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To Self-Publish Or Not To Self-Publish? That Is The Sleep Depriving Question #WeekendCoffeeShare

About five years ago I self-published a collection of poetry through lulu.

I made exactly nothing despite apparently selling at least one book through amazon (according to the less that encouraging review posted), and in the end I retired the project.

The experience taught me a number of important things.

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  1. Lulu is not the way to go if you want to sell a physical book on Amazon and make any margin.
  2. I am not a good enough editor. I need to outsource this element to avoid the number of typos and mistakes that were in the last book.
  3. Reading poems you wrote five or more years ago can be a painful experience. Especially when you realise the bad review hit the nail directly on the head.

So why am I about to give self-publishing another shot?

Well clearly I’m a glutton for punishment.

When I published ‘Before The Words Run Out’ there were thirty-two poems, a series of haiku, and some pieces of flash fiction (all of which can be found somewhere in the depths of this blog). For ‘It’s All In The Blood’ I wanted to create a collection of just poems, and ensure that the majority of them were not poems I’d already published to Writing and Works. Some have appeared elsewhere, such as on Ink Sweat and Tears, but for the most part the collection will be new pieces with a few favourites from the site sprinkled in.

The unfinished draft is sitting at forty-seven poems (it was forty-eight but I axed a poem which I didn’t feel was good enough). I was aiming to cut the collection off at fifty poems (because I like round numbers) but the final number is likely to be higher now as my recent dive back into the local poetry communities means I’m writing a lot of stuff and I’m actually really happy with most of the work I’m producing.

I am editing as I’m writing. As this is not a novel, I’m free to go back and amend, rewrite, obliterate poems as I see fit without changing the entire plot or flow of the book. This back and forth between writing and editing also means that I don’t get snow blind with my poems. It’s very easy to write something, go over it straight away and be like ‘Yeah, that’s good enough’.

No. No it is not.

I’ve got a couple of friends who are helping me with the next round of editing. Both are writers themselves, one of which has done some work in editing. Both are brutally honest and of the opinion that if they don’t say it someone else will, so it’s better coming from them.

There is a small part of me who wants to find the guy who gave me the bad review on my last collection and show him the new one. I want the chance for him to say ‘you’ve improved, well done’. (But that would be bowing to my need for approval and I’m trying very hard to shake that particular dog-turd off my shoe.)

I have been considering traditional publishing but quite honestly, I feel like I need to prove to myself that I can conquer self-publishing. This is unlikely to be my last poetry collection, I’m only twenty-five and it’s not even my first attempt. Even if this bites the dust then I will still come away with more experience that if I’d not tried at all.

IMG_1745The aim is to have the collection finished and ready to publish by autumn. (I will not specify when in autumn because ‘wiggle-room’). The title has been picked, I’m making tentative enquiries about possible cover designs with arty friends, and I’ve settled on using the Amazon self-publishing platform to produce and sell the book. It almost looks like I have a book and a plan. Almost.

A little further down the line (i.e when the book is done) I’ll be looking to do some sort of book blog tour but that is only a very small flicker on the enormous fairy-light display in my brain at the moment. For the most part I am focused on the writing and the torture that is rewrites.

In the meantime feel free to bombard me with any of your own experiences self-publishing, traditionally publishing, or just poetry writing in general. How do you balance writing poetry for a blog v poetry for a collection/competitions. Let me know in the comments below.

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Carol Forrester is a writer trying to be a better one. She’s currently working on a poetry collection 'It's All In The Blood'. She has a 2:1 BA degree in history from Bath Spa University, enjoys judo at least twice a week, and tries to attend poetry events around the Midlands when she can. Her flash fiction story ‘Glorious Silence’ was named as River Ram Press’ short story of the month for August 2014 and her short story ‘A Visit From The Fortune Teller’ has been showcased on the literary site Ink Pantry. Her poems ‘Sunsets’ and ‘Clear Out‘ were featured on Eyes Plus Words, and two of her poems were included in the DVerse Poets Pub Publication ‘Chiaroscuro’ which is available for purchase on amazon. More recently her poem ‘Until The Light Gets In‘ was accepted and published at The Drabble and her poem ‘Newborn’ was published by Ink Sweat & Tears. She has been lucky enough to write guest posts for sites such as Inky Tavern and Song of The Forlorn and has hosted a number of guest bloggers on her site Writing and Works.

