Advances in technology have made it possible for anyone with access to the internet to self-publish. Unfortunately, finding readers is not as easy – especially for those writers who do not have a specific audience in mind. Worse, the ease with which one can rush work into public on a blog, eBook or even print-on-demand (POD), can easily compromise the quality of that work – so that no one will read it. While the stigma of self-publishing has waned, the flood of impatiently published work continues to mar a great deal of that work. Impatience is the bane of self-publishing.
Consider my friend Abe (not his real name), who contacted me recently for advice about publishing his poems. He had “35 poems which are almost at the stage of showability,” and he’d contacted iUniverse, CreateSpace and ExLibris. He wanted my advice about which one he should use.
His request raised two red flags: 1) “showability” is not the same as “ready for publication,” and 2) these self-publishing giants make publishing easy and profitable – for them.
In an effort to be both gentle with Abe and protective of my time, I suggested he read Sonja Hakala’s, Your Book, Your Way, which clearly spells out a variety of self-publishing options, including publishing independently.
I also asked him how he planned to market the book.
“If people aren’t delighted by my poems, or haven’t taken the trouble to know about them, that is their problem. If I have to market my stuff to get it read, I probably shouldn’t have written it in the first place!”
I replied, “Abe, I’ve known you for eight years, and I never knew you wrote poetry!”
I asked Abe if he belonged to any workshops, ever read any of his poems in public, or did any of the other legwork involved in building an audience. And I told him how engrossing and exhausting my own marketing journey was with Into The Wilderness. I’d like to think I’m a realist, not the pessimist Abe reacted to:
“Gosh, Deb, you make it sound like so much fun! If I didn’t have to manage a full psychiatric practice and a full teaching load, if I weren’t rowing and singing in operas, if I didn’t have nine and a half grandchildren strewn all over the northeast – I would dig right in!”
In the end, Abe chose to go with CreateSpace. “At $2.15 a copy, I plan to distribute at least 100 copies to friends and other key people, asking them to spread the word.” He also thanked me. “Our vigorous dialogue was helpful,” he said.
Abe can easily afford the monetary outlay for this publishing venture, and he will gain an audience for it. He will be read, and that is, after all, the point of being a writer.
But is all writing suitable for publication? Just who is it we write for?
As a published writer with a growing audience, I can tell you that hearing from readers who have been moved by my work is both extremely gratifying and humbling beyond belief. Hearing from readers reminds me that publication brings with it responsibility, a responsibility to write with honesty, clarity and grace – all of which take patience, revision, time.
Deborah Lee Luskin is a regular commentator on Vermont Public Radio and the author of Into the Wilderness, winner of the 2011 IPPY Gold Medal for Regional Fiction. Learn more at www.deborahleeluskin.com