Joining Orna Ross in this month’s #AskALLi Self-Publishing Poetry Salon is indie poet Lauren Lott, who will outline the steps she took to launch her first poetry book, The Remains of Burning. “Choosing between wounds and scars” is how she describes sorting out which poems would go into her collection.
- What went well?
- What will she do differently next time?
- What lessons can other indie poets take from her experience?
Lauren lives in Lake Macquarie, on the East Coast of Australia and is currently working on her second collection to be released in 2021.
Tune in for discussions on a different theme each month with a focus on developing prosperity for poets through community building and self-publishing.
Listen to the Podcast: Launching a First Poetry Book
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About the Host
Orna’s work for ALLi has seen her repeatedly named one of The Bookseller’s “Top 100 people in publishing.” She launched at the 2012 London Book Fair, after taking her rights back from Penguin in 2011 and republishing her books herself, with the titles and treatment she’d originally wanted. Orna writes award-winning poetry and fiction, runs a Patreon page for poets and poetry lovers as well as an active author website. She is on a mission to help eradicate creative poverty through digital publishing and enterprise. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram: @ornaross.
Read the Transcripts: Launching a First Poetry Book
Orna Ross: Hello, everybody. Here we are again for another live stream of self-publishing advice from the Alliance of Independent Authors. I’m Orna Ross, and with me today, all the way from Australia to London and back again around the world to you, wherever you are, is Lauren Lott. Hi Lauren.
Lauren Lott: Hi Orna, thank you for having me today.
Orna Ross: How are you?
Lauren Lott: I’m really good, I’m really good. It’s eight o’clock here in Australia, and there’s a possum in the roof, so the scratching might interfere with the audio. There’s also a few kookaburras outside, so we’ll see how we go.
Orna Ross: That’s lovely. I’m not hearing any possum scratches right now, so hopefully he’ll behave himself.
And when you say eight o’clock, you mean 8:00 AM, and here in London, it’s 9:00 PM the previous evening. So, we’re really doing the world clock here this evening.
But we’re here folks, because we’re going to be discussing the topic of putting together your very first poetry collection, which is something that Lauren did this year to great success.
We have been watching her journey as she slowly got it together, and told people it was coming, and put it out there, and all that happened over the launch time, and since. And we thought it would be really great to get you in to talk about lessons learned, what to do differently, what you’ll do the same next time out, and all that kind of thing.
So, thanks so much for coming along to share your experience. Before we start, tell us a little bit about yourself as a person, and maybe a little bit about yourself as a poet, what’s your poetry biography for want of a better phrase?
Lauren Lott: I’m in Australia, here in a place called Lake Macquarie. It’s on the East coast in new South Wales, about two hours from Sydney.
I’m a mum, and I work casually, but other than that, I write poetry and I started writing poetry about five years ago. I went through quite a hard situation, Orna. My family suffered a loss about five years ago and, through that situation, I suffered emotionally and psychologically. And all I could really do, all I could really read for a season was poetry, which was surprising because you would think, oh, it’s quite deep, who has the stamina for that? But I just turned to poetry and found so much light and so much life in poetry, and in poets like Mark Nepo and Mary Oliver, and people like that.
And from there, I started to write my own poetry and I saw the effect, or felt the effect, that poetry had in my own life. And, after experiencing that, I wanted to do that for other people as well. I wanted to write words that would help people to get up, to get unstuck, words that would empower them and breathe life into their lives.
So, it’s been an interesting experience, starting out writing poetry and here I am, five years later, with my first book.
Orna Ross: Fantastic, and you certainly do that in terms of, I came to your work through Instagram, and you very regularly post poems on Instagram. We’ll talk about that in a few moments, but first I’d really like to ask you about why you decided to self-publish this first poetry collection, and did you think at all about getting some help, maybe finding a publisher, or any other alternative? Or did you always know that you were going to self-publish it?
