i self-published a poetry book that sold 20,000 copies (a self-pub how-to)

hi my name is Savannah and this hair is

a choice

so a few years ago I self-published a

collection of poetry called graffiti

which I just so happened to have right

here and it went on to do pretty well

and I get asked often how that sort of

came to be I asked you guys on Instagram

what you wanted to know about the

process and the sentiment was mostly

like just all of it so I'm gonna do an

overview of the whole logistical process

start to finish and then address some

more specific questions at the end but

yeah let's get into it so I've been on

YouTube since 2011 my god and graffiti

came out in 2016 so at this point I

already had an audience I wanted to

mention that because some of the things

I'm going to say that I did might not be

the wisest thing for someone without an

audience to do I think most of the

things I'm gonna talk about are still

like relevant and even if you have a

small audience like everything applies

to you that was one of the questions I

got asked most often if the fact that I

already had an audience helped with the

success of graffiti and the answers for

sounding the yes and I actually have a

lot of problems with this guy oh look at

there when we get there though this is

actually the second edition of graffiti

and some of the problems I had with the

first edition were resolved with this

hopefully I'll get across that regrets I

had with this whole process so you don't

make the same mistake so the first thing

I want to say and it feels like I

shouldn't have to say it but I do finish

your book you must you must do this

first I get so many messages from people

especially young writers who are so

excited about their book and getting it

published and they want to have a book

published for their 20 and it sold very

fast and exciting and I'm like that's

great do you want to get an agent doing

a self-published what do you want to do

and more often than not they have not

finished the book yeah I implore you I

beg if you don't set in arbitrary age

cutoff or try and publish a book as

quickly as you can it will prove so much

more valuable to you that instead of

having a good book for an 18 year old

you just have a good book right but your

time and effort into making what you've

written as good as it can be first

before you even think about published

but for real that was one of my biggest

regrets about graffiti I felt I had

rushed it and in that same vein I didn't

get a professional editor ah I had

friends read it over for me and give

input and some changes were made as a

result of that input but honestly they

were probably just being nice and I

think maybe there's something charming

about the fact that it all feels a bit

untouched my thought process was that I

wanted it to be like a direct

continuation of the stuff I've done on

YouTube and some poems from YouTube were

in the book so I didn't want those to be

changed too much but it doesn't matter

having an editor would have improved

everything about it and throughout this

I'm gonna mention things that will cost

you money and getting a professional

editor is one of them but it's also the

most important I think so if you're

gonna spend money on some things had to

be editing the book is finished it's

edited the words you've written are the

best they can possibly be you're ready

for it to be a real thing time to enter

the wonderful world of typesetting

typesetting process is what takes just

like the words in your word document and

assembles them into what looks like an

actual book a graffiti I do this myself

through a program called book write hi

I'm Carly class and I just created my

own book not sponsored it basically

gives you the layout of what it will

look like printed and then you can paste

and arrange everything page by page this

is the thing that you can pay someone to

do for you if you plan to do it yourself

I caution you study the books you want

yours to look like the fonts are

important margins are important the way

it's arranged as important all the text

and the first edition of graffiti is

centered ooh what's wrong with me you

need appropriate page numbers table of

contents frontmatter that was one of the

things I had to learn about the

frontmatter is one of the first pages in

a book with all the copyright

information and like legal jargon you

need that and then it was around this

stage in the process that I hired my

illustrator his name said stop them he's

an amazing artist we already sort of

casually knew each other so I sent him I

think a Facebook message and I was like

hey I've got like 25 poems that how many

I'm just

I have like 25 poems that need

illustrations would you be up for it he

said yes I really didn't have anything

specific in mind I sort of handed him

over the document and I was like just

sort of whatever doodles come into your

head for each one because I didn't want

like elaborate illustrations I really

just wanted them to be sort of sketchy

he came back with a bunch of options and

they were perfect yeah I was really like

stress-free collaboration I paid him pay

artists kids so from there I played

around with illustrations in the actual

book there wasn't a whole lot of rhyme

or reason to it again I looked at books

that I liked the layout of I also got an

ISBN around this time and ISBN is the

numbers in the barcode on the back of

every book you'll need fun the process

changes depending on what country you

live in it will also change appending

upon how you're actually self-publishing

so if you're doing it like hard mode

like the way I am doing it then you need

to get one yourself I had to pay for


he was like 90 pounds in the UK but if

you're publishing through like Amazon

KDP then I think they automatically

provides you with one I might be wrong

but I might be right so that's another

potential cost to think about you're

also gonna need a cover this is another

thing that unless you yourself are

really good at design you shouldn't do

it yourself because I was already

working with an illustrator I just had

to design the cover from you but there

are so many great cover artists online

so don't skimp out on that I know I just

threw a lot at you so here's a breakdown

of things to consider some of the prices

are just estimates via Google but they

should be a good starting point


so now you've got a finished PDF it's a

beautiful cover to cover we're going to

print nerds this isn't hard if you're

publishing through like Amazon's

publishing service for example such

probably safe graffiti is now only on

Amazon it's print-on-demand so there's

no like print runs it's just whenever

someone buys it it's printed and it gets

sent and that's the best option for a

lot of people because it means you don't

have to drop a bunch of money upfront

unlike a whole print run but as a result

