Light the Fires: Teaching Self-Publishing

self publishing fire-8837_640Greek-born philosopher Plutarch is credited with writing the timeless analogy: Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. I have always found that quote (in its many versions) to be inspiring, evocative, and true. Education in whatever form is not meant to be merely carried around like a donkey carries a load of books; it’s meant to be used, to create, to expand, and evolve into that which was not there before. At least that’s the hope.

Recently I had the opportunity to facilitate a workshop on self-publishing paperbacks using Amazon’s CreateSpace platform. I capped the number of students at twelve, wanting to keep the discussions intimate and responsive, and the class quickly filled up. It was a great group with lots of insightful questions and free-ranging discussions.

I was surprised by the variety of the projects. Being primarily a novelist, I just naturally think about writing fiction, but the majority of the class was working on other things: technical books, history, cookbooks, children’s books, poetry. The range was wonderful, although it did make my job a little tougher, considering all the needs of the different genres.

I love the fact that we can draw inspiration from such diverse sources. One woman, a dog breeder, found the names of dog kennels across the country to be fascinating, and she planned to chronicle the names with the kennels’ histories. One man used to work for the highway division in Alaska, and had collected hundreds of photos and stories of some of the daunting projects (and problems) up there over the years. Another woman wanted to create a family cookbook, setting down the recipes (and their stories) that had been used through the years. There seems to be no end to what we might write about, and no end to what readers might want to read, for I firmly believe that for every book written, there is an audience. The hard part is connecting them.

But the best part about this workshop? Lighting the fire in these peoples’ eyes. In their hearts. In their minds. Letting them know that yes, it is possible to self-publish. It is possible to see their dreams become reality. I brought several of my own books so they could see the range of results, see the quality of CreateSpace books, and imagine their own books similarly done. I strongly suggested to them that they spring for a physical proof of their books before they pushed the publish button, not only to give their work one final proofread before sending it out into the world, but also (holding one of my own books) so they could know the thrill of holding their first book in their hands. Having that first book arrive in the mail, seeing it for the first time, feeling the weight of it, fanning the pages, smelling the paper and ink — it’s like love at first sight. Nothing beats that. And nothing fans the fire more than that, knowing it truly is possible, and knowing that if you did it once, you can do it again.

Aside from writing itself, one of the best parts of being an indie is spreading the word that you, too, can self-publish. Encouraging. Supporting. Pointing out the way. Lighting that fire. Because once we light it, it will burn for lifetimes.

Author: Melissa Bowersock

Melissa Bowersock is an eclectic, award-winning author who writes in a variety of fiction and non-fiction genres. She has been both traditionally and independently published and lives in a small community in northern Arizona. Learn more about Melissa from her Amazon author page and her blog.

22 thoughts on “Light the Fires: Teaching Self-Publishing”

  1. Agree Melissa! I thought I could never self-publish either but have listened to great sites like Indies Unlimited to learn…I don’t think you can possibly ever learn everything, can you? And then when you think you do…it changes 🙂 You guys are such a great resource. Keep up the great work! Thanks so much for everything that you do!

    1. Thank you so much, Patrick. I tell you, it is a joy to be able to help others along this pot-holed road we travel. No, I don’t think we can ever learn it all, plus there are always about 10 different ways to do any one thing, so there’s no single “right” path. Half the fun is the destination; we just try to keep people from falling in the holes. Thanks for commenting.

  2. Yep, I enjoy doing it, too, for just that reason — although I inevitably also spend a little time squashing folks’ high hopes of instant riches and movie deals. (If anyone’s near Greenfield Massachusetts Dec. 5, I’ll be presenting Self Publishing 101 that morning at the library — and self-published authors are welcome to register to sell their books there, too, up to a limit of twenty authors. Check out the library for more info.)

    1. Good for you, Sandra. Yes, I generally tell aspiring authors that there are easier ways to make millions (like buy a lottery ticket), but I don’t believe there’s a more satisfying way. Hope you get a huge turnout for your class.

      1. When I lived in Minneapolis, a friend and I promoted a few small concerts (based on the concept of “house concerts,” although our approach was slightly different). By design, we didn’t make any money. He used to joke that “to make a small fortune in the music business, you have to start out with a large fortune.” I’m always pointing out how alike the publishing business is to the music business. People see the big money from the blockbuster authors and top 40 bands, but it turns out many of them aren’t as rich as you think and for every one who is rich, there are 10s or 100s (maybe 1000s) toiling away for pennies.

        1. Yes, I’ve been blessed with friendships with a fair number of musicians. Like us, most need a decent day job in the family to pay the bills. And touring gets old after awhile. (At least we’re spared that!)

  3. I agree, as well, Melissa. It’s wonderful to share this kind of information and see the enthusiasm it brings. I’ve thought about offering something similar at the library, here. What stops me is not believing I have enough expertise. maybe I need to rethink that.

    1. You know what, Yvonne? Maybe you can’t teach every single facet of every single phase, but you can teach what you know, what you’ve done, what you’ve learned. In my class, people asked, “What about this?” and I’ve said, “I don’t know–never done it. Never used it.” And it’s the truth. Obviously there are still lots of aspects to explore, and they can go do that. But I’ve given them the basics, and with that for a springboard, they can go forth and conquer.

        1. I was going to do that, but I didn’t trust my creaky old laptop to act nice, so I just printed out a paper copy of my major topics and bullet points that I then filled in with discussion. It worked.

        2. I’ve had good luck using Prezi — that way I can use whatever the library has that will actually work with their projection software by just logging into the internet. (And it pays to practice that early, too.) You never know what kind of connection you’re going to have.

  4. I wish I could have attended your workshop, Yvonne. I’ve tried to format my books using CreateSpace templates, but haven’t had much luck. Of course, I am “technically challenged.” It’s wonderful of you to share knowledge that will benefit other authors. 🙂

    1. Linda, interestingly enough, I have never used CS’s templates and I told my class that from the start. I just started out in Word and bugged it out on my own, have been using it that way since (only now it takes me about 15 minutes to format instead of hours). Since I learned it this way, I have heard the templates can be balky, so I’m just as happy that I do it from scratch.

      1. You bugged it out on Word? Well, I have to look for directions on how to do that, since those templates from CreateSpace could confuse a genius. Not that I’m one–far from it! 🙂

        1. I always copy and paste my manuscript into their templates. I’m too much of a wuss to reinvent the wheel and learn all that style stuff that Lynne teaches us LOL

  5. Melissa, what a great workshop. I’m sure you inspired a couple of writers to take the plunge.

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