Lauren Lott: With poetry, definitely. I just always wanted to do it myself. I had a clear vision of what I wanted the book to be, and how I wanted the book to look, and I really just wanted creative control of that. So, I wanted to indie publish that.
I have actually written children’s fiction as well, a few manuscripts, which I’ve been trying to get traditionally published for about the last, I would say, seven years, but to no success yet. So, with the fiction, I still am trying to plug away at the traditional route, probably because it is children’s, and I feel like I need the experts on my side to help me with illustrations and all the rest of it. But when it comes to poetry, it’s really close to me, poetry, and so I wanted to have as much creative control as I possibly can. And to tell you the truth, I’m so happy that I went this way, because I can’t imagine not having the creative control after going through the process.
Orna Ross: So, let’s talk then a little bit about the process. Which parts of it did you find most challenging? Let’s start with the challenges, and then we’ll talk about the rewards.
Lauren Lott: Oh, the most challenging part for me, Orna, without a doubt, was the formatting; it just stumped me for so long.
I’m not a Mac user, so I don’t have vellum and I’m not a designer. So, I found the formatting process very challenging. I use Word every day for word processing, but Word was not created to design books. So, there was a lot of Googling and a lot of trying to work out stuff, problem solving, and it took me way too long to format it.
But in the end, if I could just show you, I just went for the cleanest kind of formatting that I could, and I’m proud of that, you know, it is clean, it’s very nice, but it’s surprising with Word how much effort it takes to get it to look like that, whereas with other programs, it’s probably much easier. But for me, because I’m not techie or designer focused, the formatting definitely was the most challenging. But the thing is, if I can do it, Orna, anybody can, because like I said, I’m not techie or a designer. So, yeah.
Orna Ross: Yeah, and I think it is something that, on your first book, as a poet, you know, because poetry is much trickier, formatting, wise than say straight fiction or nonfiction text, you know, which kind of finds its own.
Let’s say Word was not designed for poets, and in fact, there is no formatting software designed for poets, a gap in the market, self-publishing service people. And so, yes, it is something that we hear a lot. I use Vellum, I find it sufficient, but it has its constraints and there are certain things that I can’t do.
And sometimes, you know, the poem ends up, as you will know very well, changing the format changes the poem, and poems are very sensitive and delicate and, you know, a word on a different line becomes a different kind of emphasis and all of that. So, formatting is super important.
So, that was kind of the hardest thing. And then, what delighted you? What were the best things about self-publishing this collection?
Lauren Lott: The best things were, well, I really loved working with other people. I really loved working with my editor and my book cover designer. These two guys were great in that they didn’t just provide a service for me, but they added to the project.
If you could see the cover, I know this is not good for podcast listeners, but my original idea was just a burnt-out tree, but my designer, after showing him some of the poems, and telling him the gist of the book, he actually added a whole lot of visual detail to the front cover. And when I saw it, it’s like he interpreted exactly what I was trying to say in the poetry.
And same with my editor, he was just fantastic. He didn’t just edit the book, but he actually spoke into the work and really encouraged me with word choice, and with what poem goes where. And both of these guys, both Glenn and Islam, the two fellows that helped me, were just an absolute delight to work with, and it just really emphasized to me the importance of getting a great team around you.
For a long time, I thought I could do it all myself, but I am so glad that I didn’t. I’m so glad that I asked these two fellows to come along and contribute to this work, because they didn’t just edit it or design a pretty cover, they actually added depth to the project, and it was just such a delight creatively to work with them.
Orna Ross: Yes. I think you were very wise, really. I think that is the thing, until you’ve experienced it as a writer, we don’t understand how much other creative professionals, it takes more than one person to make a great book, I really believe. Yeah. It’s great you had such a positive experience with the first people you brought around you, because that’s not by any means inevitable. Often, we have to go through a few designers and a few editors before we find our team. So, it sounds like you struck gold straight away, which was marvelous.