of that also because when you publish

through Amazon you're also using like

their fulfillment their warehousing

customer service etc etc they take a

pretty big cut through royalties for the

sake of the video I figured I should

give you some actual facts and figures

here some real hard-hitting stuff on

Amazon I sell graffiti for $9.99 and I

earn sixty percent in royalties less the

cost of printing which means I earn 429

per book but I didn't want to publish 3

Amazon the first time around I quite

frankly thought I could do a better job


so I worked directly with a printing

company in the UK I contacted them I

said hello I'm 19 I'd like above are

incredibly kind and helpful they sent me

out a bunch of samples of books they've

done in the past to get an idea of like

what I wanted like the finish of my

cover and the pages the size of the book

so actually my first proof copy of 50

was way too big it was like I don't even

know what I was thinking not just the

size of the book itself but like the

text was too big so then at that point

actually have to go back into book write

adjust the whole thing I eventually

settled on an iteration of it I was

happy with the first edition was

actually hard to cover I ended up with a

cute little prototype and I was like

okay I guess let's let's do it so I was

gonna put like another title card here

but these two things are kind of like

elated so maybe just half a title card

with the printing company I worked with

I had the option to do prints on demand

but it's just more profitable to buy a

bunch of books and bold cuts

you've guessed it it's also much more

expensive so at this point in my life I

was at school I was at university I had

no money zero money and paying three

thousand pounds for the first print run

of the book was just not possible so I

up setting up pre-orders I mean you know

how pre-orders work but it was like the

book came out in March I think it was

February and I'm like you won't get the

book until like March end of March and

you can pre-order it and that way not

only was I able to get a better idea of

how big the printer I needed to be but

also I had money to pay for the print

run in the first place and this is one

of the things I was talking about at the

beginning that if you don't already have

an audience I don't think this is the

way to go even though like I said print

on demand is less profitable there's way

too much risk and putting a bunch of

money towards the printer on I sold the

books myself through Big Cartel which is

just like an online storefront and I had

the brilliant idea that with the

pre-orders I said here's your pre-order

incentive I'll sign all the pre-orders

and I am so happy and thankful that this

happens now at the time I was still

happy and thankful but it was also a lot

I think it was like in the first two

weeks ended up selling 2,500 books in

pre-orders you don't know what 2500

ebooks looks like until you see 2500

books so the story of this is again I

was at uni I was in a tiny little dorm

room I think it was like a Friday and I

get a phone call at 7 in the morning

from my University's head office there's

a man on the phone who sounds very

frantic and says you have a pallet of

books here for you and I asleep I'm like

oh all right so I hang up and I'm sort

of slowly coming to and I'm like I

should go so so I run outside in my

pajamas there's a man large truck pulls

out two pallets of books drops them on

the curb says here you go goodbye and

then leaves and so again there were

2,500 books there are about 40 books in

a box 40 books is heavy by myself I

think it took probably two hours to get

all those books into my flat my room it

was literally just I had a little trail

there was one to my desk and then one

out it was craziness so not only did I

have 25

books but because I was signing them and

shipping them out myself I also needed

2500 envelopes you don't know what 2500

envelope so I already had all the books

and then the envelopes come and there

they're bigger boxes because I am below

they're bigger and I stack them up and I

think I had one stack that went all the

way up to my ceiling it was a fire

hazard it was bad so then began the

process of shipping them all out thank

God I had burped to help me it took it

took a month and we were doing it

everyday I would load my biggest

suitcase up with as many books as I

could and the closest post office was in

the town center which was a bus ride

away so I had to take the big suitcase

onto the bus and I go to the post office

- silly guy guys it's me breeziness and

I honestly don't know how we managed it

I actually halfway through got the worst

flu I think I've ever gotten it was

awful but then I was like I still need I

need to go I need so like there's people

waiting for their books so one day I was

totally bedridden but then it was the

next day I'm like I have to get up so I

went to the post office and huh looks

like fainted on the bus but anyways what

I'm saying is distribution is definitely

something to think about if you're

getting it if you're working like

directly with a printing company and not

just through Amazon who will do it for

you so that's when I moved to my

printers also has like a fulfillment

center so at that point it would be like

every week I'd send out the list of new

orders to them and then they'd send them

off for me but even with that burden

lifted I was still selling them myself

so I still was getting the orders

together replying to emails sometimes

people wouldn't get books so then I made

the decision to move to Amazon and

exclusively and yeah I'm happy I did

that I literally don't have to worry

about it at all it just lives up there

and if people want it then they can get

it and yeah as far as I'm concerned at

this point in graffitis lifespan I think

that's the best place for it okay I

think that's a pretty good like base

level overview of everything so now this

will just be a self-publishing Q&A


so again there were a lot of questions

that were basically like can you do this

without an audience it's not wise to to

publish a book and just throw it into

the void and expect people to look at it

but I don't necessarily think you need a

huge audience and obviously there's

outliers where people got really

successful basically on accident and to

be honest the landscape has changed so

much that I'm not even sure how people

build audiences anymore I know for me

YouTube was the reason the whole thing

happened I've seen people be really

successful on Instagram I think the

thing that connects people who are

successful on social media is that

they're consistent we have to be

completely honest I think you do need at

least like the semblance of an audience

just so you have a foundation to build

from doesn't self-publishing lead to you

not being perceived as a serious writer

in some ways I mean yes but by [ __ ]

