Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Why I Independently Self-published Bare Ruined Choirs

Copies of my book Bare Ruined Choirs are in the mail now from the printer.

Anyone who has followed the articles I have written these last six months knows that the publication of Bare Ruined Choirs has been a journey. I did not originally intend to publish the book myself but rather work through another independent publisher. His publishing goals and my publishing needs did not seamlessly match, though, so rather than my publisher, that individual became my enthusiastic publishing consultant as I embarked on the journey from concept to self-published book.

In publishing, whether it be journalism and newspapers or fiction and novels, there are traditional "gatekeepers" in the industry: the editors of the publishing institutions. These gatekeepers choose whether the quality of the piece to be published, whether it be the news story or the fiction story, is good enough to print.

In self-publishing, that gatekeeper is the author, and that can lead to problems--essentially, the quality control is missing from the product. The gatekeeper is either the author him or herself, or a publisher hired by the author--and that publisher most likely won't say, "Your book isn't fit to print," because that will lose a customer and also because the individual has the right to print a book, no matter what the quality level.

I chose to print my book of poetry myself, even though independently, self-published books lack the respect of some readers and publishers. For the record, though, it is good to note that Henry David Thoreau's Walden was self-published, as was Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass. Other famous, self-published books are Ulysses by James Joyce and The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller.

For Bare Ruined Choirs, about a third of the poems have been previously published in literary journals, and two published poets, Rustin Larson and Diane Frank, read the manuscript and agreed to write testimonials for the back cover.

Here are the reasons I chose to self-publish Bare Ruined Choirs.
  • It is a small book--twenty-eight poems--that form a sequence around a single concept. I wanted to maintain the integrity of the sequence, and most poetry publishers require longer manuscripts. I did not want to add poems to meet minimum page requirements. I also did not want to publish a "chapbook" because many chapbooks are saddled-stapled rather than printed with a traditional flat book spine.
  • It usually takes years for books to progress from submission, to finding an accepting publisher, and on to printing. I am focusing on writing fiction right now, and I wanted this project to move to completion quickly.
  • As both a classroom teacher and a writer, I was interested in the process of publishing and printing, and I felt the best way to learn was to actually publish something--and, by the way, I was right. I have learned a great deal, and I intend to share what I have learned with my students.
  • Bare Ruined Choirs is, in many ways, a gift and a memorial. I describe the book as "a life within a life," a poetic record of the twenty-eight years of life with my first wife before she died. Although the poems transcend autobiography, I wanted to give the book to my first wife's family. Because of that, I wanted to personally be involved with all aspects of the book, from cover photo to font selection.
This project has been successful.
  • I have a book of poems of which I feel proud--that have passed the "gatekeepers" of the little literary magazines and of published poets who, I am sure, would not want their testimonials to grace an inferior product.
  • I have learned a great deal about publishing that I did not know before.
  • I can give a fitting tribute to the family of my first wife.
  • I have not had to abandon current writing projects to nurture this one--not too much or long, at least!
I am a more knowledgeable writer for this experience, and I hope those who read my book will find their lives enriched by the reading.

And, by the way--yes, I do have another project in mind!

Copyright 2010 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved


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