Lauren Lott: Yeah, I definitely did, a hundred percent. I’d give them 10 out of 10, both of them, and I’m really hoping that I’ll work with them again.
Orna Ross: That’s wonderful. So, that was the production and the putting it all together. How long did it take, from first concept to actually saying, okay, I’ve now got the manuscript, it’s formatted, it’s ready, the cover is ready, I’m ready to begin to upload. How long did that take for you?
Lauren Lott: The writing process, and you’ll probably be able to understand this, Orna, actually took me quite a long time. Just working out what the work was and trying to, you know, does this poem fit, does this poem not fit? So, actually putting the manuscript together and writing it, took quite a long time.
I call the writing process, some people would say to me, what are you doing today Lauren, and I would say, oh, I’m sorting between wounds and scars. That’s what the writing process was for me, working out whether a poem was a wound or a scar. A wound, if you look at it, it’s all gashy and yucky and, a lot of the time, people don’t want to look at that. It doesn’t really help them to look at that wound, but a scar, a lot of time, if you’ve got a scar, someone will walk up to you and say, oh, how did you get that scar? You know, there’s a story behind the scar, and so I wanted to make sure that I was putting poems into the book that were scars and not wounds, because I wanted the work to help people. I didn’t just want to shock or vent in the book, I wanted the work to be something that empowers others.
Sometimes you can read poems and they actually trigger you into your own anxiety or your own distress, and I didn’t want to do that for people. I wanted to make sure that I was delivering a beautiful, empowering poem, but at the same time being a hundred percent authentic. And in order to deliver that work, they needed to be healing on my part, which means that the writing of the book took to the time that it took.
So, once I got all my scars together, the actual process of getting it edited to getting it up and people purchasing it, was only about 12 weeks.
Orna Ross: Wow.
Lauren Lott: So, that was very quick. I was just like, yep, I’m going to publish this, and I got on the train, I made that first move and then 12 weeks later, my book was out into the world.
Orna Ross: Fantastic. I love how you described the sorting and, you know, what makes the cut and what doesn’t make the cut. And it’s so important, I think it’s one of the things about a first collection that can be very challenging. It sounds like it wasn’t overly challenging for you, just the right amount of challenging, as it were, but sometimes the difference between the poem that we write for ourselves and the ones that we write for other people, and we don’t know when we write, we write them all over ourselves to start, but we don’t know until afterwards, when it comes to putting stuff together for a selection or a collection, or whatever, we don’t actually know. And the wounds and the scars, I absolutely that, a really, really great way to describe it.
Lauren Lott: Yeah. Looking back, I could probably say, oh, I’ve got about five books, but only one of them has been published, because I’ve got four books of wounds and one book of scars.
Orna Ross: Excellent. So, I came to your work, as I said, through Instagram, so talk to us a little bit about, you know, did you start doing your Instagram for yourself? Did you consciously say to yourself, okay, Instagram is where the poets are all hanging out, I’m going to use Instagram as my social media in order to let people know about this book that’s coming? Tell us about your Instagram journey.
Lauren Lott: I first started putting quotes and poems on my personal Instagram page.
I have two Instagram pages, and then I just figured that some people don’t want to look at the quotes and they don’t want to read the poems, they just want to follow me because they’re interested in my family and my life, but they don’t necessarily want the poetry. So, I separated them, and I started putting quotes and poetry up on a personal page, not on my personal page, sorry, on a different page.
It didn’t actually get much traction for a long, long time, and I don’t know what happened. Maybe I turned a corner personally, maybe something happened within me first, but then all of a sudden, it just started to grow a little. And from there, I had a little platform of about 500 people to start promoting my poetry and my upcoming poetry book.
So, I started off with it all mushed in together, and that really wasn’t working for me. So, it’s when I separated it, I started to find out what kind of thing I could post, and I could see who was actually following me for my poetry and who was actually following for my personal life.
