In the next month, I am going to self-publish my second manuscript of poetry. Pop the champagne cork. Reserve a balcony suite on Hollywood Blvd. This LA writer is going to be hob-nobbing with the big dogs, because with this forthcoming second book, I will not be a one-hit wonder. I will have arrived.
Or I would, if poetry in any way counted like novels do. If I could count on more than 50 sales in a year. This is not sarcasm, just a careful reminder that this article comes from the concerns of a poet. And this poet, after a week of research, decided to launch her second title out by way of CreateSpace.
In 2011, I published my first book, Letters From Nowhere, on Lulu.com. My experience with the publishing process with Lulu was relatively painless.
Lulu offered to walk me through the layout process with templates, offered to convert word files into pdfs, gave me the option to generate a cover in separate pieces. I turned down all of the hand-holding options. Lulu’s templates for poetry–centered lines–were off-putting. Nearly all well-designed books of literary poetry favor left-justified, ragged-right formats. On top of that, my book called for different page layouts: some poems were justified blocks (prose poems); many were left-justified; a few required specific stanzas layouts.
Poetry is just as much experienced as a visual object as it is read as a text. So these layout details mattered. Lulu gave me the option to do everything myself and upload a completed pdf once the manuscript was completed.
Once the book was uploaded, it only took about two weeks to finalize the details on Lulu, receive a proof copy (and then receive another proof-copy when I discovered the cover was pixellated badly, rushed to me), and set the book for its final edition. I received a smattering of sales, cut my first royalty payment through Paypal.com, and spent my hard-earned cash on fountain pens and their attendant catalogs. Fountain pen catalogs, it should be noted, are questionable erotica to me. Basically, I turned the cash from my first book into gratification money.
I was getting paid. I was happy with my service at Lulu.com. The book listed on Amazon.com after a couple of weeks. But after the opening burst of sales, the title went silent. There were no online sales in the last two quarters of the year. The Lulu store is not set up to sell to poets. And in all due deference to fellow poets on Lulu, their “bestselling” titles were pretty dreadful.
What I found was that I was making more sales directly. I would buy copies from Lulu, and sell to people in person. Poetry has long been a market between beggars. At poetry slam events, books get sold to other poets. Readings set up for the author, ones that actually attract attendees, can move a lot of merchandise. Selling copies from an author website–through mailed checks, requested works, old school commerce–happens more than rarely.
Amazon, on the other hand, made me a grand total of two sales.
For this shiny new manuscript, I decided to do a little research on my self-publishing options. Ebook publishers only like Smashwords and Kindle Direct Publishing were immediately struck from the list. My main business has been hand-to-hand sales, and an ebook doesn’t suit that type of commerce. I reconsidered Lulu.com for its good service to me, but with its author copies for a skinny 96 page chapbook at more than 6 dollars a pop, I knew I could do better.
The self-pub blogosphere raved about two options: CreateSpace and Lightning Source. The best review of the three options side-by-side is from Blogthority, which makes a good case for publishing directly with Lightening Source. However, as Blogthority notes there are some up-front barriers: you must create a corporation (Lightening Source is a printer, and it does not deal with individual “authors”). Lightening Source requires a cash investment up-front to list the book, and a book of poetry may sadly never recoup the one hundred dollar up-front cost.
CreateSpace seemed like the natural choice. Its low author-copy cost (which can be pushed even lower with an up-front cost) is exactly what I was looking for.
As I design and create my own book interior pdfs and covers, I wasn’t concerned with anything beyond cheap author copies. But I decided to look a little deeper at its offerings, to see if I might recommend CreateSpace for authors who don’t do their own design work. Like Lulu.com, CreateSpace boasts a Cover Creator for authors; they offer templates for books. One enterprising book publisher even decided to use Lulu’s pdf tools to create his CreateSpace book interior. A tool is a tool, after all. As for the peripherals, CreateSpace has grown to include professional services that you can purchase for editing, interior design, cover design, and others services also offered at Lulu.com.
As for its negatives: CreateSpace has been indicted for its difficulty-of-use; it’s withholding of non-US royalties at the rate of 30%; and its inability to handle premium sized prints (at 8.5×11). There is continual buzz swirling about whether CreateSpace (and Amazon) withhold royalties for book sales. It should be noted that most reputable sources say that Amazon reports royalties more fairly than the big 6 publishers. So I take complaints about royalties with a grain of salt.
The negatives, I felt, were ultimately things that I could deal with (if they turned out to be true), so I said “yes” to CreateSpace.
I am currently halfway through the publishing process. The project sits at the “upload manuscript” step. I take my time with this stage. The manuscript will be a physical object in somebody’s hands; I endeavor to make it look professional. The poetry market has a series of specifications that are different from other markets. US Trade size–6×9–is the most common size for poetry chapbooks. Chapbooks published by living poets tend to be smaller that the massive collections of well-respected (and dead) poets–in the 80 to 120 page range. Pages of poetry are pretty sparse compared to their prose brethern. Collections may try to jam more than one poem per page, but most chapbooks take the “one poem per page” route. Design considerations for these kinds of pages are mainly confined to the following set of questions. How should a poem sit on a page, so that its words are away from the spine when it opens? How should page numbers look? Does the book need running headers? Where should they be placed vis-a-vis the poem so pages look balanced? What font should the poems be set in? Should titles be set in the same font? Below are two page layouts based on how I thought to answer these questions.
It’ll be a few weeks before I’m back knocking on CreateSpace’s door to finish the project. So far, my experience has been positive. CreateSpace has already allowed me to choose from four different sources for my ISBN number. Each source has their own benefit/drawback–and I decided to go the low-cost path of choosing a CreateSpace ISBN. This level of customization has already made me appreciative of CreateSpace’s flexibility. Should I be bitten by the Kindle Direct Publishing bug, CreateSpace’s integration with Amazon will make it easy to port the work onto the KDP platform.
But, ultimately, I know that hand-to-hand sales will make up the majority of my next book’s revenue. With a lower cost for author’s copies, and a potentially even lower cost for a small investment of cash up-front, there are two benefits that accrue to this project. One, I can earn more royalties percentage-wise. Two, I can offer my new book at a lower price-point (8 dollars instead of 12) and still make a good chunk of money.
Well, good money for poetry.
For those of you publishing, how many of you have gone with / are thinking of going with a meatspace publisher? Are ebooks more appealing to your demographic? What would make you choose one self-pub over another?