Diary of an amateur poetry-publisher, part one

Doubtists Books logoNote the hyphen.

A lot of people don’t like hyphens, because they don’t understand them. Or because they’re graphic designers. Fitting into neither category, I like them.

This diary is something I’ve been planning to do since January: to record my progress in setting up a small publishing company and (with some luck) publishing our first volume of poetry.

A ridiculous thing to be doing in 2013, you might say; but one has to have a hobby. And I’m recording it for posterity because I looked for such a diary online – to help me on my way – and found no such thing readily available. My copy of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook (a few years outdated, granted) is even less use than the internet, so I’ve been making it up as I go along so far.

How hard can it be, eh?

This is what I’ve done so far:

  1. Read poems and written poems intermittently since childhood.
  2. Wrote a bunch of poems. Wrote some more. Selected twenty-odd, categorising them thematically, and edited them into a collection.
  3. Bought a bunch of poetry books from small publishers and big – inasmuch as any poetry publishers are “big”. Read them and studied the design, print quality, etc. Found most were rubbish, but even the good ones generally had terrible covers and felt cheaply produced.
  4. Decided on a place to print them. Imprint Digital, based in my undergraduate-university town, Exeter. I’ve seen their printing because my wife had a small collection of my old poems printed there for me one Christmas, and the quality (partly thanks to her own impressive design and layout) was way above what you get from pretty much every poetry publisher I’d seen, give or take Faber & Faber. Take Bloodaxe.
  5. Gradually saved up a few hundred pounds by putting away £50 a month when I could afford it, over a period of a couple of years.
  6. Had some writer friends look over the poems and proofread them. Wrote some more and re-edited, rearranged, and got my brother to design and typeset the lot, and design a company logo based on a half-baked idea I had.
  7. Looked on the internet and failed to find a decent step-by-step guide. These FAQs were okay, but fail to helpfully cater to the would-be publisher of poetry who must by definition accept that however business-minded it is, it might have to accept that its publishing company is officially a hobby until it can turn a profit and consequently pupate (or whatever) into a company proper – or a proper company, if you prefer your adjectives before your nouns. Also, it’s really boring reading FAQs. I wanted a blog.
  8. Recorded a few videos of me reading poems on my webcam and found these went down a bit better than the text-only versions I’d been posting on my blog. Despaired for people’s attention spans.
  9. Wrote a few more poems. Got my writer friends to proofread a second time and finalized the running-order of the collection. Felt I finally had it down.
  10. Started a workflow thing on Trello. Found it vaguely useful, if only because pieces of paper get tea on them, and sometimes get stolen by my one-and-a-half-year-old daughter. Thought it would undoubtedly be much more useful if I wasn’t the only one starting this publishing company. And if the other people starting it with me lived elsewhere.
  11. Bought an awesome brass seal with my company logo on it. Realized even if I had saved enough money to buy ISBNs and print the books, I probably didn’t have enough now. Started looking around for black jiffy bags anyway, because if you’re dealing in the physical, packaging matters.
  12. Panicked about how little work my wife and I were getting following our first (successful) half a year of freelancing. Realized I wouldn’t be able to save any more money toward my publishing company any time soon.
  13. Despaired, briefly.
  14. Considered doing everything on the cheap, briefly.
  15. Bought an album on vinyl via Kickstarter from The Indelicates and thought, Hang on! I could use this website to raise funds for my own business/hobby-related needs! 
  16. Realized I had no existing fan-base to draw upon, but thought, Sod it – if I fail to raise the funds I won’t lose anything, and by definition (having failed) not many people will have witnessed said failure, and I can always channel the despair/rage into writing some poems about how nobody cares about poetry, which sounds both artistically worthwhile and hugely lucrative.
  17. Went for it.


And that’s all so far.

All the technical stuff about profit-and-loss and getting my book into shops (if I ever bother trying) still remains a long way away. I rekindled the video performances of my poems too – partly as a means to advertise the Kickstarter project, but also to help me learn the poems, in case I ever want to “perform” them to an audience. And for fun, of course.

Now I’m sitting back and waiting to see if by some minor miracle I can raise the money to publish and print by summer – hopefully in time for my thirtieth birthday, or thereabouts. It was always an ambition of mine to have something published by now, and although I did have one poem in a collection once, they printed the title in Comic Sans so I still feel that doesn’t count.

That’s all for now. Assuming I actually make some progress – and regardless of the success or failure of the Kickstarter project – I’ll try and make these diary entries on a monthly basis from now until I publish.


A S H Velky.

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