Sunday, November 15, 2020

on your own | the self-publishing diaries


 I've been thinking about the differences in self-publishing vs. traditional publishing in terms of process the past few weeks, at least when it comes to finalizing galleys and designing covers and the logistics of getting a book into print.  I'm familiar with it a little obviously having published other's work through dgp and issues my own zines, chaps, and artist books over the years, but on a much smaller and more limited scale. But shorter collections and limited editions feel much smaller than dealing with a full-length book, not only the production, but also getting it into the hands of readers or even getting anyone to know that your book even exists. At all.

Years ago, when I was trying to land my first book, I considered self-publishing, as I quickly grew tired of the pay-for-play of contests and all-too-limited spots in open reading periods. (I'm still just as tired, but I have been extraordinarily lucky to have had great relationships with a couple presses that like my poems enough to put their energies behind them outside the contest system.  That first mss. didn't work out that way, but it could have.  What kept me from diving right in, as I do most things, was not necessarily the logistics (though POD publishing has come a long way even since then.) but more the worries of people questioning my legitimacy as a poet (something I give two shits about now) and actually being able to reach readers.  Those legitimacy questions seemed less important in both zine culture and the more open-mic oriented community I was immersed in and more taboo in the academic one, but it still gave me reservations.  

An existing press can guarantee a certain amount of readership and attention, even if it's shoestring operation.  People pay attention to what certain presses are publishing. and look for those books when they're in a shopping mood--books that have the stamp of approval from a press or editor that they know will be to their liking.  Some presses have really good ways of getting the books out there--be they review copies, mailing lists, social media skills.   Some have finely tuned promo machines and staff, some are smaller and doing as much as they can.  And the presence of a great editor and design team is invaluable.  Some are more hands on, some less so, but all make it their job to make some stunning books I am enormously lucky to have in the world. 

On your own, it's pretty much all you (though I have some friends who swear either enlisting a friend or hiring another editor/writer to assist is often a great help)  A second reader, a second set of eyes can be really good, especially outside of a workshop or community of writers helping to hone your work. Even I never fully trust my editing & proofing skills, especially when it comes to my own work (ask me how many times I end up re-doing my own zines because of a pesky typo. )  I rely on the my own and also the author's eyes when it comes to publishing other folks.  Even just tiny things like commas and em dashes and making sure everything line up is an endeavor--and with a longer book and more pages--more work. The cover, also a little more tricky, particuarly if you are working with a template for a printer and not just running them through yourself. 

But even those things aside, what I feel the biggest will be is finding readers and getting the book out there.  Earlier this year, with SEX & VIOLENCE , I knew a certain amount of promo would be built in a release from a traditional publisher.  Even though I feel sometimes like social media and even this blog is dropping dimes into a void, people pay attention a bit more when another press endorses a title by bringing it into being.  With the upcoming book, FEED, I have no idea if anyone will want to read it, so have to work a little harder to get it on the radar. This will be my first time self-issuing a full-length, so we'll see how it goes. Mostly, I just want the book out there should anyone be interested (and this is true of a handful of longer projects I plan to do the same with this year.)  Since it's a new endeavor, I will be compiling notes and writing more in this space about my experience with it, so stay tuned.

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