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Out of nowhere, my wife handed me a check for $41.82.
“Looks like people are buying your book,” she said.
I should take a step back. Some years back Haiku North America cofounder Michael Dylan Welch invited me to the Haiku North America conference.
A few days before he suggested I put a book of my poems together to have on hand, so I did. That night I made copies at the local FedEx store. This is the chapbook that people have started buying from Amazon.
These days, only the most dedicated of poetry lovers know what chapbooks are. But initially chapbooks were the books of the common man. (When was the last time that was said of poetry in the U.S.?)
Think Middle Ages. Peddlers went from village to village with their rag paper wares. Chapbooks were almanacs, captured history, told myths and stories. Even folk songs were preserved in these small books. Because they were small and crudely made the common man could afford them. In an era when paper was expensive, chapbooks were sold for a penny or ha'penny.
"If you want to buy, I'm your chap," the chapmen would yell as they went from door to door.
Now think of the Kindle and self-publishing platforms like Scribd, Blurb and Amazon. Oddball poets who toil in obscurity (including yours truly) can now be spread from computer to computer.
If you choose to make your work available for free—as I did on Scribd—you may find it downloaded thousands of times, or you can choose to charge a small fee as I did on Amazon. Even if only a few hundred people buy it you are still sitting pretty as far as the economics of chapbooks are concerned.
Of course all of this puts small presses in a bad spot and I’d be remiss if I didn’t insert a caveat here about Amazon’s undercutting publishing costs so it could become a ubiquitous giant that sells anything and everything (soon to be delivered by drones).
But when poet extraordinaire Jane Hirshfield wanted to share her thoughts on Basho where did she turn? Amazon. And it was a hot seller. Score for the artist following her muse and score for haiku lovers (the most misunderstood poetic form practiced by the most obscure breed of poet).
So there I stood in front of a check for $41.82, my cut from a book I had forgotten I had written. At a price of $.99 and only getting 35 percent of that, that meant about 120 people recently bought my chapbook. It was an encouraging moment, a moment that has lit a fire under my butt. Once again I am culling new poems out of hundreds of pages of notes.
Imagine if I had done some publicity for it on Facebook, my blog or Twitter!? By the way, my poetry chapbook on Amazon is entitled “Night with Too Many Stars” and my Scribd book is “Hands-Eyes-Stars.”
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