Jennifer Bosveld, President, Pudding House Publications http://puddinghouse.com/
has the following on her site and I know we have a number of poets who have chapbooks. This advice is the best I've heard on selling your chapbook.
She makes it clear that your publisher is not going to spend a great deal of money marketing your book. The small presses make such a minute amount of money on chapbooks, I'm surprised they even bother.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO GET YOUR CHAPBOOK SOLD
Participate in open mics, become known in your neighborhood/city as a poet
Work on reading/delivery technique and presentation style
Be a poet the audience wants to hear
Let venue directors know you have a chapbook out now and are available as a featured reader
At your readings, set up a good-looking display where people come into the room, not up front where you are. Most people won’t make it up there and therefore won’t see your book.
Offer “special event” discounts if possible.
Add a kicker line or blurb about your chap to your personal or professional stationery. (Thanks Warren Woessner)
Copy the cover and some of the back info i.e. ISBN and price and make your own flyer. Send out your own direct mail announcement with order form so they can order from you. Some authors want the publisher to handle all orders, they think it looks better. I understand the feeling. But don’t do both. If we both take orders even the best of friends can easily opt not to buy in hopes that you think they bought from us. Some people are loaded with friends who buy what they write; others do not know this luxury. Sometimes that eagerness to support a friend is a cultural thing, social custom.
Get local coverage in a newspaper if you have an angle, an interesting story that community members might be interested in. Do a press release and include a copy of the book when sending to the newspaper.
If your book appeals to special interests, send press releases and samples to those folks, i.e. Vivian Shipley’s Fishing Poems went to a couple of gift shops around popular fishing spots. Al Ferber’s Gus went to a Union 76 Station counter where they sold some.
Send out review copies if you feel like it but don’t do it haphazardly. Realize which places do not review chapbooks—don’t waste your resources there. Also, ask yourself what you really want and what is reasonable to expect. If almost any chapbook would be fortunate (?) enough to get a review in the KnockmBopm Monthly, know whether it’s likely to get slammed. Be careful what you ask for, you might get it is the Mark Twain quote I usually consider a blessing, but very often, not when it comes to reviews. We no longer send out review copies because in over 20 years of doing so we never received a negative review (thank you, cosmos) but those positive reviews rarely if ever sold books. When Rita Dove published a raving review of a Pudding House release in the Washington Post I think we received one sale from the praise and over 200 congratulatory time-consuming emails.
READINGS AND PERFORMANCE—ARE NEARLY ALL THAT MATTER
Readings, more than anything else, sell chapbooks.