Publishing Your First Book: Getting Started

I’ve written poetry for over forty years, inspired by my grade 10 creative writing teacher so many years ago. Poetry captured my imagination: a form of artistic expression that is all about economy, beauty and the search for perfection through the careful selection and thoughtful placement of words.

For many years I published poetry to a website but have always been frustrated by the tradeoffs of publishing to the web, in particular the inability to control the visual design and layout. I also want my poetry to outlive me and the web is ephemeral – when I’m gone there is no guarantee my website will live on. A pandemic-induced spurt of poetic productivity convinced me to finally take the leap and publish my first book.

Manuscript Manuscript Manuscript

There is no book without a polished manuscript – and with so many elements that make up a book it’s tempting to get ahead of the manuscript and start thinking about all the other details. The best advice I received early on was to focus on the manuscript before worrying about anything else. Publishing a high quality book is a lengthy process, and much of that process relies on a completed manuscript. With a forty year catalog to choose from the first thing I did was print out a subset of poems and filled the family room with paper. While the poems weren’t written with a published book in mind, I was able to find themes and a way to arrange the poems to create a narrative. Even though your book will ultimately be edited using digital tools, it’s very helpful to manipulate paper during the process. Getting from a final draft manuscript to a fully edited and copy edited manuscript will be covered in a future article.

Traditional vs. Vanity Publishing vs. Self-Publishing

Publishing a book is intimidating. Imposter syndrome is inevitable. And there are so many options, so many websites promising publishing riches, so many books on the business of creating books. For my first book self-publishing made the most sense. A traditional publisher of poetry would take a lot longer (years longer), and because all of my poetry had been previously published on my website building a portfolio of placements in poetry journals and magazines wasn’t an option. I looked at vanity publishers but wanted to control the imprint associated with the book. Self-publishing for my debut book was the best option for me.

What Does it Cost to Self-Publish?

I started this project with no idea what to expect. I assumed I’d be ordering box loads of book inventory and using my garage as a distribution center. Because of print-on-demand services like Kindle Direct Publishing my key assumption was wrong. The upfront printing costs are limited to advance copies and proofs, not thousands of dollars in inventory.

There are many costs to turn a manuscript into a print-ready book – how much you need to budget depends on what you are prepared to do yourself and the level of polish. In my case I want my book to be a piece of art, as professional as a traditionally published book. You can do all of that for under $5,000. Below are some of the key costs (more details to follow in subsequent articles).

  • Cover art
  • Book design + eBook conversion
  • Portrait photo (for About the Author)
  • Editing
  • Copy editing
  • ISBNs
  • Self-publishing consulting (optional)
  • Proofs / advanced reading copies / giveaway copies
  • Promotion and marketing (optional)

Publishing Your First Book Article Series

In the coming weeks I’ll be sharing a series of articles covering everything I’ve learned going from author of poetry to self-publisher of my debut book “canvas”. Below are the articles in the series which will be updated with links as the articles are published:

Word cloud created from the manuscript for "canvas"
Word cloud created from the manuscript of “canvas” (using MonkeyLearn)

“canvas” by James Morehead is available for pre-order here. Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notification of new posts by email.

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