Poets are hungry folks. We’re constantly looking for new audiences and venues to perform in. We’re a little like sharks: if we stop, we’re done.
Having said this, trying to find those gigs we want can require a more delicate touch than simply firing off a public comment. “Fancy booking me for a feature set?” isn’t the way to go.
Firstly, I’d like to state that a promoter’s private social media profile is usually their private space. If you wouldn’t be comfortable knocking on their front door, you shouldn’t message their private page unless they’re using that to host the gig. Most poetry promoters will have a public page or event for their night or themselves, which you can message. Some even ask you to send an email, especially if you’re asking for feature or headline work. Don’t think you’re being smart or jumping the queue by sending someone a direct message, you just look arrogant. Just like submitting written poetry to a magazine, you need to check the process and follow it.
If you’ve used the proper channel and haven’t heard back after a while, it’s okay to send a follow-up message. However, consider how long it’s been since you sent your first enquiry. Most promoters are busy mid-career poets who are dealing with their own bookings, their current feature acts, and promoting a night, alongside side jobs and family life.
If they don’t want to book you, don’t take it to heart. They might have specific criteria they are basing booking decisions on (such as gender representation) or your work might not be the right fit for their night. Be polite and thank them for their consideration. No one has ever changed their minds when seeing an ego flare up.
Now, onto the actual asking…
Don’t be too upfront and name drop/strut your accomplishments. This is especially off-putting to newer promoters, and in their eyes, you can actually disqualify yourself by sounding too good. It’s also really arrogant to assume they want to know; they may have an entire year of features booked up and here you are, rubbing what you’ve done in their face. Promoters are also almost always poets and sometimes, a little jealousy can creep in.
The best way to start your enquiry is to show that you have actually considered their event instead of sending the same email to a hundred different poetry nights. Most importantly, have you been to one of their events before? If not, have you looked at their work online? Do you follow them or have you heard great things from people? Let them know that! It’s softly appealing to their ego before you’ve even thought about asking for something from them. You are trying to start a dialogue rather than holding them hostage until they agree to book you.
So when is the right time to ask about booking? Once you’ve let the promoter know that they are being personally contacted, you can ask to be considered. Lay out why you’re asking for a gig; are you going to be in the area, or do you have a new book or show you’d like to promote?
The tone of your message should balance between humility and with a confidence befitting your work. If you genuinely feel you deserve the opportunity, it’s easy to make that case, but if you know you’re fishing, it’s easy to go on the offensive and scare promoters away.
I like to include a separate attachment that functions as a kind of CV or résumé, covering my bio and other achievements. It’s important that you don’t exaggerate yourself. Paint an honest picture of the work you’ve done. As an example, if you have won a monthly Hammer & Tongue slam, don’t tell people you’re THE Hammer & Tongue Champion, just say you won a monthly Hammer & Tongue slam.
Another particular bugbear of mine is this: don’t tell people you’ve supported major names if that’s not the truest case. If you’ve performed on the same stage, as part of the same event as a particular poet, and been booked to appear, then you have supported them. But if you were on a different stage during the weekend that that poet performed at, you haven’t supported that act. If you were part of an open mic or slam that a performer headlined, you haven’t supported them. If you cannot suitably fill in your accomplishments, perhaps you shouldn’t be looking at applying for feature sets just yet.
Finally, thank the promoter for their time. They’re busy people and even if they don’t want to book you for that night, a good impression can lead to other opportunities down the line. Some promoters will program festivals or work on fundraisers, or even run separate nights. You may be perfect for those future opportunities but if you don’t come across well, you can miss those chances.
Even if the opportunities don’t come, keep at it. Sooner or later, you will find yourself in a better position, professionally speaking, and you’ll be the right person for a slot in the future. Getting to those moments through hard work and growth feels so much better than trying to force your way into these things.