|I was doing poetry critiques after my workshop at a writing conference when a retired professor sat down to tell me his tale of woe. He'd self-published a book of poetry. At the moment he had 10,000 copies of the book in his garage. His credit card now had a large debt burden. "And I can't give the books away," he said. "The quality is really poor."|
Many writers have shared stories like the professor's. Courtesy of technology, it's not mandatory that you spend large sums of money to publish your poems.
Some poets opt to publish their work on a blog. Various sites will let you set up a blog for free. I do two columns at Blogger, actually a Google™ site, and have had editors discover my work by that means. I hear from many readers who comment on my writing either by using the comment option on the blog or by emailing me. I publish both poetry and prose at these sites.
Virginia poet Shann Palmer produced mini-booklets of her poems, calling her creations "Flash Paper Poetry." There's a tutorial available at the Making Books Web site. It's best to make a blank model first so you can determine the layout of the poems before printing, folding and cutting. If your graphic skills are limited, you can always do a cut-and-paste version, using a photocopier to produce your final sheet. Booklets like this are great for distributing at readings if you don't have a full collection or chapbook.
Creating your own chapbook is fairly easy too. You simply use 8 ½" by 11" paper, printing two poems per page on a landscape setting. The easiest way to figure out your arrangement is to do a dummy. First fold your preferred number of blank pages in half (to 5 ½" by 8 ½". Then pencil in each poem so you'll known where to position the poems for printing. You can dress up your chapbook with photos, illustrations and even a brief introduction. Include a table of contents and acknowledgements if any of the poems were first published elsewhere. Staple the chapbook at the centerfold. If you're doing this at home, it's best to keep the length at 16 chapbook pages. If you plan to charge people for the chapbook, select some nice paper stock and pay attention to layout and graphics. Opt for a heavier paper stock for the cover, at least a 24 lb. weight.
Broadsides are popular with small presses, and this is a very easy way to publish your poems. You print your poem on card stock, using graphics of your own choosing. This is an option if you have some nice artwork that, combined with your poem, could be framed.
Contests are a route to publication, but it pays to be very careful about handing over entry fees. Be sure your own work is a good match for the publisher sponsoring the competition. In our February 20th Poetry Beat, we interviewed the owners of the site Winning Writers. I rarely make an outright recommendation, but this is one I'm comfortable making because I subscribe to the site myself. If you're serious about entering contests, this site is a valuable tool for research.
Of course, most poets want their name on a full collection. There are many different print-on-demand publishers. Some of these publishers will do the book at no expense to you; others will want setup and printing fees. While I don't discourage this option outright, do your homework first.
If the print-on-demand publisher is going the so-called traditional route and absorbing setup costs, be sure to examine how many years of rights you are signing away. Learn how royalties will be paid and when. If the publisher wants you to help cover setup and printing costs, be sure you approach the outlay of your money in a business fashion.
Make a plan. How many books would you have to sell to break even or make a profit? Who will pay money for your book? Visualize someone pulling a wallet out, removing cash and handing it to you. Whom will you persuade to do that? How will you convince merchants and bookstores to sell your product? How will you publicize your book? Do you need a peddler's license from your county? Are you required by your state to collect sales tax and file reports?
Be sure to find out about the government regulations ahead of time. One writer I know who sold author copies of her book had to pay a $500 fine to the state because she hadn't collected sales tax. In Jacksonville, I'm required to buy a license in order to freelance.
Self-publication is a definite option today, because technology offers more choices than ever. What's important rests on doing your homework first, viewing your money and/or time as the resource, and making a decision with your head rather than with your heart.
And don't focus single-mindedly on paying a lot of money for a book with a square spine. There are many options for getting your work into the hands of readers, and you have to decide the best option for you personally.
A distinguished poet once told me she had nothing against self-publishing poetry because even paying a contest fee is a subsidy of sorts. Choices about getting your work into the hands of readers should be a good fit for your circumstances, so you can avoid the predicament my hapless professor found himself in.
How to self-publish your poetry
Make a hot dog book
May 1, 2007
Our May 15 column looks at the site poetry contest sponsors either love or hate: Foetry. We'll have an interview with Foetry founder Alan Cordle, who in his other life, is a librarian.
--Posted May 1, 2007