Self-Publishing Your Poetry (or Other Writing-Related) Book

Let’s be realistic here: the publishing market is tough.

This can make the dream of holding your very own published book (that you’ve spent countless hours toiling over) in your hands a little…disheartening but, hold on. Have you ever considered self-publishing before?

Now, I know what you might be thinking:

Listen Leeza, that seems pretty hard, and I’m not sure what to do. I mean, where would I even start?’

Well, the very same thought occurred to me, so I interviewed some successful and experienced authors who have self-published their own books. These authors are all poets, but the same strategies can apply for writers seeking to self-publish other books too.

So, here’s what you need to know about self-publishing:

(The following answers are by published instapoets, who can be found under their respective usernames. They are fantastic, and I would one hundred percent recommend perusing through their pages.)

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Michaelapoetry

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michaelapoetry’s ‘when he leaves you’ poetry collection

Why did you decide to self-publish? What are the benefits?

Honestly, I ended up self-publishing because I was too impatient to wait for a publisher. I submitted my proposal to one publisher, but they get so many submissions that their response time is longer than three months. While I was waiting for a response, I ended up writing the entire book. It got to the point where I just wanted it to be in people’s hands, and I knew going with the traditional publishing method as my first route could take months, if not over a year.

Also, fun fact! A lot of self-published poets that I have a lot of respect for went on to be picked up by publishers – Rupi Kaur, K.Y. Robinson, Amanda Lovelace, Dawn Lanuza, Courtney Peppernell, Alison Malee (the list goes on!).

What platform/service did you use to self-publish?

Amazon’s Createspace – it’s seriously so easy to use. Once you figure out formatting specifications, all you really need to do is upload your cover and interior files. Createspace also has a ton of forums that are just a Google away – you can answer most of your questions with those which is so helpful!

What platform/service did you use to self-publish?

A bunch of fun random things I learned:

  • Make sure you’re using an embedded font. At first, for the italics in my book, I was using a font that didn’t have an italic setting – so I just used the “italic” function in InDesign. InDesign was manipulating the font, which means it wasn’t embedded (technically it didn’t exist). When I printed my first proof, the font didn’t print fully in some places. I switched it all to a real font and we were good to go!

  • Single page book layout.> InDesign defaults to the double page layout (think two pages side by side), which is actually helpful for setup to see how your pages will look – but when you upload to Createspace, you need to have a single page PDF.

  • Just look at other books. If you want your self-published book to look legitimate, look at a ton of different poetry books – how they format their dedication, acknowledgements, headers, page numbers, which pages they leave blank, etc. It’s cool to be original here, but some conventions are standard and add a level of professionalism to your self-published book.

  • Canadians get free ISBNs! This was awesome to learn – you can also get a free ISBN from Createspace, but the legality of who owns what part of your book gets a little foggy with it (honestly, I was never able to figure out if I’d be able to re-publish my book under my own ISBN or under a publisher if I used a Createspace ISBN). If you’re Canadian, you can very easily apply for a free ISBN account here.

How did you design your cover art? Any tips?

I got a professional designer to design my cover. I think that if you want readers to feel that you’ve really put yourself into this book and it’s actually worth buying, you should definitely get a professional to help you out. I know personally I’ve passed on books that used a generic stock image or something that could be found on Google as cover art – not bashing those authors, I just think it’s important to show readers you care enough to invest your own money into the cover that will end up on their shelf.

Marketing? Please explain?

I like to think of marketing as community building, especially on Instagram. As “instapoets”, we’re so lucky to have the Instagram community on our side! My main advice here is, if you don’t care about what anyone is writing or doing, no one will care about what you’re writing or doing. You often see accounts with large followings complain about the Instagram algorithm – but these are the same accounts that follow 100 people, sparsely respond to comments, and barely ever read, like, or comment on other people’s content. Instagram totally gives back what you put into it – I’ve built such an amazing community of writers and readers that I genuinely love connecting with, and to be totally transparent, I’ve been able to grow my Instagram following and engagement because of it.

What about copyright and the financial side of things?

I just wrote my own copyright at the front of my book, haha. I did not consult a lawyer. In terms of finances, between the cover and paying for proofs to be shipped to Canada (proofs cost about $3, but shipping is like $25 to Canada), I spent less than $400. I had savings to dip into and am happy to say I made all of that money back through book sales since then!

Advertising? Promotion? What did/do you choose to do?

Don’t be afraid to do a few $5 boosts on Instagram posts or run some $6 ads (I’ve done both of these things) – it can be a really inexpensive way to remind people of your brand and your book. If you make $3 per book and a $5 ad will help you sell 5 books, you’ve already made $10. Definitely play around with small amounts and make sure you’re calculating ROI [Return on Investment]. There can also be value in just finding a larger audience for your work vs. getting concrete sales. Really think about what’s important to you before starting ads. Also, there are A TON of resources online about Facebook and Instagram ads – get to Googling!

