Self-Publishing Your Poetry Book: Part 2 by Miriam Sagan

Self-Publishing Your Poetry Book: Part 2
Judging A Book By Its Cover
I once saw a librarian do just that–and discard a sloppily designed self-published book. To avoid having this happen to your book, note the following checklist. A professional-looking book of poetry has the following: 1. A cover with a clear and evocative cover image. Poetry is about creativity–so express yours with a the cover image. 2. Back material should optimally include a photograph of the author and a professional–not rambling or overly confessional–biographical note. 3. Blurbs praising the work. These only work if they come from a fellow writer. For example, don’t use a blurb from your mother or your dentist! If you don’t have blurbs, consider running part of a poem as a teaser. Or write some balanced copy describing the poems (this is not the place for extravagant claims or boasting.) 4. Typesetting and design are more important than many authors realize. Personal computers have made it so easy to produce type–but these effects tend to be amateurish. Professional book designers have many tricks of the trade to get a professional look. This is the best place for you to budget some extra money to get some help from a designer. At minimum, don’t use too many different kinds of typefaces and avoid italics or curvy script.
Choosing A Printer
Publishing options for a book of poetry abound. There are of course the national publish on demand–or pod–houses. The advantage is that they are competent, fast, and produce a recognizable product. This is also the cheapest option for a very short run, as you print copies as needed. The downside is that the work often looks flimsier than a book published in a press run, and they are obviously self-published. A local printer–one in your home town–can also be easy to work with. The staff can help you make decisions in person, and the shop can help with design. The disadvantage is that this will be more expensive. However, this is a good option for a run of about 300. If you are truly ambitious for the book, there are numerous printers nationwide who will do a small professional run of 500-1000 copies. Although the cost of paper and production is rising, costs are still reasonable, at a few dollars a volume. In this case, make sure you have a contract, an agreement about shipping charges, and a clear idea of who pays for mistakes, should they occur.
I recently read and evaluated about fifty books of self-published poetry. Of all of these, only one really stuck out in terms of professionalism. The poems were well written, and many had been published in magazines. A black and white drawing graced the cover. There was no photograph, but a short biographical note spoke of the writer’s accomplishments. The typesetting was professional and unobtrusive. In short, this book–although modest–looked as if it had been published by a poetry press. It did not appear to be self-published. And so the final tip on creating your book is to look at commercial books of poetry. Examine lots of them, from small presses to mainstream. And let these models be your guide.
Publishing a book is exciting, but it can be lonely. Use the opportunity to build community. And simply producing the book is not enough. You don’t want the boxes of books to molder in your basement. When you set up a reading locally consider inviting some other poets to read with you. If appropriate, you can do a reading as a benefit for an organization you support. Give the book as a gift. A book is a wonderful calling card, and it makes an original thank you or bread-and-butter present. And in the long run, the most important thing you can do is enjoy yourself. When you continue to love writing–and bringing it to an audience–you’ll have the energy to continue on this path.

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