Self-publishing is an option open to everyone and it’s becoming easier and more powerful with different software and online options becoming available all the time. Why would you want to self-publish? Here are a few reasons:
There are no entry barriers. You don’t need a list of publications or any kind of awards to be considered, and your work can be on any topic. You retain complete control over the look, quality, and promotion of your work.
You retain a far greater profit for your book.
You learn a lot and it can be quite fun if you enjoy playing around with your computer and trying out new things. Although the learning curve is steep (more about that soon), your learning belongs to you - you can apply it immediately and improve what's already out there.
But self-publishing isn’t all roses. You’ve got to do everything yourself and it’s hard work. You’ll have to learn about formatting, about graphics, about designing a cover, about ‘bleeds’, about document conversions, about distribution channels, about Amazon and other online stores and the list goes on and on. If all you want to do is write, then self-publishing is probably not for you (and believe me, it will take time that you would otherwise have been spent writing).
The biggest pitfall in self-publishing is that you don't automatically get a professional editor like you do with traditional publishing. Because this is an area that should never be skimped on, if you do decide to save money by not bringing in a professional, you may end up producing a sub-standard quality book. A book full of mistakes is not only unprofessional, it can render a book almost unreadable, and will tarnish your name as a writer in general. There is already a bias against self-published books and this is the key reason. So if you do decide to self-publish, obtaining a high-quality editor has got to be the first priority and that may require some outlay upfront. If you really can't afford a professional then you must bring in someone else - someone picky and meticulous. This isn't an option.
How do you self-publish? The easiest way is to just add a cover and copyright information to your book and save as a .pdf file. Lo’ and behold you’ve now got an ebook which you can sell from a website or blog. When you do this, 100% of your sales are profits, but you may not get many sales!
Or you can send your digital book to one of the big copy houses like Snap printing or Qwikcopy and have them print out what you need when you need it. You can hand print and staple your work too, although it won’t be very professional looking.
You can also go with one of the print on demand companies, who will produce a professional looking product for nothing, but take a cut of each sale. Many of them will also provide you with a barcode and ISBN. You probably won’t make much, but the book will be attractive, and often you can buy copies inexpensively and hand sell, which is probably the best way to sell poetry. Some of the more well known print companies include:
CreateSpace: this is Amazon’s own publishing house and to my mind, it’s one of the best. It will take you a while to learn their particular formatting requirements, but everything is .pdf based, fairly straightforward, and they’ll give you all the templates you need. The one key advantage this one has over the others is that your book will be sold on Amazon once it’s complete. Also their prices are pretty reasonably, and I suspect will set a trend that others will quickly follow.
Lulu: Self publishing / print on demand publisher. Very popular. You can sell your book directly from their website.
Cafe Press - Self publishing / print on demand publisher. Also popular.
There are plenty of others out there and new opportunities opening all the time, but bear in mind that none of them will edit your work, and few of them will help you design and develop a professional cover, not to mention helping ensure that your poetry is pulled together in a manner best suited to it.
You probably won't get rich selling poetry no matter what you do, which is part of the reason why it's hard to find a traditional publisher, especially if your work is unusual, experimental, or controversial. But self-publishing your work is not difficult and it can be a fun way to begin learning about and developing your author platform - getting your name and your words out to the public.
Magdalena Ball runs The Compulsive Reader. She is the author of the poetry books Repulsion Thrust and Quark Soup, the novel Sleep Before Evening, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Deeper Into the Pond, Blooming Red, Cherished Pulse, She Wore Emerald Then, and Imagining the Future. Find out more about Magdalena at http://www.magdalenaball.com