How to navigate the world of self-publishing and find creative success on one’s own terms
Clarice Goetz, 26, is a writer, actress, director and recently published author of the poetry collection heart strings. She is currently living in Toronto, Ont.
Clarice Goetz told her herself that if she turned 25 and was still unpublished, she would take matters into her own hands. In February 2020, she hit that quarter-century mark and embarked on her self-publishing quest, right as the COVID-19 virus went global.
Navigating both the newfound constraints of a worldwide pandemic and the role of a publisher from the comfort of her apartment, Goetz found her on a journey that would cost both her time and money, but simultaneously would give her the outcome she’d been desiring for years: authorship.
“You don’t self-publish because you want to make a lot of money,” she laughs. “You do it because you believe in the story you’re telling.”
Goetz was generous enough to share her insight into the world of self-publishing, as well as how she manages to continue cultivating her creativity after a year spent inside.
THE IMPORTANCE OF LITERARY AGENTS
When shopping her manuscript around, she was faced with a lot of rejection. While some of it was constructive criticism —which Goetz says is the only judgement she’ll take into account— a lot of her inquiries went ignored. She recommends that young authors find a literary agent for this process, as many publishing houses won’t so much as glance at a manuscript delivered by an author without representation.
Finding an agent in the GTA is not difficult. The process usually includes sending in a piece of writing or a portfolio. Some local literary agencies include: Ballpoint Literary Agency, Westwood Creative artists, and The Bukowski Agency. Reputable agents will not charge any fees upfront, as their money is made through commission when their author signs a print contract with a publishing house (commission generally ranges from 15-25% of any earnings).
When Goetz decided to take on the mantle of publisher herself, she went with Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). This would allow her to publish paperback and ebooks at no personal cost. KDP is not a traditional publishing house. They work directly with Amazon to ship out an author’s book directly as it’s ordered, which was a big draw for Goetz as it had minimal impact on the environment and it covered shipping and handling costs.
KDP also permits its authors to buy their own books at a wholesale price, which allows them to distribute the books on their own. This provides bigger financial gain for the author as KDP is not taking a cut of their profits if they are not the primary distributors. Authors do have to cover shipping costs on their own, which can be costly.
A (WO)MAN OF MANY TALENTS
In becoming her own publisher, Goetz also became her own editor, distributor and illustrator. Some authors choose to hire professional artists to commission the illustrations in their novels, but it does come at a cost. Furthermore, it is prudent to work up a legally-binding contract between author and illustrator in order to determine profit sharing.
Most professional illustrators take a commission of about 15-25% of royalties, but if the book becomes highly profitable, it needs to be determined whether they will continue receiving royalties or if it is a lump sum. This is why some authors find it easier to become their own illustrators.
Goetz also says that authors have to consider printing fees. The more an author uses colour or large amounts of paint in their drawings. The higher the printing cost is going to be and the lower their profit margins will be. The reason why so many poetry collections feature line drawings in not because of a preference of minimalist style, but usually because of costs like these.
BECOMING A SELF-TAUGHT DESIGNER
Goetz says that it is a common misconception among young authors they have to be well-versed in Adobe programs in order to do design work on their own. Contrary to that belief, Goetz accomplished all of her design work without it.
Finding the InDesign interface hard to navigate, she used templates provided on the KDP website to adjust the margins and spacing on her pages. Her print layout was done using the Pages app on her MacBook and a how-to from the KDP website.
Her illustrative work was accomplished using a Wacom Intuos tablet (which retails for around $120). It comes with built-in design software. Goetz would draw her illustrations by hand on lined paper, scan those images to her tablet, bring down the transparency and trace the outline using an Apple pen to create a digital image.
It takes practice to learn how to use different brush sizes, pressure sensitivity and design mechanics. This is a tedious process, and authors must be willing to put in up to 100 hours of work if they are not going to commission a graphic designer.
Goetz found comfort in making art out of her rejection letters. She recommends finding catharsis in disregarding the negative things publishers have to say about one’s work.
“I only listen to constructive criticism, otherwise it’s of no use to me.”
“The first thing is to try to listen to your inner voice, because there’s a lot of advice that got thrown at me and sometimes it was hard to decipher until I’d had a little bit of life experience. That’s how you can determine how you actually feel about certain things,” she says.
“Trying to abstain from judgement of earlier work and allowing mediocrity is how you cultivate your skills as a writer.”
She recommends “showing up to the page every day,” and forcing yourself to write anything. She compares this to exercising a muscle, and how consistency builds strength.
But above all? Invest in an external hard drive. Technology isn’t perfect and it has the capacity to fail, so storing your work in more than one place is a way of remedying that.
After a year in confinement, Goetz turned to literature in order to continue cultivating her creative drive.
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron: “I’m working through it right now, actually. It’s a 12-week program for discovering or rediscovering your creative self that’s been repressed or blocked. At one point. it was considered a rite of passage for every artist, dancer, actor, or writer. I would say that it has something to offer for everyone, even those who aren’t creatives. I just found it to be extremely healing and helpful during this crazy year.”
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert: “She wrote ‘Eat Pray Love’, so she was already a famous author and she basically talks about creativity and ideas themselves. Her theory is that ideas and creativity and imagination are all in the weather, like figuratively above the world, and that we’re all like lightning rods waiting to be struck. So when you get struck with an idea, you can either run with that idea and turn it into art or you can sleep on it and not do anything and then that idea will go back up into the cloud and strike someone else. She backed it up with a bunch of anecdotes about this happening where she wanted to write a book about a specific thing and then she didn’t, and then someone else did it. It’s a really cool theory and quite motivating because the message is ‘just do the thing,’ the thing that is the creative project that’s on the back burner for you. Sooner rather than later, not because someone else is going to steal it but because it needs to be out in the world because the idea was brought to you.”
The Actor’s Life: A Survival Guide by Jenna Fischer: “She played Pam on The Office. I’ve turned to this book many times; it’s a great book for learning how to become an actor, but it also discusses perseverance and resilience as an artist. Read Chapter 4, which discusses perseverance, and then there’s a chapter at the very end called ‘Sharing the Brushstrokes’ which is a bunch of interviews with different actors on their journey to becoming an actor, but the difficult parts. There’s a lot of value in that book and I found it very encouraging and humanizing and humbling.”
heart strings is available for purchase on Amazon.ca.