Thoughts on Self-publishing

I’ve announced that I’ll be self-publishing my cancer poetry book.  Somedays I feel good about that decision.  Somedays I think it’s a horrible idea.

There are days when I think, that I think too much.  Today is an over thinking day.

Back in the deep dark past of the 1980’s I took some classes on how to get published.  The process at the time involved writing for the Writer’s Market, a thick tome with names, address, types of material sought, and so on.  Then, you’d send a SASE with a note asking for the writer’s guidelines.  Then you’d wait.  Then you’d prepare a cleaver cover letter, another SASE and you’d send in your story.  The rejection normally took two to three months.

In those days, self-publishing existed and was often referred to as, “The Vanity Press.”  Apparently only extremely vain people publish their books without the benefit of a publisher.  There were also veiled threats that if you went to a vanity press you’d catch some kind of leprosy that would prevent you from ever being able to get a real publisher to print your work.

Word on the street was that you needed to receive the blessing of an editor of a “real publisher” to be considered a “real writer.”

I was never a real writer.  I was some imaginary person who sent out SASE as a hobby to prove to the world that I was in fact a second-rate hack in need of a restraining order.  At least that’s how it felt.

Then we in the computer business figured out how to build the internet, wrote web browsers, and thought that a place where you could buy books on-line rather than the local book shop, was a good idea.  Yes, I’ll take my share of the blame.  Just wish I’d received a larger share of the profits.

Today the publishing world is in the throes of radical change as a result in the shift from a paper world to an electronic world.  Submissions are done on-line.  Rejections, while still slow, are sent via email.  Writer’s guidelines are found on websites and the whole process is streamlined.

But there are also millions of blogs, Facebook pages, and twitter accounts that give us mere mortal writers an outlet for our writing without the blessing of high priest editors in New York.  These communications channels give writers something that they’ve lacked in the past, a way to talk directly to their audience without needing the publisher’s marketing machine.

Now it’s very possible for a person to write a book, get it listed on Amazon, and using their personal social network find an audience for the book.  Today there are many examples of authors self-publishing books and getting good sales.  In rare cases, some of these books have even garnered contracts from “real publishers.”

No doubt these successes have some people thinking, “Why do I need a traditional publisher?”

Well, as evil as some people think publishers are, they do bring useful things to the author’s table.  Start with money.  Printing, editing, marketing and other things cost money.  When you get a book contract the publisher picks up those costs.  Then there is their experience with editing, marketing and so on.  Skills and expertise that many authors lack.  They can sell lots of copies of books.

Which brings me to my little book.  I did think about trying to find a publisher to print my book, but I ran into a few issues.  Almost no one publishes poetry. Some small presses and literary presses do, but they are few. Likely it would take one to two full years to get it placed and I’d be forced to rewrite and edit more before that could happen.

Then the realization hit me that my little book isn’t likely to survive that world as at best it has a very limited market.  Likely the world-wide market for a depressing book of cancer poetry is about 250 copies (okay, that’s a wild guess, it might be closer to 25) – mostly among my family, friends and fellow cancer victims.  I know all those people so the marketing effort is mostly going to church and saying, “Hey, Bob, here’s your copy of my book.  Ten bucks.  Thanks Dude.”

Watch out, I could set the world on fire with sales.

So why?  I don’t have a good answer, but it’s not about sales.  It’s not about setting the world on fire with my words.  It’s not about carving out a piece of immortality with my words.  It’s not about anything the publishing world stands for.

It’s about me completing a work of art.  It’s about telling a story.  It’s about a transition in my soul.  It’s about giving voice to an event that has transformed my world and turned me from a wannabe to a real writer.

Till next week,
Andrew

About Andrew Reynolds

Born in California Did the school thing studying electronics, computers, release engineering and literary criticism. I work in the high tech world doing software release engineering Then I got prostate cancer Now I am a blogger and work in my wood shop doing scroll saw work and marquetry.
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53 Responses to Thoughts on Self-publishing

  1. booguloo says:

    Interesting. I almost self published with a Christian publisher but changed my mind because because it 200 dollars a month 10 months. I’d have to cut meat and several other foods that I love. Not to mention being stuck in my apt with no money. Another subject… Do you have pictures of your woodworking pieces that might be for sale?? Could I send you a picture of a wooden sailboat and see if it’s possible to duplicate it??

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    • That’s way too much to pay to self-publish. Newer platforms let you do it for much less. Currently I don’t have any work for sale. Yes, send me the picture and I’ll take a look. There’s a contact form in the ‘about’ menu on this blog. Drop me a note.

