DAY 16 PROMPT: What has been the most challenging part of your book process: writing, building the book, printing, distributing, marketing, etc.? What do you wish you’d known before you began?
In my experience, the most challenging part of writing a book is in staying with the project when life matters intervene. Once I have an idea, the writing is easy, but it's even easier to become distracted by new ideas and opportunities, by the hyperactive muse that whispers and tempts away from the page of intention.
As far as the physicalities of book production, I like to think I learnt my lessons early. Having set myself up for retirement to offer home publishing for other writers with small run publications, I thought I had it all worked out, paying top dollar (and why not, I was still in paid employment at that time) for the equipment I needed. The intention had been to produce chapbooks and spiral bound publications in a range of sizes to enable aspiring writers and poets to get their work into print. Easy, or so I thought.
The first publications rolled out; an anthology for a writing group, a poetry collection or two, a couple of short story collections, even a substantial family history. My publisher copies still sit neatly on my bookshelf, but they have a naïve appearance next to their perfect bound companions. Still, they reflect that part of the journey and have earnt their place. Fortunately, poetry chapbooks still have a certain appeal and may be seen as almost a rite of passage for a poet to have produced at least one chapbook in their poetry lifetime, so this part of the home publishing business prevails. Spiral binding is best left for business reports or education papers, as if does not showcase literary work to its best advantage, leaving it with the amateurish appearance of trying too hard too soon. These days, my very expensive binding machine sits idle most of the time, cranking up only to bind assembled reports or assignments for students.
With my first book, I developed a marketing and distribution plan that took almost as many hours as the writing of the book itself. While I can be the strongest advocate for other people, self-promotion doesn’t come easily to me but writing about myself in the third person helped, almost as if I was an observer looking on. TheLittle Mongrel – free to a good home (now republished as The Scent of my Mother’s Kiss) was one of the first books written about the people who became known as the Forgotten Australians, so my mailing list was lengthy and included politicians of every persuasion, heads of government departments and welfare agencies, university libraries and so on. My biggest regret was that I didn’t take up an offer from the then Premier of Tasmania, David Bartlett to launch the book, however, as my departure from the state coincided with the release of the book, I didn’t follow up on this.
I’m not sure there’s anything I wish I’d known when starting out, because I think personal experience is the best teacher and the knowledge gained in this way is likely to last longer. It’s also a living learning, in keeping with the rapid change in technology and the publishing industry in general, where every day brings change.