Posted by: jeannineatkins | November 25, 2013

Some Thoughts on Self Publishing

First off, what do we call keeping a manuscript in our own authorly hands, deciding on pictures, paperback sizes, and print runs? Over the years, I’ve heard people refer to self publishing with respect, contempt, or confusion. Some people think it’s cool, while others think, Gosh, couldn’t you find a single editor who liked your work? Or, couldn’t you stand a series of rejections?

Now some people call it independent publishing, which pushes up the respect angle with an emphasis on freedom instead of an ego-ridden self. But it’s also got four syllables instead of one and doesn’t exactly flow.  I tend to stick with “self” as modifier, even while finding the lightness we associate with independence, the pride of claiming some power, and a sense of completion gained from moving beyond the words to the cover, style of chapter headings, spacing, and things I’d never considered all chosen by me.

VIEWS FROM A WINDOW SEAT: THOUGHTS ON WRITING AND LIFE is my book from beginning to end and inside to out. I obsessed about, compared, then selected a font. I chose a title and stuck with it. I played with various cover images, then chose a picture I took that brings me back to a happy summer day.

It was good to make something I can look at, hold, and smell, like a knitted scarf or loaf of banana bread, but not quite. I liked getting my senses involved beyond the chosen words, and happy by those who’ve exclaimed, “This doesn’t look self published,” though I realize I can’t exactly use that as a blurb.  And it was fun to work with the designer and tech person, aka my husband, who’s patiently suggested I try self publishing for a long time. Lo and behold, it was neither quite as scary, hard, time-consuming or embarrassing as I feared it would be. I developed ideas of how things should look, and just as I do when writing, I found a balance between holding standards and remembering that there’s no such place as perfect. I read a few manuals, stalked help forums, and asked for opinions. I also remembered I’m a writer before I’m a publisher, and stayed alert for signs of when I should let go.

Print on demand means I don’t have to look at or avoid boxes of unsold books. I can order them as needed without worrying as much about sales figures as I do as an author of traditionally published books, when I feel bound to shoulder someone else’s expectations, disappointments, or even pleasure, which we know, humans being what we are, is never enough. Instead of fretting about letting down people at my publisher, my focus can be on one reader at a time. After reading a large-print copy my husband made for her, my mother-in-law said, “Jeannine, there were a lot of flowers in that book. I know lupine, but what is trillium, and how did you know that? That part about you and Emily getting lost in Boston was pretty funny. And why in the world would anyone ever want to be a writer?” That wasn’t meant as my take-away question, but there you go. Any reader is pretty great.

I need to write some letters, send out some press releases and copies, smooth my book’s way into the world. I hope readers will slowly find it, and tell their friends in person, or in reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, or blogs. I’m so grateful for everyone who is taking the time to tweet, facebook, or simply read my book. All of that matters. I particularly love hearing about people who shut the book and picked up a pen or returned to their keyboard.

Meanwhile, I do what I can while writing another book or two or three, a process that reminds me of all the ways we can control a small world, and all the ways those worlds we create can astonish or trip us. Will I publish these books myself? I don’t know, but it’s good to have choices. And trying to pay attention and enjoy every kind word and last surprise.

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Responses

  1. So proud of you for taking the leap of faith!

    • Thanks, Susan. I’m not sure there was a lot of faith, but there was leaping. Of the holding the breath variety, but then having more fun than anticipated!

  2. Jeannine, you’ve touched on so many thoughts that have gone through my mind. Lovely. Thank you.

  3. Your generosity continues…

  4. I like to think of what you did, and what I’m doing, as “artisanal publishing,” a term invented by Guy Kawasaki, who wrote APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur.

    It really is a labour of love, carefully crafted with attention to detail.

    Congrats again! I look forward to reading it.

    • I agree, artisinal is nice, though rather a mouthful. It does suggest as you imply the hand-by-hand attention. I wish you luck with your project!

  5. Gah! I didn’t mean for that to happen. I only wanted to post a link. Sorry.

    • Yes the internet has its own ideas of what should happen when we press buttons. I’ve had plenty of my own “Gah!” moments, but the link is useful, so thanks!

  6. Beautiful post, Jeannine. Your book DOESN’T look, feel, or read like the (dismissively voiced) self-published stuff we all have stumbled over and dread. It is, in fact, a gorgeous, quality product, from its cover to the weight and clarity of the paper (and print), to the lovely, thoughtful, inspirational, confessional, conspiratorial content it holds.

    • I truly appreciate every one of your kind words. Maybe especially conspiratorial.

      Those old school self published books are certainly partly why I’ve waited, along with print-on-demand, which makes the plunge much easier. There are great templates, many free, to get a look that an eye that’s read many books can recognize as worthy of covers.

