To Self Publish or Not to, That Is the Question…

to self publish or not
The Stolen From

On Sunday (St. Patrick’s Day) I was in the happy position of giving a poetry reading at the Manayunk-Roxborough Art Center, flanked by the redoubtable Ernie Hilbert and the inestimable Kim Bridgford. All went well, even if Keba Evans would say the Open Mic ran over somewhat into the planned St. Paddy’s Day evening celebrations. At the break people flocked to buy my books and I ended up selling 2 copies of each chapbook (Swimming and Selected Sonnets, both available from Maverick Duck Press.) So, where’s the problem?

The problem is that one audience member asked me which of the chapbooks contained the material I was reading from, and the answer is, of course, neither of them. With very few exceptions, most of the material I tend to read these days comes from my unpublished, perennially semi-finalist manuscript, currently (and somewhat ironically) entitled The Persistence of Desire.

Ladies and gentlemen, there is a serious problem with the current model of poetry publishing. But you knew this! It should be reader demand that determines which manuscripts get published, and instead it is judges’ taste. These are clearly not the same thing.

To Self Publish or Not?

So far I have shied from self-publishing my own original work. Translations, I have argued, are not the same, and so I had few qualms about publishing Saint-Pol-Roux & Other Poems from the French using my own press, Barefoot Muse Press, and will be bringing out Selected Poems of Marceline Desbordes-Valmore in the same way later this year.

But here I am, faced with this dilemma again, and seriously tempted to compromise (so much so that I went online and mocked up the cover as shown above.) Why not self-publish a chapbook of the 19 Alzheimer’s poems? Publication in a chapbook doesn’t invalidate publication in a full length manuscript, should I ever get one accepted by a press. The Alzheimer’s poems are unlikely to find a conventional publisher because they are a complete mix of free verse and formal poetry—free verse for the portraits and formal for the thought pieces—and we know that goes down like a lead balloon with judges today. Furthermore, I’m so experienced with Amazon’s Createspace at this point that it would take me an evening, tops, to get the book together, and I could have it for sale in two weeks, after which, all the profits accrue to ME, not some editor of a micro-press who has deigned to publish my work.

I’m reading again at the Cornelia St Cafe in NYC on April 29th, and it would be gratifying to be able to say, when someone asks me which chapbook contains any of the material I’ve read, “Oh, this one! It has “Zeitgeber”, “Elizabeth, Unmoored” and “A Difficult Job.”



  1. Well, you probably know how I feel about self publishing…so you know that I would say, “Go for it.” Plenty of poets use poems from published chapbooks in their full length books. It’s not uncommon at all. As for the whole micro-press thing…you do know that most micro-presses don’t make a profit? I know I don’t.

  2. Anna_Evans

    I have been breaking even, or thereabouts, on Barefoot Muse Press, which is fine. However, the way the Amazon Createspace technology works I can’t help thinking that in the long run I’ll make money. I mean, I got several random Amazon orders for my Saint-Pol-Roux translations this month. Costs me nothing in effort or money and I made $9. 🙂

  3. Tim Murphy

    Anna, I know there are eyes that are jaundiced toward self publishing. But both Jenny Reeser and Rose Kelleher have turned to it, fed up with the old way. I’m so old and so happy with my publisher (and so bad with word processing and computers) that I’ll not change, but maybe you should.

  4. Or a compromise: Make a print suite of poems from the chapbook. You have the design chops to do it right. Make them really pretty; make them spare and elegant; make them on nice paper. Then at readings when people want your stuff, you will have something for them; and you’ll have more time to send the chapbook out.

  5. I publish chapbooks as well, BLAST PRESS, and have published over two dozen poets over two decades. Please send the MSS to me, and I’ll look at it right away. Like what you’re doing with Barefoot Muse.

  6. Anna_Evans

    Thanks Gregg! I’ve already brought the chapbook out and sold 10 copies–Createspace is super quick if you know what you are doing–but I do really appreciate the offer. 🙂

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