Orna Ross: Sure. And do you enjoy Instagram? Is it a chore?
Lauren Lott: It’s not a chore for me. I just think it’s amazing that we can post whatever, and people all over the world can see it. It’s such a gift to us. I think if you grow up in a world where you didn’t have these resources like me, I was born in 1978.
So, I grew up in the eighties as a child, and then in the nineties as a teen, and we didn’t have any of this. And so, I remember a lot of the time I’d have so many questions and, you know, if you had questions, you’d just ask somebody, and if they didn’t know the answer, then nobody knew the answer. But now we’ve got Google, and YouTube, and Instagram, and the internet.
And so, we’ve got all these amazing tools at our fingertips. And so, the fact that I get to post on Instagram every day, it is a bit of a spin out to me. I don’t take it for granted at all that I get to touch and talk to people all over the world. Even this what we’re doing today, Orna, you’re in London and I’m in Lake Macquarie now, and it’s crazy. You can see me, and I can see you, and I know lots of people don’t think it’s a big deal, but I still think it’s amazing. And I think, when we have these opportunities and these gifts, that we should use them to our advantage, and we should post things and put things up in the world that will bring people encouragement and make the world a better place.
Orna Ross: That’s just great. And can you talk to people a little bit, because I know this is one of the things that people find very challenging. So, you’re a mum, you have a day job as well, a busy life in all sorts of ways, how do you actually manage the process of both, you know, composing your own poetry and integrating Instagram into that? Can you talk to people a little bit about how it works for you? You’re talking about posting daily. So, do you write them up in batches? Do you actually do it daily? How does it go?
Lauren Lott: The mornings work best for me. If I wake up early, I grab myself a cup of tea, and I can sit down for an hour when the house is relatively still quiet, and I can write. I’m not full time, so I have days where I do have the luxury of sitting down and writing for a few hours, but I do write in batches. I try and write up to seven poems a day, and I put them all in folders, sort them into sections, and then I just go with what I feel, and try and post every day, which reminds me, Orna, I haven’t posted this morning. I forgot about that.
Orna Ross: You can post about this instead. You can’t do global interviews and write poems at the same time. It’s just not possible.
So, you write these poems, and then will you say to yourself, okay, this is an Instagram one, and this one might go in a book, you know, how does that work?
Lauren Lott: Yeah, well, it goes by need really. If I need a new poem, I’ll go to my folder and I’ll flick through and I’ll see what I have that I can post.
Sometimes I repost poems, I think that’s a good thing. I don’t keep all my poetry up, I might go down and archive the poems once a week, and then two weeks later I might be able to repost, one of those poems again. So, I’m either bringing a new poem that I’ve written, or an archive poem.
And I only post five mornings a week, not seven days, it’s either five or six days, but there’s normally a day or two that I have a break from it as well, because if I don’t have a break, Orna, I’ll get really, really sick of it, and it will become something that I can’t do at all. So, I have to go slow and just do five poems and then two days off, or something like that, yeah.
Orna Ross: It’s so important to creative rest, it is part of the process and, absolutely, we just go stale; it’s really, really important to have those down times. You sound very organized for a poet, I have to say, with your batches and your folders. Are you an organized person?
Lauren Lott: No one has ever called me organized in my life, Orna, you’re the first person that’s ever called me organized.
Orna Ross: I did say for a poet.
Okay, and just before we leave the social media and how you use that, do you use stories as well, or just the main post facility? Do you do reels? Do you do everything on Instagram? Do you enjoy the platform and all the possibilities?
Lauren Lott: Yeah, I love it all. I do stories, I repost other people’s posts, I love to support other poets and repost their poems. Sometimes, when I take a walk, I’ll just, you know, story my day like that and try to observe what I can see and then share it with everyone else. I’m mindful that there are people working in offices all day or wherever, and they don’t get to go for long walks every now and then. So, they don’t get that light and that inspiration, and I try and share that kind of thing.
