In Fine Whitmanesque Self-publishingTradition

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. So here again, this piece from last year.  

To self-publish or not: it’s an important consideration. Some people are against it. They seek out agents and publishers and 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 and/or posting our poems 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 Sensean 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.


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

© 2016, text and poem, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved; frontispiece from Leaves of Grass (1883) and the cover of  Common Sense (1775) in the U.S. Public Domain; Newstand Chapbook illustration by J.C. Leyendecker circa 1899, Public Domain.


7 thoughts on “In Fine Whitmanesque Self-publishingTradition

  1. This made me smile because Leaves of Grass is the one book that goes on all my travels with Steve. He turns up beside the fire, in the tent, on the floor of the car in his rumpled wool suit and throws his amiable awe around our new experiences.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hoorah for Whitman!

    I am about to publish the final book of poetry for another writer under my Hub Editions imprint. I’ve had enough. Since 1990 I have hand-made over two hundred separate publications of my own and other people’s work. Bar two pieces of work, I would not consider any of it to be ‘vanity’ pressing. In all this work – more than ten thousand individual copies hand-made – I have only allowed my arm to be twisted twice to present work of which I did not approve; for that I charged far more than I would normally have done and, though the presence of an ISBN number on the dust jacket satisfied the writers’ vanity, didn’t actually send anything to the ISBN people (shhhh…) so the arm-twisters could only dispose of their books in their own way.

    All the rest, including my own work of course, was ‘…carefully tweaked, tempered and … All good-natured, well-reasoned, and rhymed…’ well, not rhymed in my case. I fine-tuned and edited where appropriate and in consultation with writers.

    I shall continue to hand-make my own philosophical & poetical ramblings under Hub Editions just in order to ‘get my house in order’ as Eliot said. In book form they look much more organised than perhaps they actually are. I have a pretty firm readership of around ten. Anybody can have a copy of any of my work just for the price of the postage…

    Liked by 1 person

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