I’m a poet. Okay, I trained as a journalist and have worked as an associate editor for four national magazines. I’ve heard all the jokes and stereotypes about poets, so I didn’t have the courage to call myself one until I was 33. I was a new mother who had seen enough late nights, early mornings and yellow baby poop that it didn’t matter anymore if everyone laughed at me when I told them how I was going to try to make a living.
I don’t make a living writing and publishing poetry books, but it makes me a life. It’s a large part of what brings me joy every day. As a work at home mother, I make some pretty good ‘college fund money’ (for my daughter) and ‘shoe money’ (for me) reading poetry and speaking about being a poet, selling printed and recorded poems to international text book companies, and writing a freelance column for my alma mater magazine, the Queen’s Alumni Review.
None of that would have happened if I hadn’t chosen to self-publish my first poetry collection as a Print on Demand (POD) book with Lulu.com in 2008. I chose Lulu and POD because it was inexpensive and environmentally friendly. I’d been sending out my manuscript to Canadian publishers for many years with no luck. I wanted to touch more people with my words, and do something worthwhile with any money my poetry could make.
Where the Butterflies Go has since sold in paperback in at least 10 countries that I know of, and because I decided to give half the proceeds to UNICEF, it has given four children educations and helped pay their teacher’s salary for a year. These are kids who otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend school. My company, Graceful Publications, has also been able to donate pencils to an entire school four times since 2010. When I realized my poetry could make that kind of lasting change in the world, I kept going.
POD has opened doors to even greater opportunities. WTBG and Leap, my second collection of poems and colour photographs, were selected by Lulu (at no cost to me) to become some of the first Canadian poetry ebooks in the iBookstore. Last summer and again in the fall, they ended up hitting #1 and #2 in Bestselling Canadian Poetry in iBooks. I shopped my third poetry manuscript around, and a small but impressive traditional publisher (who use POD to cut costs and be environmental) in California signed me on. Carry On Dancing was #1 in Bestselling Canadian poetry on Amazon.ca and the #1 or #2 Hot New Release in Canadian Literatuare on Amazon.com for most of April 2012, the month that I turned 40. Quite the birthday present!
Would I change anything if I could go back in time? Do something differently? Sure. When, at a party, someone asked me what I did, I’d have introduced myself as a poet a whole lot sooner. Because I’m a poet.
Heather’s first collection, Where the Butterflies Go, will be free for your Kindle Thursday June 21 to Saturday June 23 (at midnight).