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Ask the Agony Editor: Publishing your own book might feel rewarding – just check your expectations


(Evan Munday)

Dear Agony Editor,

My mother is 83 and believes she’s a brilliant poet. She is not. She has self-published three books of poetry and, while she’s tight-lipped, I’m guessing her printing bill to date is about $10,000. Meanwhile, the books are piling up, unsold, around her apartment. I want to be supportive, but I also don’t want her to keep spending money foolishly. What can I do?

She’s No Poet and
I Know It

Dear She’s No Poet,

Ten-thousand dollars?! Good lord. I’ll publish her books for a fraction of that.

While dreams are necessary to carry us through life’s drearier moments, there’s no guarantee those dreams will become reality. For example, let’s say you’ve always had a dream about, oh, I don’t know, making an erotically charged, yet tastefully restrained, black-and-white music video with Ricky Martin on a beach in Punta Cana. (Note to self: You can’t sing, Brian. It’s never going to happen.) The same theory applies to your mom. It sounds like she may be a wee bit delusional about her aspirations, given that she’s shelling out some serious cash on a career that doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. I’d sit her down for a heart-to-heart and try to get to the root of her motivation.

Is it the “idea” of being a published poet that appeals to your mom or does she genuinely believe that poetry is a profitable business venture? It’s obvious your mom shouldn’t be throwing her money away, but that doesn’t mean she needs to stop publishing books altogether. The Toronto Public Library, for example, offers DIY small-run book-printing services. There are also online resources, like poets.ca, that could connect your mom to events and fellow poets who might validate her interests. Whatever avenues you take, tread gently. Your mom may have harboured her dreams for years and you don’t want to be the one to dim them. Encourage her passions, keep her engaged, and try to make sure her purse stays shut.

Brian Francis (brian-francis.com) is the author of Natural Order and Fruit. He teaches creative writing­ as part of the International Festival of Authors.

Have a question for Brian? Email info@quillandquire.com.