I first heard of DIY publishing (Do-It-Yourself publishing), back in the 90s punk rock scene. Ever since then, I’ve been a prolific writer who is hell-bent on getting my creations out there one way or the other. Punk culture was all about breaking down paradigms, breaking rules, and not asking for permission to express your weird and rebellious self. My outsider friends and I would make “zines” channeling teenage angst into photocopied manifestos, and distribute them for free at punk shows. These days, I’m sure my former punk rock self would either call me a capitalist for actually selling my work, or be in awe over how I’ve made my living as a poet for nearly a decade. High five to Patti Smith, my favorite punk poet.
The DIY Publishing Journey
I’m a man of many hats when it comes to DIY publishing–and I’m not just talking about my collection of fedoras and newsboy caps. Since 2015, I have made a living traveling the country as a street poet named Typewriter Troubadour. I published seven books throughout my journey. I don’t have an agent. I don’t have a publisher. I don’t have a marketing team. In addition to being a writer, I act as all three. I’ve learned some lessons along the way and I hope to inspire you to get your book out there by breaking through the publishing paradigm–DIY style.
Step One: Write Your Book
So what is the first step in breaking through the DIY publishing paradigm? First things first–before you can get your book out there–you have to write it. Secondly, you have to give it a name. Once you brainstorm and choose your title, sit on it in secret until you’re ready to pull the trigger. I had to sit on my latest title, Poems For Other People’s Lovers, for four years before the book came out… which was really hard because I have a big mouth and get excited about sharing my latest great idea.
Speaking of good ideas–it’s always a good idea to have an editor. Constructive criticism will help you develop a thick skin for taking in someone’s opinion about the pieces of your heart and soul that made it onto the page. From a technical writing standpoint, it’s important to get an outside perspective on your work, in case there was a mistake you missed.
Hire Someone to Design Your Book Cover
If you’re not artistic or tech-savvy, you may also want to hire someone to help design your book cover. Remember the old saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”. Well, I’m here to tell you the cover DOES matter. It doesn’t have to be super fancy, but it does have to be eye-catching. You want a book cover that’s going to be intriguing enough for someone to pick it up. If they hold it in their hands, they are more likely to buy it.
Once your book is the best it can be, has a badass title and attractive cover, it’s time to bring your book into the world. When you’re breaking through the publishing paradigm, it all starts behind the scenes. First, you’ll need to purchase an ISBN to track your book’s barcode, and choose a DIY publishing platform that works best for you.
Review Physical Proofs of Your Book
Have patience and self-care strategies at arm’s reach, because this can be a stressful process. I usually give myself a two-month production window before the big release date to allow enough time to correct mistakes. Pre-production is a perfectionist’s wet dream, or worst nightmare. You need to upload your manuscript and cover art, review physical proofs (probably multiple times), and give yourself lots of grace to get it right. Taking the time, and being a little hypervigilant, is worth it–because once you pay for the first run of prints, you can’t get a refund if you find a mistake. Unless you can live with yourself after catching a crucial typo inside 100 copies of your book, do as I suggest, and remember to breathe.
Order Your First Printing
Now that you’ve approved the proofs of your book, it’s time to order your first printing. The great thing about most of the DIY publishing platforms out there is that you can choose how many to order. From one copy to hundreds! That’s the best thing about breaking through the publishing paradigm–YOU get to call the shots. There’s usually some sort of price break depending on how many you order, but choose what is best for you! You may want to do some sort of pre-order online to see how many people are interested in your book up front, AND to create hype for your book’s upcoming birthday. There’s nothing more magical than opening a box of your books and cradling them in your hands for the first time. Congrats! Your baby has been born! But now what? It’s time to celebrate by getting your book out in the world!
Promote Your Book
Having a website or social media is a great promotional tool to generate excitement. Whether it’s through your online shop, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Patreon (or whatever the kids are into these days), it’s time to give yourself a virtual high five. Post photos of you holding the book in various places, post videos reading short excerpts, offer signed copies for sale, hold contests and giveaways, or whatever idea awakens the muse of marketing.
Balance your promotion of your book with glimpses into your life that don’t have to do with your book. People want to read between the lines and will be intrigued about who you are as a person. Highlight your accomplishments, passions, and inspirations in your story. Get creative! After all, as a writer, you have the gift of imagination and/or living an exciting life, so don’t be afraid to share different sides of yourself.
Jeremy M Brownlowe is a prolific writer and author who is nationally recognized for his performance poetry project, Typewriter Troubadour. Since 2015, Jeremy has made a living traveling from town to town creating custom poetry for people on a manual typewriter where they give him a word, subject, or theme, and receive a poem, typed to order, in a matter of moments. In this day and age, you could say Typewriter Troubadour is like an OG human version of Chat GPT…sorta. He composed over 25k poems, and has published 7 books, including his latest work, Poems For Other People’s Lovers. His titles are available online, and in various bookshops around the country.