On the Business of Poetry

Self-Portrait in a Velvet Dress by Frida Kahlo (1926)

First of all, you have to ask yourself why you do this. Many cannot seem to envision doing this for anything but “the art”.

However, this is also a business. I wrote lots as a child—stuff nobody saw. However, that soon grew old for me. I wanted to cement myself solidly within the Literary canon. I still do, which is why I am writing this article. For many years, my name was used against me. I want to make my name a household one, for the purpose of turning that around.

You, as the writer, are the product you are trying to sell. For some reason, people see this as cold-hearted, but you can still love the art and desire more. There are not many other industries where climbing the ladder is viewed as opportunistic. A typical business-minded poet knows that you can make friends while networking. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.

Networking should be something that is part of a writer’s life. People tend to misunderstand what it actually means. It would be foolish to not recognise that to further your career, you have to meet like-minded folk who can introduce you to other people. This doesn’t mean you can’t also be fond of each other.

I have never been shy about promoting myself. I even did a bit of networking at my father’s wedding (with his blessing). I come from a family of businessmen and women, so it has always come naturally to me. I advise you to get yourself some business cards. That is the easiest way to let people know what you do.


Promoting yourself doesn’t need to be difficult. The most challenging part is getting people to listen—to drop their biases and particular inclinations. Get a website, and make it look inviting. It should be easy to navigate. Either build one yourself (if you have those skills), or use a platform such as WordPress, Wix, or Weebly. If you have the funds, Squarespace is a good option, but quite expensive.

Utilising social media to your advantage is one of the best ways to get noticed. Be on as many social apps as you can, but do take breaks if needed. For making strong connections, Twitter and LinkedIn are two in particular you should use. It is important to have a strong head in this business, for people will make assumptions or slate you for wanting to get ahead. They just haven’t found the balance yet, and that’s ok.

Trying to be liked by everyone is a waste of time. Always be respectful, of course, and be nice to others. However, people are always going to judge you for a myriad of things. Don’t let people expect things of you. Do what you feel comfortable with.

Try to publish as widely as you can, and be selective about where you send your work. For example, this year, I made the conscious decision to try some of the heftier publications such as the Times Literary Supplement and Granta. I want people to say: “Oh, Courtenay Gray? Yes, I love her work.” I want people to be able to envision my poetry upon hearing my name.

Remember that you are the product. If you don’t like how your name looks at the bottom of your publications, create a pen name, or use your initials instead, such as C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Either way, enjoy it. When it gets too much, take some time off.

Sell! Sell! Sell!

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