@mum_doodles Elizabeth Murphy on how to self-publish
Elizabeth Murphy, the artist and poet behind @mum_doodles, tells us how she published her poetry book and give us her top tips if you're thinking of self publishing.
Words by Elizabeth Murphy
Within minutes of researching ways to self-publish your poetry, you’d be forgiven for giving up on the idea altogether; high commission rates and transaction fees, then articles listing endless job descriptions of the team you’d need to hire just to get started.
I almost didn’t do it. I sat with drawings of my daughter scattered across the floor, her tiny hands and feet remembered in hundreds of pencil sketches, my love letters to her in my poetry. I remembered how creating all of this dragged me out of early motherhood days and reminded me who I was. How could I accept so little in return?
I thought back on the last two years of building something from simply a pencil, a piece of paper and a platform, and how it was made possible by the selfless support from other women, like Emma Flynn (@this_mama_doodles) Karen McMillan (@mother_truths) Jessica Urlichs (@jessurlichs_writer) Edie Campbell (@gingernutmag) and Katharine Perry (@TheMumPoemPress). They brought my work to wider online communities, back when I was sharing scribbled doodles of my daughter (in snippets of time I could steal between night feeds and nappy changes).
I thought back on how inspired I’d been by the beautiful early zines created by The Mum Poem Press and how lucky I’d felt to be included in them alongside such talented writers and illustrators; how seeing my work in this way ignited an idea that maybe I could make a little book of my own.
This journey mattered on a personal level, but there was an overarching story of women supporting each other and the way vulnerability in motherhood can resonate and empower. So, with all of this in mind, I decided to explore a path that might let me keep hold of a little more, while sharing my work.
I self-published two poetry books, selling just over 230 copies within a year to fourteen countries. By seeking alternatives to the likes of Amazon, Etsy and PayPal, I kept around 78% of every book sale (inclusive of printing costs). You can find some information on these alternatives at the end of the article.
I ultimately felt I was sharing my soul without selling too much of it to someone else; a sentiment that actually meant more to me than lining my pockets. Perhaps that’s why I was so willing to stay up past midnight making little cardboard boxes and bookmarks.
It’s been a lot of work. I understand why people outsource distribution, but it has been an endeavour I’ve truly loved. One of the most rewarding parts has been seeing my books used as a way of showing love. I’ve written many heartfelt messages on behalf of others to include in my books, many for mothers gifting them to their (now grown) daughters.
And I suppose this is what I will do one day when my daughter is grown. Her copies of my books sit on a shelf, all wrapped up, ready for her to open when she’s older. I can’t wait to share with her the ways she has always inspired me and tell her of the places in the world she’s travelled in my drawings.
Some alternatives to consider:
If you’re based in the UK, Numonday is a selling platform offering tiered memberships that are very competitive in comparison to Etsy. You can also apply international postage costs to your listings to sell to different countries, although I would suggest separate listings for countries in the different postage zones as you can only apply one international postage price to each listing. To give an example of their commissions rates, I paid a one-off £40 fee for a year of no commission or listing fees. This equated to 1.7% commission per book sale.
Stripe will process transactions for a lower percentage fee than PayPal. Stripe does require the buyer to input card details, unlike PayPal. However, on the most part, I’ve found this won’t put people off purchasing. There is also a Stripe app, which helps you see transactions at a glance.
Photoscape X is a free editing software for cleaning up scanned artwork or photos and Mixam is an online printers with reasonable costs for high quality prints.
Find me on Instagram and facebook: @mum_doodles
My books are available to buy at: numonday.com/shop/mum-doodles/