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Maiapoetry

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maiapoetry’s ‘the fall, the rise’ poetry collection

Why did >you decide to self-publish? What are the benefits?

Well, I always thought of self-publishing first. I did submit to a couple of publishing houses, but I didn’t want to wait—haha! I wanted to get my work out there, something that I had been working on for so long. I decided to self-publish because, after all of the hard work, I knew it was something I would be proud of. It was something I could say I did for myself. I believe the benefit is the joy you get from knowing you did it all yourself, literally. Of course, I had an artist for my cover, but reaching out to him initially, going over designs, ordering copies of my book to edit, hiring an editor, finalizing the finishing touches, it’s a lot! And it feels good to say I did it all with the help of my artist and editor. That is definitely a priceless feeling.

What platform/service did you use to self-publish?

I used Create Space to self-publish. 

Any tips of the trade?

Edit, Edit, Edit! Haha, you don’t want to miss anything. Always look at one part of the book at a time. For instance, read through the actual work of the book, but then with fresh eyes go back and check the headers, page numbers, etc. Also, have a friend read it and edit it, or an actual editor. Just proofread until you can’t anymore! But don’t stress yourself out, make it a fun journey.

How did you design your cover art? Any tips?

My artist designed it for me. He is amazing. I told him what I wanted and boom – there it was coming to life. Now you can always do it yourself if you have the means, but seriously, there is some amazing talent on Instagram—reach out! That’s exactly how I found mine and I am glad that I did.

Marketing? Please explain?

For marketing and promotion, I did some promotion shoots with a photographer prior to the release of the book. I now use those to market my book on my Instagram. Also, reaching out to poetry pages that post other people’s work is beneficial. Just reach out and ask if they do anything for new authors, such as posting work for you, and some definitely will help you out. There are other pages that cost to promote on their Instagram; it all depends what YOU want to do.

Advertising? Promotion? What did/do you choose to do?

I have a certain budget I set out this sort of thing. I had an artist and editor I paid for, so it might be more than others who self-published. Once again, it can be as simple or as complicated as you want. The decision is yours!

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thetaleofmymind

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thetaleofmymind’s ‘The Tale of My Mind’ poetry collection

Why did you decide to self-publish? What are the benefits?

I have had a life long interest in writing, and the idea of publishing my own book one day has been a dream of mine since I was a child… I never imagined that it would be something I could achieve myself. In the past nine months or so, I began writing a lot of poetry and realised that I was putting together enough quality content to consider amalgamating it into a collection of sorts. I did extensive research into publishers as I pieced together my manuscript and contacted several, who turned down my approach. I quickly came to realise that as a new author, the best solution moving forwards in the modern age was to self-publish, with so many cost effective solutions available. My plan was to gain enough traction through an Instagram campaign, my book and other techniques that I would have a worthy and proven case in the future, if I were to re-approach publishers.

What platform/service did you use to self-publish?

I made the decision to use Lulu. My main reason for this was cost. Many of the printing agencies I researched required buying an inventory of stock, which was a route I considered. My original plan was to put together a Kickstarter campaign and raise enough money through pre-orders to guarantee sales and lock down a quantity. However, this would have also meant handling every stock item, order and postage myself and would also have placed liability on me for quality and damages, etc. The beauty of Lulu was that I could simply create my ‘Print Ready’ manuscript and artwork online, order a proof copy and then let them handle everything else. Each book is printed to order and shipped directly by Lulu, so the only involvement I have is collecting a small royalty! It’s worked seamlessly up to now.

Any tips of the trade?

My biggest tip would be realising the importance of others. Writing my book was the easy part. Gaining a following, creating the artwork, putting the manuscript together and perhaps most importantly editing are all steps of the process that I owe to family, friends and other incredible authors out there. Without this help, I would never have got my book to market.

Make sure you have a solid plan for what you want to achieve, and stick to it as best you can. This will ensure continuity throughout the journey and make sure that the writing process is as smooth as possible.

How did you design your cover art? Any tips?

I was very fortunate in this aspect. I decided that my creative talent stopped at writing and that I needed to enlist the help of an artist. I started my search on Instagram and discovered the incredibly talented Rishikant Patra (@doodleophile). I immediately fell in love with his hand drawn, space-esque drawing style and asked for his help. A 17-year-old artist based in India, he immediately jumped at the opportunity and within about 3 weeks he had created artwork better than I could ever have imagined. The results were phenomenal and I would say without question that I owe the initial attraction of my book to him.

Marketing? Please explain?

