“Success can’t be measured by monetary value. But rather, by the dreams you actively pursue and try to make come true,” are the words I penned in the inscription of my self-published book of poetry entitled “Sweet Melanin Messages.” The year was 2000. I was 24 years old. Married. And a graduating senior in college who had recently had her first child. Although I had dreamt of being a published author for many years prior to publishing, Norel’s birth gave me a sense of urgency. I wanted to create something that I could leave for him in the event of my untimely demise. “…Unlike people, printed words, thoughts, and ideas can never die…” the inscription continues.
My father was shot and killed when I was five or six years old. I don’t remember the sound of his voice or hardly anything about him. And, aside from two specific memories that I do have, everything else that I know about him comes from the memories and stories of others. I’m sure that loss, that void, is responsible for my insistence of trying to leave a tangible legacy for my children. In part that’s what “Sweet Melanin Messages” is – a love letter to my son that offers him a peek into my mind and provides a primary source that can be held that can be read and re-read after I’m gone.
Self-publishing — which, by the way, means the author prepares and prints his/her book themselves or pays someone to do it for them versus signing a contract by a publishing company and being paid to write the book — was a very empowering and rewarding endeavor for me. I did it not only as a way to leave my mark in the world, but also to set an example for my children. It was my way of saying that I believe in the power of my words – that my art has value, and I’m willing to invest in it. It was a way for me to be proactive about making my own dreams come true instead of waiting for others to do it for me or to validate my work. And, finally, it also meant that I was able to do it my way. I had control over everything, including how much to sell it for and what to do with the profits made from it.
The publishing industry has changed drastically since 2000. Self-publishing is now more commonplace and a lot easier to do. Listed below are some practical tips on how to self-publish.
Step 1: Write.
Before you can publish a book, you must have content. Decide if you want to write a book of poetry, a memoir, fiction, non-fiction, a how-to book, etc., and then write. Write. Write. And write some more.
Step 2: Edit.
Once you have your content written, then it’s time to edit the manuscript. Editing is more than hitting “spell check” on the computer once you’ve finished typing it. It’s self-editing, revising and rewriting along the way. It’s also taking breaks – literally putting it down and coming back to it in another sitting (i.e., the next day or a couple of days/weeks later) and reading it out loud to ensure your words flow and are communicating what you intended. After you have edited and revised it a few times, then you should ask another person to do a final edit for you.
Step 3: Design.
Now that you have the content written and edited, it’s time to decide on the size, format, paper, and cover. What size and type of font will you use? Do you want paperback, saddlesticking (staples), spiral binding or a hardcover book? What trim size/book dimensions do you prefer? What kind of paper (i.e., weight & color) will you use? How will your cover look? Will color ink be used? If so, where and how many colors? All of these are essential items to consider because they ultimately will affect the price, page count, and book aesthetics.
Step 4: Print.
Printing is the next step. Here, you’ll want to decide how you want to have your books printed. The most common options are to use digital print-on-demand companies or to find local printers in your area. Print-on-demand allows you the option to print books as they are ordered. With local printers, you purchase in bulk. Typically, the more books you have printed at one time, the cheaper your per book cost is. (If you are planning on placing your book in stores or libraries, you will need to purchase an ISBN. An ISBN is a number that allows the retailer to identify and track your book. Most printers will sell you an ISBN and barcode to include on your book. If they don’t, you can order one online.)
Step 5: Promote.
Often the most challenging part of self-publishing is the promotion. To sell your books, people must know that you have books for sale. Therefore, it’s imperative to market your book and to have them readily available and accessible. Most people have a book launch party, schedule book signings, attend festivals and special events, promote on social media and make appearances on tv and radio shows to let the general public know about their book.
By now, you’re probably wondering about the cost to self-publish. Unfortunately, I can’t give you a specific answer because there are so many different variables that go into determining the price. It can range anywhere from as little to $100 to more than $1,000.
Despite helping dozens of people publish their works over the years, I’ve personally only self-published twice in my life. The second time was a memoir entitled “Baring My Soul” that featured a few new poems and was dedicated to my daughter, Jamee. “You are my chance to make the world different,” I wrote in the dedication. I concluded the dedication by leaving her with these powerful words by Dr. Cornel West, “The unexamined life is not living.”
Neither one of my two self-published books made the New York Times Best Seller List, but they were both successful and profitable. Had they not made me a single dime, I still would have been satisfied with knowing that my thoughts and words were archived forever and that I left evidence for future generations to see that I was once here.
Stacey James McAdoo, the 2019 Arkansas Teacher of the Year (affectionately referred to as 2019ATOY), is a 17-year Oral Communication instructor, AVID Coordinator and sponsor of the spoken word collective called Writeous Poets from Little Rock, Arkansas. She teaches at the historic Little Rock Central High School where she is the living embodiment of her ATOY platform of using passion and poetry to close the opportunity gap.To learn more about her follow her at stillstacey.com or @2019ATOY on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.