No money… no matter. Publish anyway.

Publishing doesn’t have to be like this anymore

Just for starters, this post is NOT about how you don’t really need money, that it’s the root of all evil, and if it would just go away, we’d all be fine and dandy. I don’t believe that at all. I just want to make a point.

Sometimes you can do things, even if you don’t have a ton of money. And/or you can do things for extremely low cost — and do just as good a job as you’d do if you had extra bucks to spend on it.

Case in point: independent publishing.

Back in the day, before and Amazon self-publishing and iUniverse and XLibris, and all the print-on-demand shops got going, I had a little indie publishing company in Santa Rosa, California. At least, that’s where the post office box was. And that’s where the Kinko’s was (remember them), where I produced my books.

It wasn’t a huge deal of a company. I published a handful of titles – mostly poetry and one novel. None of them garnered industry praise or made it into the limelight, but in those days when you still had to deliver digital files to printers who would then return bluelines to you (remember them?), and you had to have all your page counts divisible by 8, so the signatures would all be correct, I was able to publish my books on almost no money, and they could hold their own, production-wise, with lots of other indie published books which actually had budget behind them.

Heck, in some cases, my design and print quality actually exceeded that of folks who went the usual print-publishing route.

Basically, all I really needed was a good page layout and cover design, a decent typewriter (remember those?) with uniformly dark type, and some time. That, and an hour or so at the self-service copiers at Kinko’s.

For the poetry books, I could pull it off with a typewriter — type up all the poems in two columns on a landscape-oriented sheet of 8-1/2×11″ pure white copy paper, then cut the pages down the middle, arrange the pages so that they were in the right order for double-sided copying, join the sheets down the middle with wide white-out tape, and then head over to Kinko’s, run a master set of pages, clean up any extra little specks with some liquid white-out, and run however many copies I needed of each book. I’d run some copies of the cover on the heavier cardstock I had. Then I’d collate, fold and staple them, trim the edges with a ruler and exacto knife, and voila — a chapbook of poetry, between 12 and 36 poems. Sweet. And my page counts could be divisible by 4, not 8, which made things much easier.

I only needed to copy as many as I needed at any point in time, because I could go back anytime and make more sets. I didn’t need to carry inventory, I didn’t need a chunk of change up front. That was print-on-demand before the massive infrastructure we now have was in place. And compared to a lot of professionally printed books and journals I saw, I did as good a job as they, if not better.

I was up and running for a couple of years, then closed up shop to move East again.

Since then, I’ve continued to publish my own work — but now with all the digital technology, it’s possible to get a manufactured book without needing to pay up-front costs. Very cool. At the same time, I do miss the old days of just making up my own books at a fraction of the cost of those manufactured versions. And I miss the hands-on aspects of extreme self-publishing.

I may go back to doing it again, actually. There is something so satisfying about producing a hand-made product, and hand-made doesn’t need to mean lower quality. Some part of your spirit goes into a creation that you make with your own hands, in ways that a manufactured item cannot capture.

Over the course of my life, I’ve known a lot of authors who have longed to be published. Some have gone the self-publishing route with “vanity” publishers or the print-on-demand folks. Others have gone the DIY route, making their copies at Office Max or Staples, as needed. Still others have decided that they weren’t going to be able to publish, because they didn’t have the money to “do it right.”

That’s perhaps the most unfortunate reason I’ve ever heard people saying they would not publish. Because they need to meet some sort of standard, which they believe is out of reach for them because of money.

Case in point, I was having dinner with a group of friends many years ago, when I was doing a show-and-tell about a book I’d just put together. One woman at the table mused about wanting to do the same, and I said, “Well, you should.” She shrugged her shoulders and dismissed the idea, saying basically “Well, you have a good job, so you have money and access to resources I don’t.” I was taken aback, because the exact opposite was true — I had cobbled together all the different parts of my book from scratch, for very little cost. I probably could have published it even if hadn’t had a good job, or I’d had very low income to rely on.

I tried to explain, but I was cut off, and the conversation switched to a different topic.

It’s sad, really. There’s a ton of things we can do, if we give it some thought and we get creative about what’s possible. The Maker Movement is about that – at least in part. And it goes back much farther than this modern movement. People have been doing this sort of DIY thing for eons — before we all believed we had to have money to be happy and realize our fondest dreams and ambitions.

So, if you’ve got a dream of being published, but you have no money available, give it some thought. It’s not that difficult to make your own book for very little money. And it’s not that hard to let people know about what you’ve got to give.  Heck, if you want to go the ultimate cheapskate route, get a WordPress account and blog till you’re blue in the face. It’s free. And you can get amazing reach. Or, keep it simple and do the Facebook thing, if that’ll meet your needs. I’m not advocating one or the other, I’m just saying, publishing online is fast, it can be simple, and it can be free — not counting the time you invest in writing quality (let’s hope) content.

For that matter, if you have other dreams, but you’re short on cash, you can probably think of some alternative ways to make those dreams happen. You may need to adjust your plans a bit or change the scope of your project, but you don’t need to give up on your ambitions for lack of cash. And chances are, you don’t need to sell your soul to make your dreams come true. (Although plenty of people think it’s worth that price to do so. Maybe it is, sometimes…)

If you’ve got a dream, motivation, energy, and the ability to sustain your interest and attention for longer than 15 minutes, I’d bet good money you can make it happen.

So, what are you waiting for? Stop reading this and go do it!


About Kay Stoner

Inventor, coder, ux designer. Writer and independent publisher.
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