This is probably the area I have struggled with the most. When I first started writing the book, I created a project-dedicated Instagram account. In the modern world of marketing Instagram is a fantastic tool (particularly with creative projects) and I grew to over 2000 followers in less than 3 months; a figure I was very happy with and continues to grow. Being social media active gave me a great pedestal to demonstrate my potential in a physical, ongoing manner and when the time came to release my book, I had a ready-made platform from which to plug. Unfortunately, my day job is sucking up a lot of time so I haven’t had the opportunity to market the book elsewhere as much as I would have liked, but it is selling steadily and I am gradually putting together a long-term marketing strategy to expand my reach.

What about copyright and the financial side of things?

Copyright was something I managed to put together fairly easily, after a little online research. Making sure my content was protected was a top priority and, fingers crossed, I have everything in place that I need! Financially speaking, Lulu has made this process a walk in the park. My main outlay has been promoted posts on Instagram, but I would certainly say that at this point, my project is profitable!

Advertising? Promotion? What did/do you choose to do?

As previously mentioned, Instagram has been my main port of call for advertising. Using the media platform to hint at book content, showing the creation process through Stories and using promoted posts to expand the reach allowed me to gauge the general reaction towards my project and writing style in real time, which helped me sculpt the book as much as it advertised it! A great way to kill two birds with one stone. The next step is to begin contacting local papers, magazines, and journals to help expand my promotional reach.

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cristinafilomenapoetry

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cristinafilomenapoetry’s ‘Lost’ poetry collection

Why did you decide to self-publish? What are the benefits?

I had no other choice to be honest. This is my first book, I’m a recent graduate working a part time job (and at the time I published I was unemployed) and publishers cost a lot of money. I wanted to get my work out there but I just didn’t have the means to bring it to an actual publisher, so I did some research on different self-publishing platforms and picked the one that made the most sense to me!The biggest benefit of doing it myself as stated above was the fact that it didn’t cost me much at all to get it out there, and I was able to publish EXACTLY what I wanted to publish in the way I wanted to publish it! It was an amazing learning experience doing it all myself too because I was able to experience not only writing but also editing, designing, AND publishing, so I ended up gaining a ton of knowledge on the process of the work that goes into publishing a book that I would have never gained if I had gone through a professional publisher.

What platform/service did you use to self-publish?

I used Ingram Spark, and at the time I thought it was the right choice, but for first timers out there I would recommend a more user-friendly publisher. Ingram Spark is amazing for publishers that are a bit more seasoned and know how the business works, but platforms like CreateSpace and Blurb are amazing for first timers because they’re 100% free and easy to use!

Any tips of the trade?

I’m still a beginner in the field myself, but the one thing I would suggest is start building your following AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. If you’re thinking of writing a book but haven’t started, get that Instagram account going! Start posting examples of your work so by the time you’re ready to make some money off of your writing you have a ton of people that will want to support you in it!

How did you design your cover art? Any tips?

I didn’t design my own cover art! I used a design group called Yonderworldly Premades which (until recently) offered pre-made book covers that you could purchase and have altered to fit the aesthetic and vision of your novel. They were great to work with and I’m very happy I got a professional to do the cover because it’s one of the first things a potential buyer sees. If you have a good looking cover, you’re more likely to make that sale, because unlike the saying, people do judge books by their covers. It says a lot about how serious you take yourself as an author and how your present yourself as a seller.

Marketing? Please explain?

I’ve done all of it myself, and I’ve learned A LOT, but I still have a long way to go! The thing I would recommend for sure is using Instagram to market your book every chance you get. It’s one of the most popular and accessible social media platforms and allows your readers the chance to put a face to your name. It’s also important to brand yourself as a writer and a social presence. What kind of writer are you? What do you want to ultimately achieve by sharing your writing with the world? What kind of aesthetic will people think of when they see your writing? These are all super important questions to think about as you move forward with your marketing. And if you have the means and don’t want to bother with marketing yourself, there are a ton of different options for hiring a social media marketer to take care of it for you!


Interview by Leeza von Alpen (aka leezajaydepoetry)

Main image accompanying article by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

A big THANK YOU to all of the Instapoets who participated in this interview. You can find their profiles, and links to their self-published works, below:

Michaelapoetry

Check out her healing words:

https://www.instagram.com/michaelapoetry/

Buy her book:

http://michaelaangemeer.com/shop

maiapoetry

Check out her raw words:

https://www.instagram.com/maiapoetry/

Buy her book:

https://www.maiapoetry.com

thetaleofmymind

Check out his deep words:

https://www.instagram.com/thetaleofmymind/

Buy his book:

http://www.lulu.com/shop/daniel-fella/the-tale-of-my-mind-as-told-by-dan-fella/paperback/product-23646924.html

cristinafilomenapoetry

Check out her powerful words:

https://www.instagram.com/cristinafilomenapoetry/

Buy her book:

https://www.cristinafilomenapoetry.com/the-book

 

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