The DIY Book and the Two Readings

When ‘Dear Father, I am Maria’ came out, the expectation was to give most of it away for free. I was under no illusion of it being a bestseller or a shelf-spacer for life. If it sells, it sells. If not, I won’t die fretting over it. It took me at least four to six weeks to get the book published.

 At first, I culled together all the poetry that were workshopped and edited from the past seven years. I was told by the printing company downstairs that they only print books that were forty pages front and back. I didn’t have enough poems so I added a short story that I readied for competition. Once I added all the other parts of the books (acknowledgement, table of contents, glossary, title page, etc), it was eighty plus pages. I wanted to have that typewritten feel to it (there was some nostalgic relevance on a first book) and found the font akin to that of a typewriter’s. I had to PDF everything as not to incur pagination issues. I dropped the finished PDFed book through google docs because it will take a large bandwidth if I were to send it as an attachment. I asked the printer to make a mock up to include a thicker paper for the title and back cover. I had the printer make six mock ups in order to get editors and prospective readers to look at the book again for feel, consistency, grammar/punctuation and stuff. Once I got the collective comments, I decided to do one more edit before I did a final final PDF. Once I was satisfied with the final one, I dropped it again in the google docs and told the printer to do fifty units. Each unit was priced at $13 each. I thought it was a fair price. I’d still be able to get the money I paid for each book if I do consignment with the stores at 60/40 split. The rest was history.

There’s no marketing budget and I thought the best way to sell it is talk to the bookstores around Berkeley, San Francisco and Chicago via consignment basis. This was the path I wanted to carve out and see where it goes. I wanted to learn the hard way. Ha ha ha ha. Yes, I am a glutton for punishment.  

Obviously, there’s a science to market and sell books in this industry and I am nonplussed that I didn’t do a lot of research (i.e., youtube, email comments from people who’ve been in the field, etc.) but because I wanted to experience the self-published route first before I started to write queries all over the places. When I went to City Lights Bookstore and Dog Eared Books, they told me that I have to go through book distributors. These are entities who deal with publishers that peddle books they’ve finessed through. What I filtered through the process is that of accounting and payment efficacy. In Chicago, I went to Women’s and Children First Books in Andersonville and they told me that they only sell local writers because it was easier to pay them. I didn’t go through the Amazon route. It wasn’t something I was sold on so I’ll leave it as that. So I wondered how self-published writers get their break with these little bumps that seem trivial in my own honest opinion.

So I went through social media. Hurrah! Great hurdle here. The responses were wonderful, I’ve received buckets of congratulations here and there. I’ve met with friends and family whom I gave the books to and signed, of course. Some asked where the books are available and have had to direct them to three bookstores in the East bay and in San Francisco. I made it a habit of visiting the bookstores yet the books are still there. Oh well. That’s what you get on being passive aggressive about marketing and making yourself known out there. But hey, nothing learned, nothing gained.

Then I got invited to do two readings. My mentor and former Berkeley City College Poetry instructor, Sharon Coleman, invited me to be part of the September 2019 Lyrics and Dirges lineup of readers as well as being the Milvia Street Journal reader at the 17th Annual Berkeley Poetry Festival in the same week. The Lyrics and Dirges reading got me all SCARED. I practiced reading the two-three poems I wanted to read out loud and that was that. I’ve done public speaking before and will assuredly be ready for the event. So when it was my turn to read during that fateful night, a certain poet sat in front of me that made me nerbiyos. She is no other than Barbara Jane Reyes. That onset of dread that I will screw up reading my poems started. You see, Barbara Jane is one of the pre-eminent Pinay poets/writers in the bay area. I’ve heard of her, I’ve read her books, Diwata and the Invocation to Daughters at least twice so when I saw her right IN FRONT of me that night, I almost turned into puddle. I felt I read my poems too fast. My friend Yoke Tee told me that I needed to ENUNCIATE all the way to the end of the words I read. Sigh! Mind over matter. It happened. Move on and learn.

I was more prepared at the Berkeley Poetry Festival. We were at the 5th Floor Student Lounge. This time, I was reading along with the poets and writers who’ve been writing for more than a lifetime. I was in awe. Poem after poem, presenter after presenter. They all have had their growing pains, their success and failures. When I read my poems, I was composed, steadfast and aimed to breathe more life into the words I’ve spoken that time. As I listened to the poets who read their pieces, I felt a surge of pride swelling from my heart to the tips of my hair. Nanette Deetz, this year’s festival honoree, said in her acceptance speech that the creative community embraced her when she moved to the Bay area a single mother and child in tow. They were inspiring and nurturing. I am hoping that will be the case for me as I will be doing the same to someone new here. Though we may compete for the same pot of recognition or think that other people will swipe our livelihood away from because they were better than us, there’s a strong sense of community here. I’ve seen poets and writers helped, nurtured and encouraged each other so that we have a bigger voice. I would like to be a part of that community. To be humble and human. It was a wonderful, inspiring day.

Thank you so much, Sharon!

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