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  2. Hi Andrew, I think it’s a great idea to self-publish, as long as you do it professionally. Self-publishing is blowing up and making the traditional publishers nervous. There are many examples of huge success stories now for people who have self-published. It’s true that it’s a lot of work, but from what I hear, you have to do a lot of your own marketing even if you are with a traditional publisher. But if you do it professionally, pay for a solid editor, get a professional book cover, and have a good marketing plan, you can do very well. And you get to keep a lot more of the profit. Poetry, I understand, is hard whether you’re self-published or not, so you have an added challenge, but I think it’s the right choice. Why do we need some gatekeeper telling us what is good or not? And to have to wait potentially years for someone to pick it up and say so, and then maybe another year before it’s actually out? No thanks. So many traditionally published authors were just persistent. It’s just a numbers game. They got scads of rejection letters and just kept sending it. Why bother when you can have it out by the end of the year? Your audience can find you right now. And who buys books based on publisher anyway? No one. They buy based on the author’s name, a good review, and/or an appealing cover. I plan to self-publish my book too. I know it won’t be an easy path, but I think it’s the right one.

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    • Thanks for you comments. I am interested in getting my book in front of the few readers I know I have and not the ones a traditional publisher may or may not get me. So it’s on to self-publishing land for me. And yes, it’s a lot of work and I intend to do it well.

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  3. writerchick says:

    I’m curious. Did you publish the book? I couldn’t find a link to it on your website. I have three friends who have all survived cancer. And I might be a person who would send such a book to their cancer surviving friends. There may indeed be a market for your book.

    Yes, finding an audience is difficult. But that was always true. Even in the days of snail mail submissions and authors selling physical copies out of the trunk of their car (John Grissham reportedly did this). But in your case, with your book – I would google cancer blogs – find a few that seem to have an audience and ask to do guest posts. You’ve been through a unique experience and written about it. I believe that those who have also been through such a harrowing experience (as well as their family and friends) might find value in your book.

    Best of luck.

    Annie

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    • I am still editing the book and don’t expect to publish until November at the earliest.

      and I expect there is some market for the book – just not sure if that is 100 or 200 copies. 😉

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  4. Hi Andrew. Best of luck. Never tried publishing write for self satisfaction. But you have a story to tell. Thankyou for liking my poem Chance Meeting! Peace and Best Wishes. The Foureyed Poet.

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  5. floridaborne says:

    My answer is that I’m in 100% agreement with you. I decided to publish with createspace and amazon kindle because I didn’t want to be 102 and senile before a publisher agrees to take a chance on one of my books. I write for the sheer pleasure of writing.

    I’ve found, however, that marketing can be sheer hell –physically and emotionally. I’ve had a great deal of help from people who have been editors (or are editors) and advertising people. Still, marketing is not my forte.

    My son is a professor who writes poetry. He is a member of a poetry club and has sold more books after presentations for poetry-related venues than via any other method. He’s been published through Finishing Line Press, but if they decide to publish your poetry, there’s an up-front cost.

    That’s the extent of my so-called knowledge. I write poetry for fun and for an emotional outlet, knowing that publication is relegated to my blog. 🙂

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  6. booguloo says:

    After I understood about how much self publishing was, I bowed out. I often wondered how many will make it after our demise.

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  7. That was a great perspective on the whole process. I hope everything works out well and that you find becoming an author very fulfilling. I have totally done the, “Here’s your book, 10 bucks thing” many times!

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  8. In depth look at how publishing a book has changed. My two cents…self-publish and believe in yourself in every step of the way. Believe it like it has already happened. Good luck, my friend.

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  9. My answer, congratulations on making the decision to create poetry for “Cancer”; the emotions of good and bad are normal and no creative process is a horrible idea. Second, yes, we all over think our decisions and sometimes we delete good ideas because we allow our minds to overrule our “gut” feeling.
    I remember well the Vanity days, and yes it was for people who did not have someone inside the industry that could push their work for them. A great writing that gets published and sells millions is rare; good writing usually falls into the “it is good but we are not in the market for it at this time”; the bad writing never gets off our desk. You are right, the process to present your work only to have it rejected is long and heart rendering.
    The word on the street that one needs a real publisher to be a real writer; it has taken me years of self-confident building to know that when you “have” to write, you think, eat and sleep writing. You are a writer. I became a self proclaimed writer when I started to use my own name and stop hiding my work behind an imaginary name! I decided to embrace the rejection slips and keep writing, submitting with the hope of being published by a “real” publisher.
    Self publishing your books are like flying to get over the fear of flying. I jumped out of a perfectly good airplane to sky dive right into self publishing. I first went eBook, then paperbacks; I have five books of poetry and one of my artwork. Will I get rich, never; I will have the satisfaction of having “sold” my books and they look great on my coffee table.
    I have been associated with computers since the screens were green and the fonts yellow; that part of the writing process is a given. I took writing classes to get an understanding of the “rules”; however, one can only write when it is a physical labor of love, daily.
    I have always been in love with words, read everything from War and Peace to Campbell soup can labels; I have published eBooks and paperbacks and they can be purchased on-line at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. I still go to the local book shops to, buy, read and hold the words of all those outstanding writers in my hands. I love Blogs, Face Book and Twitter as it allows our writing to find those who appreciate it and gives us the opportunity to read writers such as yourself, whom I enjoy reading.
    I will get your book of Cancer Poetry, the idea is outstanding; I myself write from experience, heart and soul, it may appear to be dark emotionally; however, it comes from a place where I have lived with loss, sorrow, loneliness and abuse, it’s me.
    Your last paragraph said it all… “It’s about me completing a work of art. It’s about telling a story. It’s about a transition in my soul. It’s about giving voice to an event that has transformed my world and turned me from a wannabe to a real writer.”
    Keep writing, sorry about the long comment!
    Fellow Writer…E

