There appears to be considerable interest in self publishing at the moment and as I have been there, done it and got the tee shirt, I thought it might be useful to share the process with others. I have had some of my writing published in the past, but the chances of getting published in the current climate are small and for my book of poetry nil.
Younger poets and the more ambitious should, of course, follow the traditional route to publication, with competitions, working towards publishing a pamphlet, or submitting to an online site. But for me life seemed too short. If seeing your poetry in print is your dream workshop as many poems as you can, get some professional expertise with editing and go for it. Your family will love it and you might attract more interest than you expected – as I did!
I believe that life events can sometimes provide the impetus for change and this is what happened to me. Five years ago, my mother died. I had been her carer for the last few years of her life, so I guess it was grief that turned my world upside down.
Soon afterwards the only tree in my tiny garden in South London, a huge Ash died too. Can trees die of grief? That tree had been my pride and joy nurtured hundreds of birds over the thirty years I had lived there. A bright red woodpecker was its very last visitor.
The following year I decided that big changes were necessary, so moved with my long term partner to Brighton. Moving is fraught with difficulties as we all know, so it was with a sense of relief that finally my notebooks, files of ideas, poems scribbled on shopping receipts, the end pages of cheque books and the backs of envelopes, came out of storage in one piece.
A year later I signed up for a part-time Creative Writing Course at Sussex University with a lovely group of students and John McCullough, an inspiring poet and our tutor. The course renewed my spirits and I started writing again. That summer too, I treated myself to an Arvon course at Lumb Bank, tutored by Amanda Dalton and Ian Duhig and it was here that I wrote my first sonnet. (A Forest in Toulouse, which is on one of my blogs and another blog entry records the Arvon experience).
Getting out and about in Brighton introduced me to Kiersty Boon, who told me about Lulu an on line publishing company. Lulu is set up for people to design their own books, download their text and print the final book on demand. The advantage with ‘print on demand’ is that your loft won’t creak with unsold books, the disadvantage is that the postal charges from the States add to your costs.
I started to put old and new poems in some sort of order. The few that had already been published went to the top of the pile as a source of encouragement. I did a few more illustrations to go with my paintings and spent hours of juggling it all into some sort of cohesive whole. At which point I enlisted some outside help with proof-reading and further editing.
More decisions followed – the title, the cover, the back page, the list of those who had helped me along the way. When it was almost ready I had the cheek to ask John if I could add his name to my list of acknowledgements. He went one better and happily wrote a recommendation. On an earlier course at Arvon, Carol Ann Duffy had said that children would love my poem about a fictional dad, called ‘I Wish’, so her comment went on the back cover too.
I knew that downloading the book might be beyond me as I am slightly discalculous (number blind) but luckily Kiersty agreed to do it at modest cost.
When the book was finally completed I felt as though I had just given birth! I immediately ordered six colour copies as presents for members of my family. Well, if one can’t count on one’s family for appreciation….?
The black and white copies were a lot cheaper and I ordered six for friends. Amazingly, I soon had several requests for more and started selling them to friends of friends. The book is given an ISBN number as part of the Lulu package and they submit it to Amazon, so I got some on-line orders too.
Marketing is always a tricky, so I did a few new open mics, took a stall at Rottingdean Fair and gradually word got round. I also began to get comments from people who identified with the memories and/or emotions in my poems and enjoyed the journey. Ever cautious, I still only ordered 10 copies at a time when Lulu had one of their special offers.
The book sells in two local shops in Rottingdean and I have covered all my costs and now make a small profit. I accept that some of my poems are autobiographical others are light verse and my book will not make me rich or indeed famous. But my grandchildren have something to remember me by, complete strangers pay good money to read my poems and it is dedicated to my mother, Joan Field, which I think makes the whole enterprise worthwhile.