In Fine Whitemanesque Self-Publishing Tradition

Jamie Dedes
Dec 14, 2019 · 3 min read

To self-publish or not: an important consideration.

Public domain photograph of American poet Walt Whitman (1819–1892) This image was made in 1887 in New York, by photographer George C. Cox. The image is said to have been Whitman’s favorite from the photo-session; Cox published about seven images for Whitman, who so admired this image that he even sent a copy to the poet Tennyson in England.

Self-publishing came up in conversation again with someone who dismissed it as “pure vanity.” I don’t think that’s always true. I think there are times when it’s the best decision a writer or poet can make.

To self-publish or not: it’s an important consideration. Some people are against it. They seek agents and publishers. We can’t blame them. There’s validation and credibility there. Maybe though, we should weigh our circumstances and the nature of our book before making a decision.

I have an elderly friend who has struggled for years to get a book published by an academic press. She’s a good writer and it’s a good book, expertly researched. Because her subject will appeal to the unique interest of a narrow population, an easily targeted audience, I suspect she might find her perspective readers and they her without too much trouble. This would bring her enormous pleasure and no doubt would please her prospective audience as well. As it is, she’s not open to self-publishing. The gift of her book is languishing in a file drawer where, given her circumstances and the nature of her book, it is likely to stay.

No matter how we feel about self-publishing books and those publishers we once called “vanity press,” one thing’s for sure, if we are blogging, posting our poems on Medium and on Facebook, we’re already self-publishing. And why not? If we don’t believe in ourselves, who else will? (I rarely post a poem to Facebook, not because I think it’s bad but because the visual aesthetic — or rather lack of — doesn’t appeal to me.)

Frontispiece from Common Sense first edition, 1776

We writers have long and principled tradition of self-publishing that didn’t wait for blogging technology or Amazon self-publish, CreateSpace or Lulu. The American poet Walt Whitman (1819–1892) and the first edition of his Leaves of Grass always comes to mind when I think of self-published work. There’s the English-American “pamphleteer” — Thomas Paine (1737–1809) — who anonymously self-published Common Sense, an American pro-independence monograph. It was a best-seller in its day.

Self-publishing is a tradition that spans the globe and started long before Paine and Whitman. Self-published books have been known to sell well, to get picked up by publishers and to win awards. My only suggestion would be to find a good editor to work with you. We all need an editor — a second set of eyes — to ensure logic, flow, and accuracy.

Newstand Chapbook illustration by J.C. Leyendecker circa 1899, Public Domain.

The women and men at their devices …
In fine Whitmanesque publishing tradition
Put out newfangled electronic edition
A word symphonic record to leave behind
Carefully tweaked, tempered and timed
Baring witness to love, history, and crime
All good-natured, well-reasoned, and rhymed


The Self-publishing Hall of Fame

Jamie Dedes

Written by

A freelance writer, poet, content editor, and blogger. I manage The BeZine and The Poet by Day, an info hub for poets and writer.

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