No publisher? Do it yourself

Self-publishing is a familiar process for many of the authors at the Southern Oregon Book Author fair.

Breaking into the competitive and often fickle world of mainstream publishing houses is difficult for any author, and especially for poets. This can make self-publishing an attractive alternative for unknown authors, even though they must promote and market their own books. There are many options for self-publishing, including print-on-demand publishers that print and sell books as they are ordered, or subsidy presses that print a specific number of books and give them to the author. Perhaps the easiest way of getting one's work to the public is by creating a chapbook.

Chapbooks are small booklets, often handmade. Typically, they are printed on letter-size paper that is folded in half and saddle-stapled, resulting in a 5-and-one-half inch by 8-and-one-half-inch book.

"A chapbook can be as short as 4 pages or as long as about 48 pages," says Amy Miller, an Ashland writer who has created a number of poetry and essay chapbooks, including The "Stablehand's Report," and "The Mechanics of the Rescue."

Miller teaches workshops on publishing a chapbook for poets and other writers. She also designs books professionally for a commercial publisher, but she says "anyone can create a chapbook. It can be a fun and relatively simple process." She stresses that a chapbook is a very personal creation, and there are few hard and fast rules beyond making it attractive and desirable.

Many people make chapbooks with simple cardstock and printer paper, while others turn the books into works of art. Michael Holstein, a local writer, used a trip to Italy as inspiration for some of his poetry chapbooks; his books are created from handmade paper and incorporate inlaid wood, with intricate patterns and design.

"They take a long time to make," he says.

For Holstein, who will be teaching a bookmaking course in Italy next fall, the chapbooks are a labor of love.

"Eventually, I want to make an entire book: the paper, the binding, everything."

Regardless of how much time you are willing to give your book, Miller advises looking at other chapbooks first. "Buy them at readings or at Bloomsbury. Decide what you love about them and what you don't love about them. Borrow the formats you love."

Though relatively inexpensive to create, chapbooks still cost money to print.

"Be realistic as to how many you can sell or even give away," Miller cautions. "Even in mainstream publishing there's a small market for poetry books. You don't want to end up with a box of 100 chapbooks moldering under the bed."

Miller advises selling chapbooks at readings, independent bookstores, and "anywhere with a book table: literary events, book fairs, 'zine fests."

Most chapbooks sell for about $5, though it is not unusual to see longer chapbooks selling for $7 or $8.

"But remember," Miller adds, "the object is to get your book into people's hands, not to get rich."

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