Self-publishing: Understand the Process Before Taking the Plunge by Alan Britt

In the tradition of Blake, Keats and Whitman, poets everywhere can embrace with dignity the idea of presenting their poetry to the world in the form of a self-published book. Understand that editors, though well intentioned, tend to publish poets of like sensibility. Thus, it becomes imperative sometimes for poets themselves to stir the pot of experimentation and diversity by printing their own books. Imagine our world without Leaves of Grass. Unthinkable! Although the Academy of his day didn’t think much of Whitman’s unconventional poems, we’re extremely lucky that Whitman believed in himself. The fact of the matter is, truly original poetry usually goes against the grain of fashion. Editors know fashion and compliance, but they don’t always recognize originality.

You might well have your own reasons for wanting to publish a book or chapbook. In any event, desire is only the first step in a series of decisions you will need to make on your journey to a self-printed book. Because a little planning can eliminate headaches later on, let’s start from the beginning.

Perhaps you find that having creative control over the production of your book is primarily why you’ve chosen to undertake the challenges inherent in book publishing. Fine. But understand that book publishing is time consuming and requires attention to detail. For example, consider how you’d like to arrange the poems in your manuscript. Do you want your poems to be chronological, or would you prefer your poems arranged according to whether they’re lyrical or narrative? Such a decision poses no great stress, but manuscript organization is obviously in order before typesetting your book.

Speaking of typesetting, will you opt to have your poems typeset for letterpress or offset? And what about desktop publishing? If you hire it out, who will do the printing? How many copies should you print? Should you perfect bind or saddle stitch? Do you have a cover design in mind? How will you distribute your wonderful book? These basic questions must be answered before diving head first into a book project that could be fueled more by enthusiasm than by common sense.

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