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    • Thanks for your kind words. The book isn’t on Amazon just yet. Soon I hope. One big lesson I’ve learned is that writing is as much about editing as a creating. I just got my manuscript back from an editor and I’ve got a couple of weeks of revisions to do before I can lock in the final draft for the eBook version. I’ll post a link when that is ready. The paper back will follow a little later as some of the art work I wanted won’t be ready till next month. The audio book version will come out in the new year as that will take a bunch of work to record and edit.

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  10. I wish you all the luck in the world, I think you are in illustrious company because there are many gifted writers who have taken on the internet by storm Art Goldhammer is one of them. He said that he had something to share and he wanted it shared before he died. 😀

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  11. artseafartsea says:

    The first steps are always the hardest. Much luck to you.

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  12. LuAnn says:

    This post was so touching Andrew. I agree that you need to do this for you. Getting your story out there is an important part of the journey, I believe. I look forward to reading it.

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  13. “It’s about telling a story.”
    Set your concerns, fears, and doubts aside and celebrate your decision.
    Your story is about to be published. Let’s dance!

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  14. I agree with Glynis, to some extent. Your book deserves the widest possible audience – you should at least try. Having said that, I appreciate the problems. I believe modern marketing philosophy is mistaken because it rips the individuality out of everything and will, eventually, squash innovation to the point where no-one will even consider ‘picking up a pen’. Greed is all; certainty is safety. There’s no need to ask where the adventurers have gone, is there?

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    • I’ve come to the point on this project that the fastest way off my desk for this book is self-publishing. It’s far too “artistic” and non-commercial for most publishers. One person I talked to suggested that I might try getting individual poems placed in lit magazines before I self-publish. I might try that as I can get single poems out to editors faster than a whole collection.

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  15. It is indeed about a transition in the soul. The book exists. It organizes and completes a phase of your work. It is a springboard for moving forward to something new.

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  16. I think your reasons are exactly the purpose of self-publishing: Authors want their work out there to serve readers. We don’t care if it’s not a blockbuster or the next Walter Whitman (or Tom Clancy). We’re happy to have an impact on 25 people. I don’t think publishers get that. They’re rejections always talk about our lack of skill or their disinterest. Really, the size of the market niche is often the reason. Why don’t they just say that?

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    • Publishing is a business. They do it to make money. Like you, I wish they be more honest about it an just say, “You book doesn’t fit our business model,” or “We don’t think we’d make money selling your book.” I could live with that.

      and about Walt Whitman – you are aware that his book, “Leaves of Grass” was originally self-published. Whitman had some 700+ copies printed at his own expense. It was only after it starting selling and getting critical acclaim that a publisher took over publication of the book.

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  17. lorieb says:

    ps, i think you should go for it!!

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  18. lorieb says:

    i used https://www.createspace.com/ to write my book. Loved it! If you use the free templates it costs next to nothing, copies only get printed as they are sold so you don’t end up with and pay for thousands of copies sitting around. You set the selling price, they collect a percentage for their services, very simple.

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  19. Margie says:

    I have a friend whose daughter recently self published a small book of poems that the two of them had written. My friend was very pleased to see the poems in print and family and friends have enjoyed getting a copy! My friend won’t be with us much longer, which makes the little book even more valuable. It is a tangible something that will always link us to her and keep our memories of her alive!

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  20. Glynis Jolly says:

    I still say you need to get it published one way or the other. People going through the hells of cancer need to know their feelings and fears are worthy and they are not alone doing battle with the demon. Your book of poetry is going to probably save a few from insanity. Get it published, Andrew. ❤

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    • It does. Currently it is out with an editor. I am hoping to get book layout, art work and formatting next month. I am hoping to get the book out sometime this fall.

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  21. jfwknifton says:

    If you don’t publish your book, then nobody will be able to read it. It’s like that film, except it’s “Don’t build it, and they certainly won’t come” Go for it, Andrew. You might be pleasantly surprised.

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