­ings, from your web­site, from jour­nals you ap­pear in. Where is your au­di­ence gath­ered vir­tu­ally and in per­son? How do you reach them there? How do you cre­ate new au­di­ences?

One of the more in­ter­est­ing ideas I’ve pur­sued is Po­etry-oke. I bring a binder of some of my fa­vorite, of­ten funny po­ems to a pub­lic space and in­vite peo­ple to step up to a mic and read them. This has been per­formed in the mid­dle of down­town At­lanta as part of a pub­lic art and mu­sic sum­mer se­ries, in li­braries, and at pub­lic art events. This doesn’t get my work out there di­rectly, but it does in­crease name recog­ni­tion lo­cally. And it does it in a way that didn’t make me wince when I was first reen­ter­ing the po­etry scene after quit­ting my cor­po­rate job. It al­lowed me to build net­works for my work. Check out the pic­tures

on my web­site, danielle­jhan­son.com /po­et­ryoke. These are mainly peo­ple who never read po­ems, per­form­ing them in a pub­lic space. And laugh­ing, and read­ing an­other one, and en­joy­ing po­etry.

I’ve writ­ten pro­pos­als for other pub­lic art fo­rums—po­etry along the At­lanta Belt­line and as part of pub­lic down­town art in­stal­la­tions. I never miss an op­por­tu­nity to try to bring po­etry into a pub­lic space in a fun way. Most pro­pos­als fail, but any that suc­ceed will meet my mis­sion of cre­at­ing won­der.

Set up booths at art fairs. It seems strange, but I sold more copies of my book there than at any read­ing I’ve done. I gave away copies of a cou­ple of my po­ems as sam­ples. A man read my poem “Eat­ing His Dead Wife,” about some­one eat­ing his wife’s ashes be­cause he misses her so much. The man’s wife had died, and he didn’t know what to do with her ashes. He sat next to my booth for a while, bought a copy of my book, and asked me to sign it for his wife. Con­nec­tion made and art cre­ated. That’s why we write. A con­nec­tion like that will keep me writ­ing through a lot of re­jec­tion let­ters.

Tool 9: Ad­ver­tis­ing and Web Pres­ence

How do you reach more peo­ple? You have to put your­self out there where you can be found. Lo­cal pa­pers will of­ten ad­ver­tise read­ings and events. A web­site is a must, so that a reader who finds your work in a jour­nal or at an event can read more about you and more of your work. It also gives you a way to link to jour­nals that sup­port your work, per­haps adding to their read­er­ship. If some­one likes your writ­ing, and the ed­i­tor chooses your writ­ing for that jour­nal, your read­ers are more likely to en­joy other pieces in the jour­nal. Ad­ver­tis­ing your work can sup­port the com­mu­nity you’re a part of. Get­ting your work into read­ers’ hands doesn’t have to be nar­cis­sis­tic. It’s just as much about your com­mu­nity as it is about you. Re­mem­ber: Ex­pe­ri­enc­ing art is ben­e­fi­cial to your read­ers. Give them the op­por­tu­nity to have that ex­pe­ri­ence. Get your work into their hands. The worst that could hap­pen is that you find the wrong reader and no con­nec­tion is made. If ten peo­ple read your work, and one of them is trans­formed by the ex­pe­ri­ence, if only for a day, that’s amaz­ing.

IN SHORT, we in the arts of­ten den­i­grate busi­ness as dirty and solely con­cerned with profit. There might be a ker­nel of truth to that, but when money is in­volved, peo­ple tend to be­come ef­fi­cient and clever. We can use busi­ness tools in the arts to­ward a dif­fer­ent goal—spread­ing con­nec­tion and art to new au­di­ences and im­prov­ing our world.

Good sales and good busi­ness are about mak­ing con­nec­tions between peo­ple. A gen­uine prod­uct that has emo­tional res­o­nance is of­ten more prof­itable. What bet­ter model could there be for spread­ing our work, for cre­at­ing the con­nec­tion that is art?

DANIELLE HAN­SON is the au­thor of Fray­ing Edge of Sky (Cod­hill Press, 2018), win­ner of the 2017 Cod­hill Po­etry Award, and Am­bush­ing Wa­ter (Brick Road Po­etry Press, 2017). She is a for­mer mar­ket­ing ex­ec­u­tive at AT&T and a mem­ber of the South­east At­lanta

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