soulless tree has always been a really

hard sell and this is changing to the

point where there's whole publishing

companies created around like selling

Instagram poetry totally unrelated if

you're interested in this my friend

Ariel did a documentary about Instagram

poetry for her masters and it's really

good so I'll link it in the description

the traditional routes publication which

is getting agents picture book to

publishing houses hope one of them buys

it for poetry that's always been less

successful self-published poetry has

always been a thing whether it's through

like actual mountains books more

commonly its zine which is a really

affordable way for sort of beginning

poets to have like a bound version of

their work I certainly don't perceive

people who self-published as like less

serve writers I just think the industry

is changing and it's not just poetry

there's some genres of fiction where

self-publishing is incredibly lucrative

as in like people are making seven

figures self-publishing like romance for

example most self-publishing sites look

so dodgy and they scare me

honey you recommend so why just that is

really all I know in terms of like

avenues yeah maybe in the comments

people can be more enlightening you can

always go the route of like contacting a

printer directly who I'm sure will be

happy to talk to you like I said mine

offered print-on-demand it just wasn't

something I wanted to do so yeah there's

definitely options I feel like we can

just cut out the scary dodgy middle

entirely having published and

self-published now which do you prefer I

have a novel that's traditionally

published if you don't know the best

part about that is that I'm a writer and

that's the main thing I do and as soon

as the writing is finished then that's

the extent of like my responsibilities

then with self-publishing you have to do

everything else - which you know can be

fun creatively because you really do get

to make it exactly the way you want it

at the same time I'm not a typesetter

I'm not like a proofreader I'm not a

cover designer I'm not any of these

things and I wouldn't really say I'm

good at any of those things I'm not sure

if there's one I like more for context

I'm working on another poetry collection

at the minute and I think I'm going to

self-published that one - someone asked

if I went self-published again and the

answer is yes this person asked do you

regret self-publishing we didn't help

lead to other opportunities I definitely

don't regret the act of self-publishing

like I said there were specific things

about the process that I wish I'd done

differently but as a whole I don't

regret like having done it at all

actually I know we were just talking

about like being self-published and then

going on to traditional publishing and

working against you I found the opposite

was true for me because graffiti had

done so well that actually worked in my

favor when we were pitching it to

publishers but would I self publish a

novel I don't think so

me personally someone asked how did you

decide to publish those poems rather

than waiting to write something better

my dude I am never completely happy with

what I make never so I think you have to

get to a certain point where you say I

would fiddle with this for the rest of

time if I could but you can't do that

because then you'll never put anything

out there after the first edition


and I had a little time away from it I

went back to it and I was like oh god I

would change a lot about this

so I basically gave myself permission to

do that and that's what became the

second edition of graffiti so I ended up

actually editing most of the poems I'd

say a lot of things about them

word choice punctuation it was

there are a lot of issues with

punctuation formatting so I worked with

that again and got new illustrations

done I wrote in introduction talking

about all of these things and actually

the margins looked a bit messed up so I

could come in and fix that yeah and I

really can't go back and read this

anymore for a couple of reasons first is

that I know there will be things I'll

want to change again and with the second

edition I basically told myself this is

it this is just how graffiti is gonna

live for the rest of its life after this

I don't want to change anything anymore

so that's the first reason and that

reading it might just be a special kind

of torture but secondly I find it kind

of embarrassing to be honest if you want

to do this like take writing seriously

you're right as a career that's what

you're signing up for that's what this

is especially when you're young

specifically when you're young even now

my brain isn't fully formed all the way

yet and the person who wrote this is so

