Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Guest blog: Self-Publish Your Writing! by Michael Lydon

Here’s a word to wise writers:
Sounds so good, let’s say it again:
Self-publish, self-publish, self-publish!

The bug bit me in 1990. I heard someone say “desktop publishing” and I flipped. I’d been writing for two-plus decades and had three books on pop music out from big time publishers. Now I wanted to write about writing. But how could I, with no track record in the crowded field, get a deal? The answer: no way in hell.

That’s when “desktop publishing” came to my rescue. Now I didn’t have to wait for some company to give me their seal of approval. I’ll make little books of my essays all by myself. All I needed was a computer. Which, in 1990, I didn’t have. Fortunately my big brother Peter in California did, and he typed my eighty-five-page typescript into a DOS IBM file and mailed me the floppy disc.

That I took to a computer storefront where, for $5 an hour, I sat in before a green screen with yellow letters and formatted my masterpiece, flipping the page setup from portrait to landscape and setting the margins to make a 7 by 4 inch text block on the left hand side of the page. When printed, those sheets became my page proofs Making the “signature,” the mock-up book that showed me how to lay out the pages, I found tricky: it turned out that page 12 had to be pasted up opposite page 61. That gave my brain a definite twist, as you’ll see when you do it yourself.

That’s why I encourage you to self-publish: DIY is the best learning experience in the world. Every step I’m outlining so swiftly—picking out a color for the cover (I went for bright yellow), watching the machine disgorge the pages, then holding the first copy of the beautiful finished book—will be a richly creative experience. You’ll get nervous, make mistakes, and tear your hair, but you’ll also laugh out loud, do triumphant little dances, and glow inside: “I did it, by George, I did it.”

In two decades I’ve made fifteen such books. None of these “messages in a bottle” have yet floated into the hands of a critic who writes the review that sets me on the road to glory, but I’ve had one signal success: a university press discovered and published Writing and Life, the first book with the yellow cover. If Writing and Life had come in as a typescript, the editor never would have looked at it. The cheerful homemade book made him think, “Hmmm, this could be interesting.”

Recently, at a Manhattan bookstore, I’ve found a dreamy Rube Goldberg device called the Espresso Book Machine ( to find one near you) that will accept a properly formatted flash drive and then, click-click-click, create a gorgeous perfect-bound paperback with a four-color cover in five minutes. Two bright young staff women answered my FAQs and helped me over beginner’s hurdles. Basic charge: $100 for set-up and first trial copy; after that I got one revision and as many books as I wanted at two cents a page; any trim size I pleased. Hard to believe, but it’s true; I’ve done two books there already, the 71 pp Now What? and the 270 pp Real Writing.

The other book-making writers I meet at the Espresso Book Machine are, like me, tingling with the priceless pleasure of declaring our independence, speaking and acting and investing with a belief in ourselves and what we have to say.

Self-publishing pays more than spiritual benefits. The E-era is creating upheavals in the writing marketplace; no one knows where tomorrow’s bestsellers will come from, who’s going to write them and who’s going to publish them. So, c’mon, take your beloved masterpiece out of that desk drawer, spend a dozen hours editing and formatting it, put a few hundred bucks into making fifty copies, place them on consignment at a local bookstore and send out an email blast to everyone you know. If you’re lucky and this leads to that and that leads to this, you’ll have a little Amazon hit on your hands.

Or not, in which case your unsold inventory can answer your what-to-give-Auntie-Jessie-for-Christmas questions for years to come. Either way, you’ll reap the greatest benefit of self-publishing: the good it will do your writing.

Books have a magic that loose-leaf sheaves of paper do not. Being in books changes writing. Their stiff covers define, enclose, isolate, and protect writing. Their close laid lines of type, justified right and left, give writing a bolder visual image than the raggedy wide open spaces of a double-space typescript. Balzac rewrote his novels not by editing manuscripts, but by scrawling all over printers’ galleys: only in print could he see what he did and didn’t want to say.

So write with the goal of reading your words in a book, and your writing will improve. Make a book, and you’ll nourish your writing by linking to the ancient history of books. A book’s modest self-assertion, its age-old structure of numbered chapters, its calm procession of pages from the title to “The End”: all will suggest to you words and phrasings that will make your prose or poetry more plain, personal, and persuasive.

Don’t be a perfectionist, especially on your early efforts. Get your first book done however cock-a-hoop it comes out. Then put all you learned to work on number two, and number three, and number four, and….

Michael Lydon runs Franklin Street Press, initialy founded as Patrick Press in 1990. Franklin Street Press is a small company based in New York’s bustling East Village. Lydon is CEO, chief writer, book designer, and cook and bottle washer. Ellen Mandel photographs, edits, and proofreads. Peter Lydon, Michael’s elder brother, consults from his home in Berkeley, California. Michael is also a musician, singer-songwriter, whistler extraordinaire, and a writer of critically acclaimed books.


  1. In today's publishing world, it is very important to be informed on a subject like self-publishing. Like anything, if you are going to do it, you need to do it right and be committed to it. Thanks for sharing this information.


  2. Loved this: "The priceless pleasure of declaring our independence, speaking and acting and investing with a belief in ourselves and what we have to say."

    Loved reading this! The more I listen -- the more I hear great things about self-publishing.

  3. Self-publishing looks more and more intriguing every day! And not just because it's a way to get published if the traditional route isn't working for you, but because of the creative control you have. You can create a book that conforms to your vision - not someone else's.

  4. A very good explanation on getting starting with self publishing. I'm wondering what comes next? I mean, what do you do with these gems?

  5. Very Good Article, you took me to some nice days in history, I have a great formula for bloggers, always the content is the king. Thanks
    book editor