The debate over self-publishing versus working with an established press is always in conversation with various writing communities. At times, the final debate around the topic seems to end with a negative stigma regarding self-publishing as a lack of credibility or validation as an artist. However, it wasn’t until I met Edyka Chilomé that self-publishing can speak as a form of resistance against the systems that fall short when it comes to providing equity for writers of color.
I first met Edyka at the Macondo Writer’s Workshop (a home and workshop for Latinx, Chicanx and Indigenous writers, founded by Sandra Cisneros ) in the summer of 2018. Edyka was an energy full of light and fierce when her voice made itself known in front of a mic with an audience hungry to listen.
Edyka’s first book titled, She Speaks Poetry, is self-published, as she firmly believes the publishing industry continues to struggle with finding the balance between capitalism and making choices that best support their artists. Edyka was kind enough to offer more insight into her personal journey, reasonings and advice for self-publishing.
Photo Credit: Katherine Tejada
SpitJournal: Can you talk a bit about your choice in self-publishing over working with an independent or university press?
Edyka: First it’s important to note that like many young people of color, literature only became relevant to me when I discovered spoken word performance poetry. Similarly, writing a book only became real to me when I was told by a friend that as a dynamic performer with growing visibility, I could make a good amount of money if I had books to sell at my shows. I struggled with the idea of putting a barcode and price on my work but like any other broke person of color enamored by the possibility of financially sustaining their craft, I learned to respect the hustle. However, as a queer woman of color poet, waiting around for a white male driven industry to give me approval and permission to publish and most likely not pay me what I am worth was simply not appealing. Looking around for alternatives I also got the sense that small independent presses of color are often over saturated with eager authors and unfortunately barely keeping a float let alone turning a profit. After about a year and a half of research on the publishing game I quickly realized that if making money was a requirement for me than self-publishing was the only way I was going to see guaranteed immediate returns. Yet beyond the money, I also felt it would be important for me to invest in learning the process of producing a book. Controlling means of production in any industry is so important especially for historically colonized people committed to producing things that resist and counter mainstream narratives.
Edyka’s Indiegogo Video when raising funds for her book, She Speaks Poetry
SpitJournal: For folks interested in self-publishing, what advice would you offer? What’s the first step?
1. Create A Platform
People often don’t consume something they know nothing about. If people feel they know you and have watched you grow they will be curious about your work and will be more willing to purchase your book and tell others about it! I, like many other young people, enjoy actively building my visibility through social media, attending community events, building authentic relationships with other artists, actively seeking out professional networking and development opportunities like writers workshops, performances/readings, conferences etc. I did all these things before I even thought about publishing a book and it made it very easy to release a project on my own and do things traditionally publishers would be expected to do like setting up tours, cultivating relationships with press and/or bookstores, etc. The internet makes all these things accessible and more.
2. Build and Invest in Your Community
As a d.i.y artist you learn quickly that it takes a whole community to birth art! So as you are planting and watering the seed of your book, it is important to identify and surround yourself with artists that you respect and that understand your work. From potential editors, designers, visual artists, photographers, experienced published authors, community mentors, and hype people who are going to keep your energy high and get the word out, make sure to have cultivated relationships and open doors that will lovingly assist in the birthing of your project. This is especially important for the editing process of your writing!
Part of my team building was meeting and seeking mentorship from Filipino writer Bruce Reyes – Chow who advised me to crowd source for the production process of my book. It was important to me that I compensate women of color artists for their labor even if they were willing to do the work for free. So, I set up a campaign and exceeded my goal! Not only did this process show me how much my already existing community supported me and all the hard work I had already put in, but also kept me accountable to completing the project! I was grateful for that self-esteem booster and loving push! You can check out my fundraising page here.
3. Trust Your Work and Believe in Yourself!
Many writers I talk to are afraid of self publishing because they are insecure about their work and need a press to tell them they are good enough to publish and promote. Yet I also know writers who were picked up by presses and still suffer from the same if not more damaging insecurity or imposter syndrome. The reality is that we all question our work and wonder if it is worthy. I feel the difference for “successful” writers/artists is that they don’t let that insecurity stop them. Rather they ground themselves in the power of their craft and not the fragility of their pride or ego. My advice is to remember that writing is not a competition, it is a meditation that many of us fall in love with because at some point it has saved us from ourselves or the violence of this world. Many of us are moved to share the beauty of writing because we believe if it saved and enamored us it must also have the power to save and enamor others. Ground yourself in this intention and believe in your ability to be a vessel of that truth. Don’t let the competitiveness and insecurity drown out the magic that is much larger than you.
SpitJournal: Finally, to close out, can you name some of the benefits you’ve experienced with self-publishing your first collection of poetry?
Edyka: A primary benefit was the confidence to start and finish a project in which I had complete creative control and that was backed completely by my own community. This has given me an in-depth understanding of what goes into the production of a book and what is possible moving forward whether I decide to release another book myself or with a press. I learned a lot about giving ourselves permission to move forward in our work and to create alternative models for sustainability that don’t depend on others validations particularly in racist and heterosexist industries. Another benefit continues to be the financial profit from my work. I have been blessed to be able to pay rent off these books and continue to be proud to sell them myself to readers who support more than just my words but also my desire to move forward in my work on my own terms and with my whole heart.
Check out Edyka’s TedxTalk, “A Moving Perspective on Being an Indigenous American Today”