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.