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Selling Poetry Door to Door: A Sustained Success Story

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I distribute my books outside conventional circles. I search for poetry lovers by talking to everyone I know and by going door to door. I started selling poetry door to door for reasons such as:

  • I believe in myself as a man of letters and stand 100 percent behind my creative writing.
  • In 1982, when I moved to Canada, there was no market there for traditional poetry. A staunch traditionalist, I was trying hard to establish myself, required encouragement, and felt depressed and downtrodden by negative responses and heartless rejections.
  • I was invited to go door to door selling poetry, like Walt Whitman, by my professors and by ordinary people.
  • I decided to give it a try and in so doing to attempt to single-handedly jumpstart a traditionalist literary revival in British Columbia.

My door-to-door blitz was so successful that I have customers who have been buying my work ever since 1985. At this point, I am blessed with a worldwide resurgence of traditionalist inspiration and have many friends to support, encourage, and back me, as well as sponsor me.

I sell only books of poetry and related literature–biography, autobiography, memoirs, serious novels or short stories, poetry journals, criticism, recordings of poetry on cassette or CD-ROM. My market is all sorts of poetry lovers, ranging from teenagers to seniors, but especially people with university credentials. I think they believe in and understand what I do. I think they admire my level of professionalism, my willingness to consult them door-to-door before I honor myself with the coveted title of “poet.”

I have also had luck selling my work to lawyers and even to judges. I explain this phenomenon with the theory that authors, lawyers, and judges all require skills for using words persuasively and interpreting words well for their fine shades of meaning.

Between 1985 and 1997 I worked at selling books door to door scientifically and meticulously, in the sense that I canvassed every single evening that I could devote to the job. My typical hours were between 6 and 9 p.m., when it was most likely that I would find people home just after supper and before they turned in. Since 1997 I have eased off simply because I seem to have saturated my Vancouver market. However, I still visit my top clients regularly.

It is like having a job where the income is never astronomical but far better than mere pocket money. When I make money I rejoice and enjoy myself. Only a little while ago, for example, I canvassed my top clients and hauled in $CDN 175 for an evening’s work. I only wish I had a lot more of these top clients.

Sonnets Set a Record

So far, I have sold well over 20,000 books of poetry and related literature, more than half of which were my own books. And I sold close to 6,000 copies of just one of my books, Out of Blue Nothing, a cycle of 24 Shakespearean sonnets that I created to celebrate my marriage and originally priced at $5. It is now in an eighth edition, and a Canadian poetry book bestseller.

Selling books door to door, I have never had to remainder copies. I consider the profit margin that people allow me to be an expert’s, a real pro’s. Around 12 years ago I put all my customers into a database and discovered that I had over 6,000 addresses. Clients, however, have a way of coming and going, and although I get new, occasional clients all the time, I’d be astonished if I have more than 50 who can be relied upon to buy books from me every month or whenever they become available.

A lesson I have learned from going door to door is that the most apparently supercilious reader has a heart and loves to be treated as a real person by the artists he or she supports, rather than as a mere number by the advertising campaigns of the culture industry, the mass media, and show business, where the only bottom line that matters is the almighty dollar. Most lovers of literature may, indeed, love the work they support; but the best reason I can think of that they love to support me is that I relate to every single one of them individually and have a history with each one of them.

Copyright © 2005 Joe M. Ruggier

Joe Ruggier has published nine poetry titles along with other books, audiocassettes, a CD-ROM, and 21 issues of his own poetry journal, The Eclectic Muse. Recently, the Canadian Poetry Association chose 26 of his poems for inclusion in its New Pleiades Anthology of Poetry. To learn more, email him at jrmbooks@hotmail.com or call him at 604/277 3864.

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