Self publish. It’s a phrase that carries a lot of baggage for authors and readers alike.
For readers it conjures images of 99 cent kindle books with a PowerPoint cover and text riddled with plot holes and misplaced punctuation.
For authors it is a chance to make it big like Andy Weir (The Martian) , E.L. James (Fifty Shades of Grey), Christopher Paolini (Eragon), and others who have used digital and traditional methods to publish their own work. But it can also feel like a last resort, a desperate bid to find the recognition and success associated with traditional methods.
There are times I've dismissed self-publishing. But now I am publishing a book without even trying to go through traditional process and I can hear my own question ringing back at me - why are you self publishing?
What we have to say is driven by who we want to say it too. Publishing is the method we use to connect our writing to potential readers. In my case, the poems in Seasons of Thought started with a personal challenge - could I write one poem every day for a year? It was a challenge meant to grow my creativity, cultivate the discipline I have so often lacked in writing, and see the everyday beauty in the world.
A year later I had written a poem every day and learned along the way , but I also was left with a question - what do I do with all these poems? For me the decision to self publish didn’t happen all at once. It was a gradual realization that 1) I I had a project I wanted to see through to completion and 2) that I was saying something with these poems that I still wanted to share, even after two years.
There are a lot of pieces to the publishing process - editing and cover art are the most prominent, but there’s also typesetting, choosing the type of paper and binding, ordering proofs, marketing, and distribution. Traditional publishers handle all the pieces of the process in return for a portion of the author’s profits; the author saves time and gains the expertise of people who have done this thousands of times.
I love books. I obviously love to write, but I also love all the pieces that go into them - fonts, paper, book covers. I loved learning about each of the various parts of the publishing process I knew nothing about before. I started teaching myself LaTeX so that I could typeset my poems, then I taught myself InDesign so that I could compare the two processes. I had to choose a font and realized how much thought goes into the typography that I read without thinking. I contracted my talented friends to make the cover art and to edit the collection. I bought my own ISBN and entered information into Amazon so that my book will show up with other books of poems. I even wrote this website from scratch (probably a bit excessive but coding is a hobby), so that I could control how I and my work are represented online.
A publisher would have saved me so much time, but I also wouldn’t have got to learn about all these pieces. Are there things that I would do differently in the future? Yes, I would bring in an editor earlier; I would map out all the pieces of the project ahead of time and start working on some of the pieces earlier; I’d choose a single tool and stick with it. Yes someone else could have done these things for me, but I would have been sorry to miss the chance to start learning them now. In the future I might prefer to have a publisher handle some things, but this project is close to my heart and I wanted to see it all the way through.
Traditional publishers serve as gatekeepers. Their readers expect a certain level of quality, so its in their best interest to edit well, select engaging cover art, and present books in their best light. It is also in their best interest to select quality work. As an author there’s great reassurance in being selected, in being told “No, you’re not crazy this is good and we want to help you sell it - this is worth sharing.”
It takes confidence in yourself and in your judgment (even if it is misplaced) to say, “I have something that I think is worth sharing” and I’m going to do what I can to share it. For better or worse that’s what I’ve decided about Seasons of Thought. The finished project will release later in June on Amazon. If you read it, I hope you agree!