Andrews McMeel Publishing has long been known primarily as a humor and gift book publisher, but the Kansas City–based company could currently be the country’s hottest publisher of poetry books.
The publisher has a major hit with its third poetry book, Rupi Kaur’s originally self-published Milk and Honey. The 2015 title has sold, SMP said, 450,00 copies to date and continues to move around 30,000 copies per week. Its release comes after a foray into a genre that SMP has rarely dabbled in.
AMP published its first book of poetry in 2013, Lang Leav’s Love and Misadventure. Leav’s title came to AMP by recommendation. “We published a book that was a huge international bestseller called The Blue Day Book: A Lesson in Cheering Yourself Up by Bradley Trevor Greive,” said Kirsty Melville, publisher and president of AMP. “Leav was looking for a publisher and spoke with Bradley, and he recommended us.” While negotiations for the book were in process, Leav, who had self-published the book, mentioned that she was getting requests from Barnes & Noble for copies, something that helped convince AMP to seal the deal. To date, Love and Misadventure has sold around 150,000 copies. AMP published a second Leav book, Lullabies, in 2014.
In addition to strong sales, the publication of Love provided Melville with some market insight. “We saw that there was this generation of young women, mostly in that early-20s age group, who were responding to this form of expression,” she said, adding that the type of poetry that was resonating with readers is often associated with spoken-word poets or poets publishing online. To add to its small list, AMP then acquired the rights to a spoken-word poet named Clementine von Radics, who has a presence on YouTube, which led AMP to discover the popularity of spoken-word poets performing at colleges. AMP released von Radics’s Mouthful of Forevers in April 2015 and it has sold about 7,500 copies.
Melville said she was interested in Milk and Honey in part because Kaur had a major following on social media, as well as asuccessful career as a spoken-word poet. “[Kaur] was visiting a lot of campuses in the United States,” Melville said. “So we thought it would be interesting for us to try a book in North America with someone of her experience.”
After a slow beginning when AMP first released the book last fall, Milk and Honey began to find a larger readership this January, and demand has built steadily since. Melville was thrilled when Barnes & Noble said in late March that Milk and Honey was one of its better trade paperback bestsellers and put the book next to Me Before You in its stores. “Suddenly you’ve got Me Before You, which we know is a bestseller, and there’s Milk and Honey,” Melville said, noting the book has now become “a phenomenon.” Melville credited the success of Milk and Honey to Kaur’s connection to her readers. “Every time she posts something people [react],” Melville said. “It’s just as simple as that. Her writing moves them.”
Melville feels “that the medium of poetry reflects our age, where short-form communication is something people find easier to digest or connect with.” As for AMP being a poetry publisher, she said, “Yes, this is poetry, but I think we are publishing a form of communication for the times that happens to be poetry, as opposed to being a poetry publisher. As a company, we’ve always published books about the meaning of life, in humor or in gift-book form, so it’s sort of an extension in that way.”
After publishing one book of poetry in 2013 and 2014 each, AMP released three in 2015 and plans to do 10 in 2016. The publisher has discovered a niche audience within the poetry world and continues to tap into it. “I think as a publisher you go where your audience is. We will just follow where the audience goes.”