Melissa Broder, Penguin Group publicity manager, who works on titles from the Berkley, NAL, Riverhead, and Perigee imprints, just signed a contract for her own second book, Meat Heart. The books she works on for Penguin are mostly women's fiction and nonfiction, but her own books are poetry. Broder's had lots of success getting big time publicity for her Penguin authors—she landed spots on the Joy Behar show for both Jen Lancaster and Sloane Crosley in May, for example—but that kind of media isn't particularly interested in poetry.
So is publicity for big and small presses pretty much the same? Not at all, according to Broder, who describes her literary life as two separate but related worlds. "It's sort of like if I were a punk rock musician and I worked by day in the classical or folk music industry. It's all music, but it's very different kinds of music," she said. It turns out, however, that Broder learned a lot from her experience as a poet working on her previous book, and she believes the world of trade publicity could learn a lot from how small presses and indie authors get the word out about their books. She's hoping to bring that knowledge to bear as she helps publicize her next poetry collection set for release next February.
The publisher for her upcoming book is Adam Robinson of Baltimore's small press Publishing Genius, which PW highlighted in February 2010 when the press had a surprise success with Light Boxes by Shane Jones, a novel to which director Spike Jonze bought the film rights and Penguin bought the reprint rights. Small presses often have to publicize on a shoestring, so Robinson's glad to have Broder's expertise to help him. "I expect I'll get to sit back and watch and learn a little bit," he said. Broder is certainly eager to help.
So what's she got up her sleeve? "With indie lit, there's no budget," she said, "so you have to be scrappy. You really have to hone your angles, especially when it comes to poetry. What I learned is that the things that sell a piece of women's fiction won't sell poetry." For example, she continued, "I went into my last book with a mindset of commercial publicity—what works there. I went on TV and talked about love poetry for Valentine's Day. But I found that's not what's going to sell poetry, and the place I found I had the most success was the Internet literature community. Poets buy poetry, so that also means doing readings and meeting other poets." Fortunately, Broder also runs the successful Polestar reading series at bars in Manhattan and Brooklyn, so she gets to see plenty of poets seducing their audiences into buying their books. Her firsthand experience with her reading series has been "the thing that helped me most. That community—those are the people buying books."
To reach out to that community, she'll do readings, but also do things like a UStream (www.ustream.tv) event, an online video reading that can easily be spread virally, which she used with one of her trade authors who wasn't able to tour. According to Broder, "You've got to be scrappy in commercial fiction nowadays, too."