|All those nights when you can’t reach me?
I’m making these things.
When it comes to poetry chapbooks, I’m a DIY gal. So far I’ve self-published nine chapbooks at home using InDesign or QuarkXPress, a couple of desktop printers, and a huge stash of paper from a print shop that went out of business*. I edited books for a living for many years, and I still get a creative rush out of designing and assembling them. So if it means giving up a few evenings to print, fold, staple, and trim chapbooks while listening to Bollywood music, that’s OK. I like it. It’s fun.
But recently I went a different route and published a chapbook through CreateSpace, Amazon’s print-on-demand program. A client had asked me to help him marshal his book through the CreateSpace process, so I decided to use one of my own chapbooks as a guinea pig first. I figured if things went badly, I could steer the client away from the mistakes I’d made. And if it went well, it would be smooth sailing for him…and I’d get a spiffy new book at the same time.
|The CreateSpace portal.|
To back up for a moment, let me repeat one point: CreateSpace is only free if you can design the whole book—interior and cover—either completely by yourself, or by using their simplest templates. (They also have fancier templates, for a fee.) Obviously it’s great to have InDesign or Quark to do the interior layout, but you could probably use Word, assuming you’re good at it (which I’m not) and your book is something simple like poetry or fiction. For the cover, you might be able to figure out how to lay it out in Word (again, if you have more prowess with Word than I do), but just about any graphics program will work, as long as you can save your final design as a PDF.
|Editing—in my house, anyway—
still takes paper and patience.
For my test case, I decided to do an expanded version of my book Beautiful Brutal: Poems About Cats. I chose this baby for one reason: I sell a lot of copies of it. Now, I pride myself on being a real poet, but this little novelty book has turned out to be surprisingly popular—it always sells well at book shows and writers’ conferences, and people contact me out of the blue to order five or ten to give away as gifts. I spend a lot of time printing those little books.
|Sharp yet velvety.|
The last step in the approval process was to order a print proof of the book. This is the only part of the process that cost me money, and the total was $5.74—about $3.00 for the book, and the rest for shipping. You don’t have to order a proof; you can just have them print the books without seeing a sample, but I wouldn’t recommend that no matter what printer you’re using. And I especially wanted to see how the matte cover and cream paper looked, since I’d chosen both sight unseen.
So many people ask writers at readings: “Where do your ideas come from?” It’s happened to me many times, and I’ve heard the question from people in the audience at readings given by A. S. Byatt, Dennis Lehane, Joan Didion, John Dufresne, Amy Tan, Junot Diaz, Campbell McGrath, Marie Howe, and countless others.
The answer is that ideas come form our daily lives. I’ve never kept a journal or diary, and was embarrassed to admit this in some writing classes. But I always have notebooks filled with things: lists of wines, types of flowers and trees, names of rivers, book titles, recipes, names of bottled water, names of oysters, constellations, stars, bits of dialogue, snatches of scenes, pieces of eulogies, prayers, dreams, song titles, titles of poems, descriptions of places I’ve traveled to, names of people, towns, and streets from foreign cities and those Stateside…like Dubrovnik, Seattle, Bejing, Boise, Paris, Singapore, Bora-Bora, Kuala Lampur, Venice, Mandalay. You get the picture. So I guess I’ve been keeping a type of “writer’s journal” all these years after all.
Ideas come from all aspects of life. Nothing is too insignificant to take note of or jot down in a little book you carry with you…everywhere. Keep a notebook in the car, one on your nightstand, one in the kitchen, one in the bathroom, one by the computer.
Here’s what I know that may be useful for writing dialogue. Always keep a notebook handy and write down everything you overhear or can remember from dreams! Note the accent, the patterns of speech, the way people interrupt each other. Write down what they are doing when they speak and where they are when the conversation is taking place. Scribble a few words on their phraseology and the patterns and rhythms they use.