Anesa Miller

Drawer No More! — Take 4

My first adventure in self-publishing dates back to the mid-1990s. Under heartrending circumstances (more on that later), my fiancé at the time offered to pay for printing a small book of my poems. I had written several poems for him, addressing his sorrowful circumstances, which partly motivated his offer.
Even so, his generosity blew me away.

In a whirlwind of action, I reconsidered all the verses I’d ever penned that remotely fit the poetic topic of loss. I contacted a printer in the nearest town of sufficient size to have a printer. Prevailing on friendship, I recruited a local artist to create illustrations and advise me on stock, color, fonts, illuminated letters, and all such visual elements. Within weeks, I had selected a manuscript of 20 poems and made plans for a 64-page perfect-bound chapbook to showcase them.

With eager anticipation, I showed these plans to my fiancé, Jaak (pronounced Yahk, it’s a common name in Estonia, where he was born). He smiled and nodded until I whipped out the printer’s quote. This marked a shift in attitude, almost like a sudden drop in temperature. I had kept him up to date on every step of the planning process. But now, he seized a handful of paper from his inkjet printer and proceeded to demonstrate how efficiently one can fold several 8.5 x 11″ sheets and tape or staple them by hand. Voilà! A nice little booklet! Illustrations? How convenient they’re pen-and-inks—a cinch to photocopy! No, no, sweetheart—you didn’t waste time driving 50 miles to the printer to pore over expensive papers. It’s always worthwhile to see how professionals operate.

But let’s be reasonable, can’t we?

I’m afraid not. First, you urge a hungry writer to picture her name on the cover of a perfect-bound book, then you break the news that what you really meant was a home-assembled saddleback?

I’m afraid the scene wasn’t pretty. Language was used that I prefer not to remember as I accused Jaak of backing out after he—and he ALONE, with no wheedling on my part!—had raised my hopes to the lofty level of 64 pages and a card stock cover. That was an especially bitter pill: in order to keep the price down to (what I took as) a reasonable figure, I had foregone the fancy C1S (coated 1-side) cover, virtues of which my salesman refused to shut up about. AND NOW YOU’RE SNATCHING THOSE PRETTY DREAMS AWAY, LEAVING ME TO STAPLE LOOSE-LEAF COPIES FROM THE XEROX SHOP?!!

How could I claim that the book was really even “published” if it were a mere mock-up like I often made for my children, decorated with crayon drawings? How could I put an ISBN on that?

So my first self-publishing venture was marked by painful conflict.

This being a true confession, I must return to the fact that Jaak was deeply bereaved. At the time I’m harking back to, a couple of years had flowed under the bridge since the terrible night when his teenage daughter, Tiina, was killed on the highway south of town by a drunk driver. But the death of a child is a blow from which a parent never fully recovers, so that dreadful night was still fresh for my man, and my poems were meant to aid his healing. Instead, there I was putting vanity above compassion as I protested his stinginess after the fact.

(In my defense, I had sacrificed my eyesight, going from 20/20 vision to my first-ever pair of prescription glasses, helping Jaak put out his book, which I edited developmentally over a period of two years, then helped copyedit and proofread. Please bear this in mind before judging me harshly…)

Heaven sent down a few mercies, and as it turned out, a small grant materialized. I got my perfect-bound booklet of 64 pages with 2-color cover and professionally photographed illustrations. The end result was quite lovely, and Jaak declined to hold a grudge over my petulant outburst. In fact, as my husband, he remains willing to this day to support my further adventures.

Nonetheless, that early foray still provokes nightmares. I mentioned the difficult decision of turning down the C1S cover, despite the claim that it would lead to “reliably brisker sales.” How embarrassing to admit that I, a sane and relatively well-educated adult, believed my poetry book would sell! Everyone familiar with self-publishing in that pre-electronic era knows my next confession: I have nightmares of posthumous embarrassment, imagining how my descendants will find those cartons of books stacked in the garage. Oh—and here’s another pile in the attic! And, my gosh—even more in the hall closet!

You mean they didn’t fly off the shelves, after all?

Self-publishers used to hock hard copies of books from the trunks of their cars. Now there’s been a revolution with the advent of e-readers and online retail bringing costs down and boosting accessibility. Has this solved the problems of sales and distribution? Tell me what you think—please feel free to comment on these or related matters.


14 thoughts on “Drawer No More! — Take 4”

  1. Oh! I feel for you! My first self-publishing adventure was in college. I convinced my step-mother to fund the printing of 500 copies of my “experimental” short stories with the certainly that I’d be able to pay her back after selling just $100.

