The Perils of Publishing Poetry
I founded a poetry site in 2000, the Pagan Poetry Pages, to provide a space for poets whose influences and interests were non-conformist. With a loose brief of "poetry reflecting our interest in spiritual and metaphysical themes" we quickly grew to include poets who were not Pagan but deeply spiritual in their writing and Pagans who never wrote about their spirituality. In the end the PPP, as it is affectionately known, evolved into a place where good poetry was all that mattered; the need to express and the desire to share that expression was paramount.
Then recently, we decided to add another "P" to the PPP - "publications." The creation of an anthology of our poets has been a long-cherished project; finally we found the right combination of poets and editors and it began to take shape. Simone LA Hogan, my co-editor brought invaluable skills both technical and aesthetic while the talented American poet, Kevin V. Moore, brought an eagle eye to the project considering not only the submitted poems but catching many an evil typo as he went. The result is a book we are all, justly, proud of but the journey to this point has been both instructive and challenging. For anyone hoping to self publish, there are some pitfalls and pratfalls ahead!
The first and most obvious challenge for us was to gather the poetry; we had submissions from current members but decided to include new works as well. This opened up the site to new members and encouraged a fresh input into both the proposed anthology and the members' forum. Once we had chosen poems - and made the copyright and legal position clear to each contributor - we were then faced with a formidable amount of formatting and design.
For the author publishing a novel, the formatting may not present as great an obstacle; but fitting dozens of poems into a suitable number of pages proved too much for me! After 3 weeks of laborious "copy and pasting" Simone stepped in, and in three days had the bulk of the work done. Another couple of days and she had whipped it into a pretty shape and added illustrations. I turned my attention to the covers a job I think I managed rather well; but I now know that any future attempt on my part to publish a book will start with making someone else do the formatting!
Our next challenge was the rather boring but necessary task of proof reading. I cannot recommend highly enough that you share this task among many pairs of eyes. Even with three of us feverishly reading we still caught a few errors later on. It won't be the end of the world if one slips by - I have read many a published text with the odd mistake - but respect for the reader demands that you do your best to remove them all.
We choose to invest in ISBN numbers; the Nielsen Agency is the place to start if you are in Ireland or the UK. They come in blocks of ten and we saw it as an investment in our future projects; as it turns out it is a huge asset in promoting the book and getting it into mainstream bookshops. In the weeks since our official launch date, May 1st 2009, we have received orders from book wholesalers in the UK as well as independent retailers. ISBN are necessary if you wish to see your book take off.
We made a few mistakes as we blundered along; we underpriced our work at first and had to have the list price changed by Nielson and Amazon. When I say "we" honesty compels me to admit it was I, really. We learned that postage can be much higher than we fondly imagined. We also learned that a self published book can be hard to market.
You need to be proactive, and think creatively, when trying to promote your self published work; think of forums, websites, networks or writers, who might be interested. Try small retailers and bookstores and offer them sale or return. If publishing on Cafepress or Lulu consider buying ten at a time to have on hand, to distribute locally. Try everything - some things will work, others are more effort than reward. But you learn from every mistake.
Publishing the anthology was an amazing experience and one that has convinced me that for poets in particular, there really are not enough outlets for their work. As a result once we have recovered from Pagan Paeans we plan on publishing Kevin V Moore's collection of poems on New England; followed by a collection of essays and a second anthology. There are few monetary incentives to do so; poetry will never make you rich. But the pleasure our first offering has given poet and reader alike may well be the best reward of all.
Words are written to be read!