23 Comments

  1. oh my. firstly, let me commend you on at least trying. i have toyed with the idea for many years- publishing (either vanity or by traditional means) a collection of short stories and a collection of my poetry (or wild ramblings, more like). having witnessed a friend struggle with finding success in both, its kind of scared me. writing is such a personal thing and i’d never really considered publishing (as such) until some fellow writers and journalists have encouraged me to at least consider it. my friend used amazon and sold a few copies. much to his chagrin, unless you fully exploit social media and other means of advertising, nobody knows your book exists. unless found through serendipity. traditional publishers were only accepting submissions via literary agencies so he is back to square one, trying to pitch his idea to agents (gatekeepers) first. it has become a full time job. he has been researching agents, submitting, getting knockbacks… standard letters of rejection advising him to keep up the good work. so strange. all of this has knocked the wind out of his sails and he hasn’t written anything in over a year. and yet he has been encouraging me to find an agent for my work. i’m up against the same thing already and i haven’t even approached any yet. i have just been researching with help of a fantastic book called The Writers’ &!Artists’ Yearbook 2018. yeah. i know. i bought it last january – hoping to pluck up the courage, thicken my skin, and go for it. i am trying to help him do the same because i believe in him, as he does me. but that is proving to be insufficient.
    i share some pieces here, as a litmus paper, but i am still toying with the idea of, like you, at least trying. because if we don’t try, we will never know just what could be. i am sorry if this comment seems negative, i don’t mean it to be. i am just sharing our experiences and fears with you. i think we have that in common.
    funny you mention using the services of an editor. i am fortunate to have editorial friends who have been advising me with edits and curating which pieces to put forward. but it’s hard. it’s like asking a mother which child is her favourite. lol.
    apologies for the lengthy post. but i have to thank you- for giving me a kick up the arse and try. stay inspired. stay hopeful. persist. that’s what i’ve been told. you should too. we just need to bite the proverbial bullet.

    • I’d certainly advise trying to get poems and short stories published in magazines first. Myslexia is a good magazine to subscribe to. Lots of high quality writing and a section on current submission windows and competition deadlines.
      From what I’ve found out about traditional publishing in poetry, there is little benefit. That system is much more suited to novels and fiction. (There is rarely a market for short story collections unless you’re someone like Neil Gaiman.)
      I’ve been going to quite a few open mic nights to hone my craft and meet other poets who’ve published pamphlets.
      My copy or the writers and artists yearbook is even older but I don’t use it much.
      Have you heard the phrase ‘kill your babies’ unfortunately that’s what you have to do in writing. It’s all about going back and improving. I’ve had a few poems published this year but I’ve had far more rejections. It’s all part of the course.
      Best of luck with your submissions. The advice I was given is submit and if you’re rejected go back, redraft, and submit again.

      • thank you. that’s all great advice. open mic nights are fun aren’t they? yeah. i have entered some competitions. i even won an award in the NY Literary magazine for one such poem. i will check out Myslexia.
        the short stories are from my other blog called ‘life’s rich pageant’. they’re a series of tales about my travels on public transport here in Scotland. i’ve done a bit of research and there is a market for this kind of humour. however, it’s going to be a long slog. and i’ve, with an editor, already killed many babies. out of 73 i now have 39 that i am almost happy with presenting. just got to find the right agent. the Yearbook is helpful but more research is required. going to do some readings in independent bookstores this summer. just to test the market, so to speak. and yes. open mic nights are a great means of presenting poetry.
        good luck with your efforts.

  2. Hi Carol,
    I wish I knew the formula to the success you seek. As near as I can tell, whatever that formula is, it includes lots of hard, often heartbreaking, work and rework.
    Best of, nope, scratch that. Luck does not apply. Hard work and hanging in there does.
    All the best.

