October 18, 2010

Adventures in Self-Publishing, Part I

Our first posts are going to be loosely organized around publishing. Julie Van Pelt will join me in November, blogging about changes in the publishing industry and how they affect editors. 

I’m just beginning the production on a self-published book, so the subject of print-on-demand and short-run publishing technologies seems like a natural subject. This book, An Editor’s Guide to Working with Authors, had its start about a year and a half ago when I began teaching a series of online classes on developmental editing. For four or five years before then I’d been teaching mostly in person, with more information in my head than on the page. My writing about editing was mainly confined to corresponding with editors in the Author-Editor Clinic about their projects. 

But teaching online meant that I had to produce written lectures. This was actually a great thing. It forced me, for the first time, to really sit down and organize my thoughts about what a developmental editor could and should do. And in answering questions about my lectures, I did even more explaining.

After a year or so of writing lectures, I realized I had something that was beginning to look like a handbook for editors. How long and detailed it should be, I didn’t know. I invited seven of my good editing pals to join me in the fall of 2009 for weekly sessions to discuss what such a handbook might contain. I showed them my outline and some sample chapters. The next thing I knew—they were editors after all—I had more incisive comments than I knew what to do with. Everybody thought a guide for editors about working with authors was an excellent idea—and everybody had a lot of suggestions. I realized that if I were to take them all, the book would be 600 pages long.

Like many authors, before and since, I put the unfinished manuscript in a drawer.

The next thing I knew, it was April, 2010, and I had been invited to be a keynote presenter at Seattle’s Hugo House conference, Finding Your Readers in the 21st Century, along with the dynamic speakers Alan Rinzler, Jeff VanderMeer, and Matthew Stadler. My job was to talk about publishing in the past, given that I had been a co-founder of two small presses, Seal Press and Women in Translation.

My research for this talk was nostalgic and fun. I was especially glad to revisit books that had inspired me to begin publishing in the 1970s, including the still timely The Publish-It-Yourself Handbook. My friend Rachel da Silva and I had been part of the small press revolution when we started Seal Press with hand-printed letterpress poetry chapbooks.

The second morning of the conference, listening to Matthew Stadler talk about publishing and his “experiment in sustainable publication,” Publication Studio in Portland, I was—how can I put it?—completely galvanized. I suddenly realized that I didn’t have to write a 600-page book that covered everything there was to know about developmental editing. I could write one short book that covered the basics and some of my own interests in author-editor working relationships.

And I could publish it myself, using one of many methods that would also teach me something about the current and evolving state of self-publishing. I’m now in the middle of production, using the Espresso Book Machine. 

Barbara Sjoholm

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