The Perils of Publishing

(Decisions, decisions …)

‘Why did you decide that you should self-publish the works in question?’ asked a friend — meaning the Pentridge memoir and related volumes I have planned. 

‘Did you send out manuscripts and get rejections?’ [No.] ‘Or was it more to do with not wanting to be edited by others? Or something else?’

Another expressed the opinion that self-publishing is, in practical terms, no more useful than vanity publishing these days and that my memoir (which she has read) ‘deserves better’.

Well, it’s like this –

One reason I decided to self-publish the Pentridge memoir and the spin-off chapbook is that I realised quite belatedly that I had prepared them that way — because I’m used to doing that. In recent years I’ve mostly self-published. Well, sort of. 

I had a great collaboration with a small publishing and design firm in America, run by online friends with whom I first connected through poetry. I was employed to do some editing work for them, and when I wanted to create books of my own, they helped with the practicalities of turning my manuscripts into ebooks. By which I mean they did all that technical work for me, and gave me the use of their imprint and ISBN numbers too. So it wasn’t exactly self-publishing; only that they trusted me to take care of editing my own texts. (I worked as a professional editor for them and others for a number of years.) 

But family reasons have forced my American publishers to scale down their business and they can no longer take care of me. 

Well, many self-publishers do all the practical stuff themselves; and I don’t want to pay the sort of fees charged by the various ‘assisted self-publishing’ businesses, so….

How hard can it be? I thought. I watched some YouTube tutorials; I picked the brains of friends who have successfully self-published in this digital era. And I felt daunted! (Even though those friends said, ‘If I can do it, you can.’) 

Then I looked up the Thorpe-Bowker Australia website, which is where to obtain ISBN numbers – and found several packages to make self-publishing easier, at very reasonable prices. Way to go!

Besides, I told myself, various Australian publishers I might try would have lists, and a volume with a niche market (even if accepted) wouldn’t be likely to go to the front of the queue. And they might want me to make it more sensational, for the sake of sales, whereas I’m still keeping faith with guys who trusted me way back then — who, when we produced the Blood from Stone anthology, insisted on being presented primarily as poets. I tell the truth in my memoir, but I don’t identify the prisoners, nor share stories that aren’t mine to tell.

Their pull-no-punches poems already told what they wanted to share with the world. And I’d very much like to re-issue Blood from Stone at this time. But that’s another problem. There are copyright issues. (Another reason to self-publish. I’m not sure an established publisher would wish to enter this murky water.) Legal advice is that, because of the 40-year time lapse, I would need to get the participants’ permission all over again. I have been able to do that with some, but most I’ve long lost touch with. I don’t even know how many are still alive. All the guys I knew would have been happy for me to republish them – but that was then, and people can change in unforeseen ways. 

There is a legal loophole: I can in good faith make every attempt to trace them, then publish and put a note in the book to that effect, even if I don’t succeed in finding them all. 

But how? A friend who is interested in this venture asked Correctional Services if they could help by at least finding records of the guys’ families at the time they were imprisoned. Correctional Services said they’re far too busy! (OK, one hears they are short-staffed, and they certainly have more immediate priorities.)

‘Bring me copies of the Melbourne papers,’ I told my son when he visited recently, thinking I could put notices in the Classifieds. He was pleased that he managed to find copies of The Age and Herald Sun when he was already at the airport. Hmmm, not the newspapers I remember — but I left Melbourne in 1994. Then I discovered they don’t contain classified ads any more!!!

How on earth do I try and trace people now? I haven’t found them on social media so far, or anywhere else online. If anyone has any suggestions….  The people who started the wonderful ‘Pentridge Voices’ have kindly advertised on my behalf, with no results yet.

I guess I’ll put an ad on social media next, in case anyone might happen to know the names. 

Meanwhile I have been having a short break in January, and will start the process of publishing the other books next month.

'Blood from Stone' cover © Allan Williams 1982.