How To Self-Publish Your Own Book | How I Made Chrysalism

By Lucy Harbron - 16:45

Did you know that you can just release a book? Cause I’m here to tell you that you can.

I definitely don’t celebrate myself enough and in a very typically Lucy way, I regularly forget about my proudest achievement. Every now and then the fact I released a book will come up in conversation and I find myself almost shocked at it, like oh yeah I did that. 4 years on it feels like such a distant memory but knowing I’m on a bookshelf somewhere still gives me a happy glow, that glorious bucket list tick feeling.

The story of Chrysalism is almost humorously simple. I’d always wanted to release a book, putting pressure on myself to do it before I was 18. One night sometime in March in my 18th year, I was talking to an ex about how sad I was that I hadn’t achieved it, and he just said ‘why don’t you do it now then?’. Living in Sheffield at the time, the city is a beautiful place for small prints, indie bookshops and zine fairs, so up until then I thought the only way to release something physical would be through a big time publishing house with an editor and an agent and all that. The idea of just making and print the book myself was never a thought let alone a possibility. But then someone told me I could do that, so within a month I’d done it and I think more people should too.

Self-publishing gives you so much freedom and control. Shrugging off traditional print and rejecting the idea that you need an external professional person to come in and help you know what’s best for your own work is really empowering. Not only do you have full reign over what going into the book, what you edit and how you arrange the pieces, you also open up a whole world of opportunity for aesthetics, letting you experiment with how you want your book to look and how you want your work to sit within it. When someone says ‘I released a book’ it sounds impressive and distant, but books are a collection of words on paper, and with a good printer you can make that.

Whether you write poetry, essays or prose, let me reiterate, you can release a book. Here’s how I did mine. 

#1 Pick your pieces

 The hardest part, it’s time to kill your darlings.

 As a small print, you don’t want your book to be massive. From the get go you want to be considering cost effectiveness of the amount it’s going to cost you to make vs the value it will have to your audience. For homemade zines you want to keep them compact, short and sweet will allow you to make the most beautiful finished product, so this can’t be your complete works.

When I was picking pieces for Chrysalism I was lucky enough to be on a creative writing course, so I limited myself to pieces I’d written and workshopped in class, knowing that these were probably my best works. I also forged a theme!

A theme is a great way to stop yourself spilling out, keeping your book sharp, consistent and cohesive. Maybe all your pieces come together to tell one big narrative? Maybe they centre around the same general theme? Maybe they flow through a journey like mine moved through the four seasons? Having a thematic guideline will make the process of picking and choosing easier and feel less painful. Mine was around 16 pieces split into 4 sections of 4. To help with this process, I also made a playlist to coincide with these four sections to definite the feeling I wanted each bit to have.

#2 Find a flow

Once you’ve got your content, you want to start jigsaw-ing them together. I think it’s important to consider that with it being a small book, some people might read it cover to cover, so having your pieces flow nicely is going to give it a good overall vibe and experience. You want to give people time to process one emotion before pulling them into another so give some thought to what you’re putting next to one another.

Once you’d done that, it’s time to start the official document. To sort the page folds, I just Microsoft Publisher but I better there’s some fancier software you could use instead.

#3 Make it pretty

Arguably the most rewarding part, printing the piece yourself gives you full control over how it looks. There’s so much scope to experiment on every level, from the formatting of your words on the page to the physical design of the book.

I’d start with the hardest bit, picking your typeface. I found this really hard because I’m super picky, but realistically all your typeface has to be is readable. Play around with different styles and formatting. For titles I expanded the space between letters which looks cool, and for my typeface I found one online that I downloaded so it was a bit more unique to me. Fonts In Use is an amazing resource letting you search for themes, eras, genres and even specific things like album covers or posters and tells you what fonts they used! If you book has a specific theme, maybe find a font to match.

Then comes the question of illustrations. While completely not necessary, a little something extra is a small way to make your book 100x more beautiful and precious. I was lucky enough to work with Natalie Friesem who illustrated my book, and I also put in scans of my notepad as I wanted a more personal touch. Remember it’s your book, you have full control to put whatever you want in there. Other things I considered including were my inspiration collages to match the imagery in the work, borders around certain works and handwritten titles.

For Chrysalism I also experimented with different paper sizes and textures, ending up wrapping the book in a thinner cover. I tried out things like printing images onto tissue paper or having different sized inserts, because once again, these are things you can do! Around the time I was going to a lot of zine fairs and spending a lot of time browsing little book shops for inspo simply to broaden my horizons away from the basic all A5 image of a book. So get yourself on Pinterest or order some other small print zines, and play around with it all. Once you realise that it’s all just folded paper, the opportunities become endless with a big world of colour, texture, paper thickness, paper sizes etc ahead of you.

#4 Buy supplies and set your price

Once you’ve decided on the look and feel, go out and buy your things. This is the point where you need to think about cost and sale price. Before I set out to buy a big bulk of materials, I made a prototype and started promoting the book, this will help give you an idea of interest to know how much stuff you should probably buy.

Get your paper, ink and any other materials you’ll need like envelopes and binding stuff, then do the math to figure out how much the book needs to be to cover production cost and (ideally) a little profit. For context, mine was £6.

#5 Bring it to life

After a couple of goes, building your baby will be an easy process. For me this was the best bit. Doing it all yourself means you personally get to interact with every copy, finishing them off with handwritten details like copy numbers and thank you cards. After the first couple, it becomes really lovely and rewarding, I remember settling down on evenings at uni to build the last couple and feeling so proud of myself.

Once it’s all sorted and formatted in your document, do a trial print run with normal paper to check your margins and everything are all okay. When they get your stamp of approval, production is good to go! Print them off, then use a strong ruler to help you get a crisp fold, put the pages together then leave the book under something heavy to flatten. To bind them, you can staple or I hand-sewed mine together in a string that matched the colour scheme.

And you’ve got a book. Congratulations.

Set up a Big Cartel or a Depop or a sales site of choice, spread the good word, ship off your sales. And you’re an author. 

Bucket list check, you did it.

ps. You can still read Chrysalism HERE

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