different from me in so many ways and

because the way you write is so

intrinsically linked I think anyway as

to how you look at the world and how you

experience the world everything changes

your cadence your word choice your

subject matter your tone do I think you

should wait to write anything until your

brain this will be formed no absolutely


so just keep that in mind I get asked so

much about if I feel like this

represents me now

and it doesn't and the way I deal with

that is even though this is no longer me

it's not any less valuable and the

quality might be worse um but even then

I'm not sure that means it's any less

valuable because actually I think that's

exactly why people liked this people

liked this because here let me read back

to you these are poems about growing up

budding and grappling and shedding about

how wonderful it feels and how deeply

aches and I think that sums it up it's

so quintessentially teenage and that's

why I don't like a lot of the things

about it now but

that's also why for other people it

really resonates with that people cannot

just see themselves in the poems but see

themselves writing the poems you know I

think it feels really accessible is that

the secret to success maybe I don't know

I know it like the titles kind of click

fading it's like how I sold 20,000

copies or whatever when really this is

more just about like self publishing a

book so I'll try and give you some

nuggets of wisdom here like I said in

its immediacy it absolutely had to do

with the fact that I already had an

audience right it was it was my audience

buying it and that was it three years

later and I think people people get this

who don't know who I am and it's sort of

taken on a life of its own in that way

and I'm not gonna sit here and say it's

because it's really good but I think for

a lot of people it captured a time in a

place oh I forgot to mention to in 2016

this was a finalist and the Goodreads

Choice Awards in poetry and I think a

lot of people found it that way too when

they narrow down the finalists I think

it's only like five or six books and I

found a couple books that way where I'm

like what was the best in poetry or

whatever this year so I think people

found it through that too and I'm

incredibly lucky in so many ways and

when it comes to like a secret to

success I don't know really wanted this

to be like for the people who watched me

in my poems and like that was it and I

had never expected that it would go on

to do anything else so much of it is

luck I think I published it right around

when like the poetry boom was really

happening and people were really getting

into it you could say that was good like

business sense but really I think it was

just luck it's creating situations and

putting yourself in situations where

where good things can happen if you

wanted self-published then go for it

hopefully I've given you like workable

options I don't require you to like put

a bunch of money in something because I

would never suggest that you do that

we're coming full circle but back to the

beginning write a good book do your best

to write an amazing book cynically

there's lots of amazing amazing books

that don't get the recognition they

deserve but I also think as writers

that's the one part of the process that

we can truly control and I think that's

why I'm not like sitting here and giving

you marketing advice

because it'll it's all stuff that sounds

really great but self-publishing you're

one person and publishing houses have

tons of people and tons of money that

you just don't have when you

self-publish it's literally impossible

to compete so don't there's lots of

other resources on YouTube in terms of

like how to build an audience for

writers if author - that's a whole thing

that's a good rabbit hole - to get lost

in for a day if you're looking for more

information about this stuff but yeah

I've been filming for so long I don't

even remember what I said I hope some of

this was helpful I'm sure I missed out

tons of things so um obviously you can

leave questions in the comments and I'll

do my best to reply and hopefully offer

some insight again this was all very

like this was what I did and I got lucky

and it worked so it's hard to derive

from that experience like actual tips

and tricks that someone else can do

because really I don't even know how I

did it it's incredibly rewarding all

around I'm not sure I'd be at the place

in my career that I am right now if it

wasn't for graffiti so um for that I'm

incredibly thankful to it even though we

have our differences I'm still pretty

proud of this little guy so yeah I think

we're gonna call it a video thank you

guys so much for watching