Monday, February 01, 2010

The Downside of DIY

Punk rock made a huge impression on me in college, and ever since, I have lived by the spirit of punk-DIY, which means "Do It Yourself." No, I'm not talking about home improvement, I'm talking about not waiting for someone else to sanction my creativity with their publishing contract or professional approval.  My heroes are the builders of the Burnside skate park in Portland, Oregon; poet and artist Lawrence Ferlinghetti, creator of City Lights bookstore and press; and Ani DiFranco, singer and owner of Righteous Babe Records. They didn't wait around for someone to hand them a skate park or book press or record company, they just went out and created what they wanted.

I love books, so I decided to start a publishing company. Rather than just dream about it, I went to workshops, studied how-to books, and networked with other small publishers until I was ready to start doing it myself. In 2007 I published Laura Fogg's book, Traveling Blind: Life Lessons from Unlikely Teachers, and in 2009 I wrote and published a hand-book for other people interested in starting a press,  called What You Need to Know to Be a Pro. Now I'm almost ready to publish the third Medusa's Muse book, Punk Rock Saved My Ass: an anthology.

I said almost ready.

I love publishing and the freedom to create whatever I choose, but I don't love the constant challenges that are a part of doing anything DIY. The more independent you are, the more the demands of managing and promoting the press fall on you. And if your press's structure resembles a co-op of volunteers (like Medusa's Muse), then the more likely it is that your publishing plans will have to be revised numerous times. You will chose a launch date, only to have that date postponed by family emergencies, illnesses, financial problems and unemployment. Equipment will break down you won't be able to fix and money that was going toward the print bill will have to be diverted to fixing your leaky roof. Throw in children, relationships, school and a day-job, and before you know it your tiny, struggling press will be in critical condition, making you wonder if it's time to cut off life support.

And that will be just you. You'll also have to contend with the other people who are donating their time to the book project and all of their messy lives and impossible schedules. Your copy-editor will decide to get a Master's degree and move away. Your designer will lose his day job, which should open up more time for him to finish the interior layout of the book, but instead he'll be forced to scramble for any type of work he can get, forcing your non-paying book job to the bottom of his priority list. Writers will take longer than expected to finish their revisions. And the person who said she would help with promotion and marketing will suddenly disappear. All of this will leave you desperately holding the project together. And when someone asks, "When's the book coming out?" you can only say, "Soon."

Soon? You need an actual date, but the designer can't give you one. Without a launch date, or a finished cover for that matter, you can't get the marketing campaign going and you can't tell the authors when they can expect the book to appear so they can promote it themselves. All you can do is wait.

And wait...

and breath...

and try not to yell at anyone...

Because everyone helping you publish this book is donating their talents for free. They don't have to do any of it, and without their help, you can't publish a book at all. Not with the budget you have.

This is the moment when you have to hold the dream tight and not give up. DIY requires obstinacy and imagination. You must be too stubborn to quit and have the imagination to find a way through the obstacles. DIY requires patience and hard work. It isn't easy, and anyone who tells you how easy it is to publish your own book is a scam artist. Lazy people won't last a month. If you're the type to give up when things get hard, don't even try DIY.

Luckily for my authors, I'm not lazy and I never quit. 

5 comments:

alpharat said...

I trust in your stubbornness. It's gonna happen...

Rick said...

i go the rough cover done, with the rough back copy, i got almost all the negatives scanned, and am working on it between jobs, hang in the dear, It WILL happen. soon, swear.

Crystal Jigsaw said...

I shall be looking for someone to publish my book in the near future. Hoping to have it finished by Easter, synopsis, edit. It takes time I know, but it's important to me. Thanks for this interesting post.

CJ xx

Melinda said...

I think you are amazingly gutsy, Terena. Anything worth having is worth working for and you've got what it takes. I can tell. ;0)

Thanks for stopping by my blog this week. Love reading your blog ... I always learn new things about the publishing industry.

Corrie Howe said...

I had a little taste of this when I tried to follow the advice of the experts in blogging for a business. I spent way more time on the business and not enough time on the blogging. I'm still trying to figure out how to earn some money from freelancing and it is a lot of hard work.

I admire all that you've done so far. It is a credit to your tenacity!!!