  7. I have a few independently published books by friends and they are very nicely produced. Not at all like the horrors we saw back in the 80s and 90s (particularly picture books illustrated by the cat). You are making me seriously consider this, only I don’t have enough material on my blog for a book (it doesn’t have a cohesive theme like yours), but I’m filing away your experience for the future. You wouldn’t consider sending your husband down to Virginia for tech help? I promise to ply him with spoon bread and country ham and pecan pie.

    • It is a new age. I’m lucky to have tech support across the kitchen table, where a banging head is noticed. But I didn’t bang that head all too often or make too many heavy sighs. With your great photographer’s eye and blog experience, you’re at least halfway there, maybe more. The templates available online are pretty cool — you can experiment plugging in words and pictures and see what looks good, then save or delete with a fingertip. And I expect you’d find consistent theme enough in your wonderful blog. Having writers as a prime audience seemed a good place to at least start, because there is that identified audience, and one that can be reached online, a plus. I am ready to cheer as you put on your heavy boots!

  8. Late to the table today, but didn’t want to miss telling you that my 4 hour flight to Boston & back was smoothed by the words in your book, and while I’m not ready to share all my thinking yet, I began to get an idea through reading that I believe will be wonderful for students too! I guess I will read a little faster so I can post a few reviews for you Jeannine, but then return to savor what you’re sharing with us. I have a ‘little’ book in mind for my family & you’ve certainly been a model that shows how very classy it can become. Again, thanks!

    • Dear Linda, you aren’t late to the table even by a half a minute — I’m still checking what I missed in the oven and microwave. It’s really lovely to hear that you read my book flying across the country. I understand ideas have their own timetables, and will look forward to any sharing you choose to do at any time. Wonderful that some plans are taking shape!

  9. Jeannine!
    Great new book! All of your reflections are valid and constructive…I
    Think that any venue which gets your work out there is credible…the sculptor Louise Nevelson used to hang her work in the local laundry building…publish on…regardless!!
    Bruce

    • Thank you, Bruce! I didn’t know that great story about the majestic Louise Nevelson!

  10. “And why in the world would anyone ever want to be a writer?”
    LOL!!
    I, too, think we should just call it self-publishing. It will be what we make it. There’s a lot of bad stuff out there, but I think the available quality and thus the respect for self-pubbing has grown by leaps over the past few years, and will continue to grow.

    • My mother-in-law is a big reader, a retired librarian, but apparently never harbored any desire to dive into the messy waters we’ve come to call home.

      And I agree with you that self publishing is bound to grow. It’s cool to know we can’t always guess who stood behind a project by seeing the inside or outside.

  11. As the aforementioned tech support across Jeannine’s kitchen table and a long-time advocate of this mode of expression, I would also cast a vote for “self-publishing” as the simple and proud and appropriate name for it.

    As I have mentioned to Jeannine in several of our many discussions about it over the years, I have always found it kind of amusing — silly, almost… and sort of depressing, in a way — that some writers who work hard for months or years on a manuscript have no problem with sending it out to be published by someone else, but seem to lack the confidence to publish it themselves — confidence which SEEMS as if it MUST be present to get one to the point where one views one’s manuscript as being adequately worthy to be published by that other person/company.

    I’ve never really understood this.

    Unless you’re hesitant to self-publish because you don’t want to deal with the practical, grunt-work business end of things, if you have the resources to self-publish, AND you’ve sent your work out to multiple agents/editors/publishers over the course of long months or even years with no one biting, AND you know objectively that your work is worth reading, why NOT self-publish? Why let work which is eminently worthy of being read by people languish unseen in a drawer or on a hard drive, waiting for an agent, editor or publisher to deign to notice? Jeannine, for example, has at least three books, fully written over the last four or five or more years in her typically beautiful way, books which deserve to be read… but she has not been able to get enough interest in these particular works as yet from outside agents/editors/publishers.

    It drives me nuts, and I suspect this is a recurrent phenomenon which the writers who come to this blog are familiar with, either regarding work of their own or work by other writers they know.

    These days, with the advent of services like amazon.com’s CreateSpace (which Jeannine used on her first self-publishing venture), most — if not all — of the practical, aesthetic and monetary objections to self-publishing no longer apply.

    The bottom line seems to be this — if you’re not confident that your work is worth being published by you, how can you be confident that it’s worth being published at all?

    • Some of the rationale is that self publishers don’t have the same access to bookstores and library markets, but with online venues, some of that is gone along with difficulties and expense. So, yes, some of the problems go back to shaky confidence. So hard to toss off. Even when I’m so very lucky to have you believing in me. xo

  12. > my focus can be on one reader at a time

    Beautiful. As is your lovely book, which I am slowly savoring. I am so glad you’ve shared it with the world!

    • What a sweet thing to say, Amy. You are such a very special reader.

  13. Well of course I like this post!!


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