  3. Interesting. A friend finished and self-published last year. She is working on #2. I have been trying to select poems to do the same, but I’m finding that first step difficult. I read something about publishing poetry that got me to thinking when it said, “who buys and reads books of poetry?” Mostly, it is us; people who love poetry enough to write it.
    This was a great piece and certainly got me thinking about how to climb this self-pub and self-promotion mountain.

    • Poetry has had a resurgence of late according to the stats. With the influence of instapoets and online mediums there has been a rise in not just the reading and purchasing of poetry, but the writing of it in the younger generations.
      I would agree that a lot of us who buy poetry also write it. It’s a more accessible art form that some and I think the modern wave of poets we’ve seen recently are helping to demystify the idea that poetry is some form of elite that only the educated few can understand.
      Best of luck with your own collection. I’d love the chance to speak to your friend about her own experience. Would she perhaps be interested in doing a guest post?

  4. Everything is a learning process. Seems to me you learned a lot. So you didn’t work for nothing. I hope you will publish many more books in the future. I’ve published two books via Blurb, that I then sold at Amazon. I was very happy with one of them, the other one I was very dissapointed with, the second one did not look as beautiful as it did in “book smart”, the program I used.

  5. Antoinette Truglio Martin says

    Pay a professional editor and designer and cover illustrator/artist.

  6. Firstly, your post on this subject is beautifully written, and it identifies the key issues.
    Stick to the plan outlined towards the end of the post.
    I think that it is important to achieve a balance between ambitious energy and realistic expectation. It constantly amazes me just how many folk are out there writing, self-publishing, contributing to the myriad on-line sites etc etc.
    It’s a very crowded field and high quality work is not necessarily recognised.
    I self-published my first collection and it has sold 350+ copies, only a dozen of which have been via Amazon. My best marketing tip would be to do whatever you can to reach a “non-poetry community” audience.
    Yes, fellow writers will buy your work, or swap for their own collections, but my best interactions have been with readers from outside that circle. This means promoting your collection in some ‘inventive’ ways e.g. taking a stall at festivals, delivering workshops to local and regional groups that come under a broad adult education spectrum.
    I found the marketing process daunting in prospect but interesting and often fun in the event.

    • Hi Ted, thank you for the comment, I really appreciate the feedback.
      You’re right about finding that balance between enthusiasm and ability. It’s so easy to overestimate ourselves and burn out.
      I have a copy of your collection at home, I was flicking though it the other day.
      I was playing with the idea of perhaps going to somewhere like Newport show next year, but I don’t think I’d want to do a stall on my own so I was thinking about finding some other poets and writers with collections to sort of team up with for events.
      Marketing will certainly be the most daunting part.

  7. Our writing group self-published an anthology last year, which I proof-read, edited and formatted (in fact, we’re doing it again this year, so I’m trying to remember how it went and posting on my blog as I go through the steps, so I can go back and remind myself.)
    We published on Amazon and then had copies printed locally to sell to group members (our relations all had copies for Christmas). The fact that it came out OK and we sold a healthy number to our U3A members emboldened me to publish one of my verses as a small Christmas booklet – just to prove I could. Now I’m planning to publish a collection of my short stories later this year.
    While it would be lovely to be picked up by a mainstream publisher – or even an indie publisher – I only started writing in retirement, so I don’t have decades to spare to get noticed. That’s why I’m self-publishing.

  8. I know it hurts to think about spending money, but hire a pro to edit and a pro for your artwork. It’s makes a huge difference. You’ll release your book, click on it, and say, “Wow! I did that.” Great feeling. I know from own past experiences how it feels when you click and want to cringe.
    As far as balancing the fun stuff for the marketing like blogging, the only thing that works for me is to set a schedule.
    “I Only Write When Inspiration Strikes. Fortunately It Strikes at Nine Every Morning.” —William Faulkner

    • I am hiring someone to do the artwork. Luckily, I have a friend who is a fantastic editor and just starting out so she is going to go over the manuscript for me as a favour. I really don’t have the sort cash available to fork out big bucks for an editor and I don’t want to be taken advantage or go into debt to do this so that’s the route I’ve chosen. I do appreciate the advice though.

Please take the time to tell me what you think, I love receiving feedback. :)

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