A quick introduction to self publishing
Part I — The Pros of Traditional Publication
Part II — The Cons of Traditional Publication
Part III — The Road to Traditional Publication
Part IV — The Pros of Self Publication
Part V — The Cons of Self Publication
This is becoming quite a series! I hope it’s been helpful — I’ve tried to keep it as balanced as possible. Here’s the next installment: the road to publication, when you’re doing it yourself…
1: Read some poems.
You may recognise this from the other list, but I haven’t gone mad! This is the first step you should take before deciding to publish your work, regardless of how you’re planning to do it. OK, so you don’t have a publisher to impress, but you still want to shift copies of this book. If you’re not willing to read other people’s poetry, you cannot expect other people to read yours. So (and this is becoming my catchphrase) get thee to a library!
2: Get your stuff “out there” first.
Yes, this is lifted from the other list as well… but again, it’s an important thing to do. When you’re self-publishing, you want to get your work into journals and magazines beforehand for slightly different reasons: rather than needing to prove that you have a good “track record” for the publisher, it really is more about building up a CV and getting your name heard. It’s one thing to produce a book and stick a price tag on it, but to guarantee that people will see it, buy it and read it, it’ll need to get some PR. If you’ve already been published in some big magazines, it’s more likely that a reviewer will want to check you out — particularly if, off the back of your previous publications, they’ve seen your name before. Being published previously can also help with write-ups by bloggers — bloggers have to be careful what they say, becaue they want to keep their readers, so they’re much more likely to feel cool about reviewing your stuff if you come with the seal of approval from a zine they know and like. And being able to put an impressive CV next to your book’s ‘buy now’ button on Amazon means that people are more likely to buy it on impulse than if they’re not sure who you are or whether you’re any good.
3. Finish your manuscript first.
If you’ve got a rough collection of poems but you haven’t honed it yet, don’t start looking at your publishing options — if you do, you might well be tempted to just chuck something together in the heat of the moment. The idea of turning your humble scribbles into a real, physical book can be very exciting, and it’s easy to be swept away by it. If you were working with a publisher, they wouldn’t allow you to rush things — they’d help you to edit your collection and make sure it was 100% ready to go before packing it off to the printers. You should try to maintain this discipline even when you’re working alone. Try the poems in a different order and see how they work, put the manuscript away for a couple of weeks so you can look at it with fresh eyes, get an outsider’s perspective, edit edit edit! These are all things you’d do if you were publishing traditionally, and you should absolutely do them anyway.
4: Choose your publishing method.
Huge advantage of self-publishing: you control everything. However, don’t be tempted to go with the first option you come across — shop around, and try to get the best book you can. Do you want to go with a print on demand company? If so, which one? What is your main concern — a good looking book? Something easy to understand and use? Something cheap? Look at all the options, consider the pros and cons of each, and make a careful decision. Also, think about the alternatives — hand making your book, collaborating with an illustrator or book binder. All valid options!
5: Make sure everything is done right!
Particularly with POD, once you hand your manuscript over that’s it… you wait around for a while and then the finished book hits your doormat. So because you don’t have the same level of communication as you have with a traditional publisher, you need to make sure everything is good to go and all the forms are filled in correctly before you commit. You really don’t want to be forever haunted by a typo or end up with your order messed up just because you rushed some online form or forgot to spellcheck. There’s no way of fixing these mistakes once they’ve happened, so prevent them as far as you possibly can!
6: Be patient.
It can take a while for things to happen, even with self publishing. A lot of print-on-demand companies have so much to do that it can be a while before you see your finished book, or even a proof. If you’re hand-making your own books you’ll need to wait until you have a good chunk of time (and I mean more like a week than an afternoon) to sit down and do it. Self publishing is generally quicker than the more traditional alternatives, but it’s still not instant. Be prepared to wait!
7: Plan your selling strategy.
While you’re waiting for your books to be printed, you can sit down and work out your selling strategy. As I pointed out in Part V, when you self-publish, you’re responsible for every single sale of every single book — so how are you going to get those books flying off the shelves, as it were? Just because you’re self-published doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a distribution plan, an idea of where the books will be available from and whether you’ll pay for that, or take on more work by skipping the third-party-seller thing. Don’t expect people to wander up to you in the street and say “can I buy your book?” (and don’t expect to be able to wander up to people in the street yourself, either!) — you have to plan it out and get things moving before the books even arrive.
8: Market your book TO DEATH.
Well, you don’t have to do this, but if you don’t, you’ll never shift your books! Use whatever you have at your disposal — your Facebook account, your eBay messages, your email signature. Set up a blog just for your book and get reciprocal links set up to relevant sites and zines. If you’re selling through a third party, pimp out the shopfront everywhere — make stickers, make ads on websites if you can afford it, ask for reviews from publications large and small alike. Get your handmade books on Etsy, and if you want to, wander around your local bookstores and sound them out, see if they’ll take some copies. You are officially your own PR department… and welcome to the world of PR!
9: Check the legal stuff.
I mean copyright, and acknowledgements. Check that the POD company you’re going to doesn’t demand any of your copyright, and if they work under a creative commons license or the like, find out your own rights before you commit. Make sure you copyright your work somehow before you publish it, even if you just seal it in an envelope and post it to yourself. Acknowledge previous publications of any poems or parts of poems that are also in the book. And if you send poems from the book out for publication in future, be sure to make the journal or zine aware that the poems in question have been previously (self)published.
10: Enjoy it!
Self-publishing can be loads of work, feel like a lot of responsibility, and fail to live up to your expectations. HOWEVER, it is a brand new, revolutionary way to publish, and you have total control of every step. In many ways, it is absolutely what is best for your work, and no matter what happens, your self published book is in no way inferior to any book published by a proper publishing house. So keep your chin up, work hard and make the book as good as you can… and feel proud of it. Publishing your own book of poems yourself is quite an achievement — acknowledge it.
Questions? Suggestions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
(Photo by JillHannah)
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