I’ve done reels as well. It’s mainly sharing poems straight from my poetry book. So, I’ll just read a poem from the book and then show the front cover and put that up. So yeah, I’d actually like to get more creative with the stories and reels, I might have to do a bit of research to see what I can do to freshen it up a bit and do something different. But yeah, I enjoy the whole thing. Instagram is definitely my favorite of the social media platforms. I am on Facebook as well, but I don’t really care for it, Orna.
Orna Ross: Yeah. Everyone has a favorite and it’s best to go with the favorite, I think. Yeah.
So, back to the book and the book publishing, is there anything you wish you knew before you started?
Lauren Lott: Oh gosh. I guess the thing that I wish I knew was that the big moves were really just small steps. For so long, I was in this place of being stuck. How do I get this book out into the world? I don’t know, it just didn’t make sense in my head, and it just seems like a really mammoth big, impossible thing for some reason, and it was all in my mind. But what I just needed to do was make a few little small steps and continually make those small steps. Really, the biggest move I made was the first move I made, that message that I sent my editor. I said, Hey, I’ve got a manuscript, can you read it? Can you edit it for me? And from that point on, it was just like one little thing after another. So, I would say the big move is the first move and, and looking back, that was just one little small step. And so, I think I would have had a book out earlier if I had known that I don’t have to, you know, do it all at first. I don’t have to have this big successful creative. Oh, it’s a business, just like that. I just have to make the first little step and that first little step ended up being the biggest move.
Orna Ross: That’s fantastic. That’s really lovely. So, what’s happening now? Is there going to be a follow-up collection? I’m sure there is.
Lauren Lott: Yes. So, at the moment I’m working on my website, reader magnet and my email newsletter, which I must say, feels like a really big move, but I’ll take my own advice and just continue to make small steps with that.
So, I’m doing that at the moment. And I’m also about halfway through a second collection, which I’m hoping will be released early 2021.
Orna Ross: And is it similar in tone? Is it a departure or is it is a continuation?
Lauren Lott: It’s not similar, but it is complimentary, I think. If you call, The Remains of Burning, ‘winter’, this collection is ‘spring’. That’s the best way I can describe it.
Orna Ross: That’s really nice. So, before we leave, and we’re hopping onto the next book, before we leave your current book, would you like to read us a poem?
Lauren Lott: Oh yes, I would. What would I read? I will read you my favorite. Here we go, I’m so glad you asked me, Orna. Here we go.
The first time I lost my leaves, I thought I was dying. I waited all winter, and during the num of midnight and the frosted Dawn, until the sun started to set differently, and the breeze began to feel a little more hopeful. I wish someone told me, life is a twisted coil of beginnings and ends. That living is changing and dying is a way we each get to bless the Earth.
Orna Ross: Beautiful. Thank you very much. That’s fabulous. Let people know how they can buy this lovely book, and also where to find you online.
Lauren Lott: Yeah. So, if you’re on Instagram, I’m @LLOTT.Writes. From there, in my bio, you will see a link to all the different places that you can find my book.
If you’re not on Instagram, you could go to Amazon. I actually published as well through IngramSpark, which means I’m on all those amazing, exciting websites like Waterstones and Barnes and Noble, and Booktopia, if you’re in Australia.
Orna Ross: Fantastic. Okay, Lauren, listen, thank you so much for talking to us so early in the morning, and for giving up your writing time to tell everybody about your lovely book. I’ll see you on Instagram and look forward to hearing about the second collection when it comes.
Lauren Lott: Thank you, Orna.
Orna Ross: Bye, bye everybody. We’ll see you next time.
We won’t have a self-publishing poetry advice podcast in December, because something happens at the end of December, I can’t remember now, but it means that we won’t have an actual slot, but we’ll be back in January with another poet and some more self-publishing poetry advice.
So, until then, happy writing and publishing.