Kind of embarrassing, the things we swear we'll never do, then end up doing . . .
We vowed not to publish our own work in Tiger's Eye. We broke that vow only once in the "crane fly" issue. And now, very unexpectedly, we are going to publish my chapbook this coming autumn with Tiger's Eye Press.
While working on other people's chapbooks, I realized I knew exactly what I liked, and decided I wanted to create that kind of book for myself. My fonts. My layout. My cover.
The boundaries of self-publishing have relaxed considerably. A Colorado poet we are publishing has recently published her own book. It is classy. It is as professionally done as any publishing job created in a publishing house. The beauty of the book and her tenacity have made me reconsider my stance on self-publishing.
Am I for it or against it?
I am both.
Having an editor choose your poems or manuscript will always be wonderfully vindicating. Always. To have someone take an interest in your work, to recognize your brilliance, well, we all want that. But there is something freeing and surprisingly fun, yes fun, in creating your own book. From writing the poetry, to choosing fonts and tweaking lines to fit the layout, the book is entirely your creation.
The traditional process of submitting and being accepted, invited, included and finally published is a long drawn-out affair. Some writers hit pay-dirt early and some don't. Some hit pay-dirt once and then wait years for another similar acceptance. In the mean time they're questioning their talent, their marketability, maybe even their self-worth.
You may have read the derogatory comment Sue Grafton made about self-publishing. She later apologized and said she'd missed the entire modern self-publishing movement, and then apologized some more. Hers was an honest reaction, and maybe she had missed the changes in publishing, being wildly successful taking the traditional route, but the stigma still endures. It is that stigma we either bow down to or help to eradicate. With each successful self-publishing experience, we can relax our belief in the all-powerful, all-mysterious world of publishing.
My familiarity with publishing, layout, printing and the process of working with other people's poetry, has erased all of that mystery. There are inky words on paper. There are printers and there are bills to pay. There are trips to the post office and phone calls to the printer. And there are more phone calls to the printer.
At the end of the day the most important issue is getting our work to a reading audience. And whether someone publishes our book, or we do it ourselves, it is going to be hard work. After the writing, after the layout, after the decisions about printing and costs, there is the inevitable and superficial marketing of our product. The mostly-dreaded realm of self-promotion.
Notes to people we haven't seen in 10 years
The irony is that although there is little fame or money connected to writing poetry, this is the very permission we need to self-publish. The publishing mystique may be gone for me, but the magic is still present. The magic though is not about seeing my work in print; it is the creative process itself, the germ of an idea, the fleshing out of that idea, and the unexpected phrase or image or emotion birthed in the creation of something no one has ever written before. That kind of magic isn't dependent on the publishing process; it is instead particular, personal and dangerously sacred.
First, do the writing, that is what you've been called to do. Later, choose the best publishing route for your work. You may have to go back on your own vow to never ever no matter what self-publish, or you may keep to the standard of submission and acceptance. Either way, get your words out there where they belong, in the hands and hearts of other humans.