RPCV Janet Riehl Talks about Self-publishing

Recently Claire Applewhite, author of The Wrong Side of Memphis, posed some questions to Janet Grace Riehl (Botswana 1972-73 & Ghana 1973-75). Riehl is the author of Sightlines: A Poet’s Diary, a self-published book of story poems, many of which center on her family. This interview appeared a few weeks ago in Jane Henderson’s Book Column in the St. Louis Post- Dispatch .

riehl-jJanet lives in southern Illinois, graduating from Alton High School in 1967, then earned a master’s degree in English from Southern Illinois University/Edwardsville and where she was co-editor of the poetry magazine, Sou’Wester. She lived and worked for five years in Ghana and Botswana with the Peace Corps and then the British World Friends (Quakers). She lived in California for a while before returning to Midwest.

In this interview by Claire Applewhite, Janet sums up the various ways to get published today.

What do you think it takes to get published today? Has anything changed from, say, 20 years ago? 10 years ago?

Riehl: During most of my life, the only way an author could get published was to go through a set procedure to gain acceptance from the major New York established publishing house. The only available option was to self-publish, and that was expensive and not so easy to do.

Now there are three paths toward publication that a writer can pursue. First, a writer can still approach the traditional publishing of approaching major houses or regional publishers. Because of global mergers and increased financial pressure on companies to make a profit, traditional publishing looks less attractive. Even if your book is accepted and published, it may never make their back list if sales aren’t at a very high level.

An author’s second choice is straight self-publishing, perhaps using print-on-demand technology. Because of laser printing, authors no longer need to inventory thousands of copies in their garages.

A reasonable third option is on-line publishing that’s grown out of the availability of print-on-demand. This last option is represented by many reputable subsidy publishers where all business is conducted over the internet. For a rather low set-up cost that includes cover design and book block design, you can produce your book.

Why did you choose to produce your “Sightlines” collection independently?

sightllinesIn 2006 my book Sightlines: A Poet’s Diary came out. This year we produced the audio book based on that project “Sightlines: A Family Love Story in Poetry and Music.” The poetry was published through iUniverse, one of the on-line subsidy companies I spoke about. The audio book was produced entirely in Nashville under my guidance and financing.

The main advantage to independent production is simple: complete control. Your project can be produced quickly. My book was written, produced, and published within a year. My audio book took a year to produce. The poems and music were already there.

What are the additional risks and responsibilities of independent production?

Your dollar and your work are on the line. You have to be clear about what rewards you want to gain from the project. You have to define your own success. You, as the producer, are responsible for funding and marketing.

With the rise of internet marketing, one doesn’t need big advertising bucks any more-just a little cleverness and savvy. Many books, mine included, are listed and sold directly off Amazon. Music is increasingly produced and sold from sites such as CD Baby as our audio book is. It takes time and patience to set up these listings, but is either free or inexpensive.

What cultural trends does your “Sightlines” collection respond to?

There’s been a resurgence of interest in family history and the legacy of family stories. Themes in my poems relate to these issues as I describe a year of grieving over my sister’s sudden death, care for my aging mother, changing my relationship with my father, and reconnecting with our ancestral home.

Your poems and the music in the audio book are firmly rooted in the Midwest. How does the location come through?

The story poems are Midwestern in their straightforward, restrained language and common sense viewpoint. The music is that of my father’s youth in the 1930s and several of his own compositions.

My father and I have conducted workshops on family stories. I’ve given workshops for hospice on grieving and care taking. There’s a growing cultural interest in these topics as more Boomers find themselves facing these directly.

What are you working on now?

After the conclusion of my internet tour for Sightlines: A Family Love Story in Poetry and Music, I’ll have more time to devote on my next book. This is a memoir about how five years in Africa during my 20s shaped my life up to the present. It’s titled Finding My African Heart: A Village of Stories.


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  • Thank you for mentioning how important personal stories and anecdotes are when creating a written family legacy. When I first aspired to be our family chronicler in 1984, I read all the books I could find and visited many library groups. The great majority of folks were obsessed with a family tree. A quarter century later, this is still true, now with computer programs. A family tree is a great resource, like a chest x-ray, but only shows certain things at one moment in time. The timeless part includes the symphany of family stories which can only be saved by the interview. Talking and listening also sets off a chain reaction of goodwill.

  • Lorenzo, thanks for your comment. It’s wonder that you took on the role of family chronicler in 1984. It has all the advantages you mention, and more.

    The book mentioned in this article–“Sightlines: A Poet’s Diary” is a family love story beyond death. We recently expanded it into an audio book “Sightlines: A Family Love Story in Poetry and Music” in which we interlaced 40 songs and stories among the 90 recorded poems.

    I encourage you to continue to put your research into form to share with your family and perhaps a wider audience.

    This post is part of a two-month Internet tour. If you are interested in learning more, you can find the entire calendar for the tour here: http://is.gd/1kkI7


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