    I think I sold 8.

    The boxes went into my mother’s barn. I re-opened them 10 years later, many had mildewed and the mice had made a home out of a decent stack. I took them to the dump, shame and regret weighing me down. Even ruined, it was still hard to throw them away.

    Thank God things have gotten better. It’s still hard to self-publish, but at least the technology has made it possible to print only what we sell. And eBooks are so lovely and accessible.

    1. I’m so grateful for your vivid account of youthful enthusiasm gone ever so slightly awry! If you’re like me, the memories are still a bit painful but also amusing with the passage of years.

      Things have indeed gotten better. Print on demand is like a gift from God. Thanks so much for sharing, Kelsye.

  2. There’s something charming and authentic about “homemade” books, and I wouldn’t discount their value even years later. A woman in my town did that, and after a publisher picked her up they were collectors items.

    Confession: I have boxes and boxes of a CD I made in 2000, with the intention of pursuing a post-employment career as a singer-songwriter. Something about life on the road didn’t appeal to me… Life at sea, however, did. Perhaps we should trade copies.

    1. Hi Karen! You’re certainly correct about the charm and potential value of handmade books. Artist books, letterpress editions, or plain old homespun creations can be very beautiful. And many are authentic, as you aptly put it, by definition.

      That’s my daughter commenting above on “DIY book-making” so evidently they had lasting appeal!

      It was in the context of my publishing dreams that folding and stapling didn’t seem to measure up. We’d been making folded booklets for years–PUBLISHING was supposed to be something bigger. Maybe it’s an indication that my dreams were a bit misguided. (MORE on that to come…)

      “Life at sea”–I love it! But not adrift, I hope. Many thanks for your visit.

  3. I’ve always loved the idea of DIY publishing—let me rephrase that—I’ve always loved the idea of putting together a book of my own, as in sewing together signatures and binding a book myself. My first serious attempt at writing a novel found its way to an actual bound volume ( I had no intention of publishing before I started that project. And I undertook that project simply to see what it would feel like, holding my own book in my hands, a book my husband could read and say Oooo, Ahhh over!

    An amazing thing happened at that moment. The tantalizing prospect of sharing it with more people—in written form! Yes, publication! I had no idea what a roller coaster ride I was in for, but I couldn’t leave the idea alone.

    I love the feel of a real book, and my books are available in hard copy (perfect bound) and e-books. I sell a few of the trade paperbacks, but I’m so glad for e-publishing. Many more people have read my e-books—people from all over the world as a result of e-books. So, has this solved the problems of sales and distribution? For me, yes. And if I were more inclined to promote and market, I’m sure my sales and distribution would improve, but I’d rather spend my time writing! 🙂

    1. How gorgeous that is! I love watercolor as a medium, and your style is quite striking—more realistic than most, I’d say, which must be a challenge. Your self-portrait is lovely.

      And I think your project overall reveals an aspect of sharing artistic work that tends to be overlooked: Shaping it up to present to the world almost intrinsically entails a desire to make it the best we can, the most communicative, or at least the most striking for others. That never seems to happen while work is languishing in the drawer!

      It’s really good of you to come by and share your stories. )))))

      1. Yes, as you say–we have the desire to ‘make it the best we can’ and so I had to laugh at the folded paper and staples presentation of your cherished work. I had to laugh, because I would have been so affronted if anyone suggest such a thing to me! I mean, who would ever take us seriously? But then, yes, it would get it out of the drawer! Thank you for sharing that story. It really does drive home how we feel about presentation, because it IS important, and especially so with self-publishing.

  4. Such the engaging write on your journey into self-publishing. It is both inspiring and motivating. I have as yet to take the next step, a little cautious in putting my heart ‘out there’ to fall silently amongst the cracks of the publishing world.

    You do have a wonderful way of encouraging the braving of rejection in your heartfelt learning curve to persevere and purse. Courage, determination and self-belief is a quality you journey with, proving your integrity and strength as a writer. A most insightful read… ThankingYou for sharing

    1. It’s wonderful to hear from you! I certainly understand the need for caution where one’s heart is concerned. Have you tried taking part in readings at a local bookstore or coffeehouse? Even “open mic” nights can be rewarding and good for building confidence. I think it’s a nice way to dip a toe in the waters of “going public.” Please let us know how your efforts develop. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. I will definitely be publishing, made a promise. Its the knowing that the writing industry has a whole lot platforms to choose from and not all are beneficial to the writer 🙂

    I do thank you for each valued and worthwhile avenue to pursue in the confidence building… My best regards to your every success

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