Self-Publishing and Pursuing Passions With Poet James Morehead
A product manager turned poet
Have you ever thought about writing a book? Maybe a cookbook, children's book, or a tome of business best practices; perhaps you have a novel hiding inside you, or a biographical account. New author, James Morehead, went from jotting down the odd poem in his free time to intentionally producing and publishing a collection of poems in his new book "canvas." He learned a lot about the will to write and the self-publishing process along the way.
James, during the day you're a Product Manager at a major tech company (where we used to work together!) What inspired you to write a collection of poems?
I was introduced to writing poetry by a creative writing teacher in high school. I had always enjoyed writing (and was a shy, voracious bookworm) but hadn’t experimented with poetry. I had the typical high school student’s impression of poetry: boring, hard to understand, and worst of all nerdy. But that teacher was the spark, and during the section on poetic forms I discovered the extraordinary power of poetry: the ability to capture emotion, sound, and movement in a few carefully crafted words. Reading E.E. Cummings, more than any other poet, taught me the design language of poetry. Earlier in my career, when I was a software engineer, I found many similarities between the elegance of coding and writing poetry.
I’ve had the good fortune to interview Kari several times and we became friends along the way. The idiom “don’t judge a book by its cover” is nice in theory but when it comes to a book the cover is so important. The cover should trigger curiosity about what’s behind that first page turn. I was thrilled when Kari agreed to create an original piece of art for my book, and allowed me to use more of her art inside the book. I also incorporated two paintings from artist Alla Tsank.
Can you share more about her [Kari's] unique artistic style? How did she create the image for your cover?
Kari created the cover with a unique “black powder” technique which involves igniting gunpowder over a painting - with part of the painting protected by clay. After igniting gunpowder several times, with the ignitions contained in metal cylinders, the clay is scraped away. The result is the distinct black patterns accentuating the painting. The best way to understand Kari’s amazing black powder technique is to watch this video of her creating the cover.
You were recently named Poet Laureate by the City of Dublin, California. How did this come about? What does it entail?
Dublin recently put out a call for applicants to serve as the city’s Poet Laureate earlier this year. The process was competitive and after being reviewed for both my poetic abilities and, equally important, ability to rally and lead the community around the art of poetry, I was confirmed by the City of Dublin Council. The primary responsibilities of a Poet Laureate are to bring the culture of a city to life through the spoken word, and to serve as a liaison between the City, schools, organizations and the community for the advancement of literary arts. I’ll be working closely with the City and the community, and with Poet Laureates in the Bay Area, in the coming term.
This is your first book and you self-published it under your imprint "Viewless Wings Press." What did you learn about the publishing industry along the way?
Self-publishing a book is a product management challenge - from understanding the audience of readers you want to reach, to designing and creating the book, and to planning a successful launch. There are a lot of misconceptions about self-published books. It is possible to create a book at the same quality level as a traditionally published book if you are prepared to hire professionals. In my case I hired a freelance book designer, a copyeditor, a photographer for the profile photo and a self-publishing consultant. Self-publishing is a lot of work, but comes with significant benefits including complete creative control and a much accelerated timeline. There are so many things I learned publishing “canvas” that I documented all the steps on my website: viewlesswings.com.
What is your advice for our members who may be thinking about getting into writing and publishing?
The most critical advice I can give starts with writing and editing. Write every single day. Make writing a habit. You don’t have to write for hours (my day job wouldn’t permit me to do so), but even writing for just 20-30 minutes a day will unlock inspiration. Great writers also need great editors. My wife Mary is a fantastic editor who gives me very direct and actionable feedback. I’ve also joined a writing group recently, and am workshopping with an accomplished writer. Direct, actionable feedback is the best gift a writer can receive.
What are you reading right now?
I’ve been reading a lot of poetry lately. A.E. Stallings, Billy Collins and Olivia Gatwood come to mind immediately. I found the wonderful designer of my book, Zoe Norvell, by looking at who designed Gatwood’s book, “Life of the Party.” David Wogahn’s self-publishing books were very valuable during the early planning of my book.
How important are online ratings and reviews for you as an author?
Extremely important not just because of how they may influence algorithms but also because reviews are a key signal used by readers when deciding what to read. Building a solid foundation of reviews doesn’t just happen for a new author - you have to make it happen. In my case I have a small army of Advance Readers, each with a personalized galley copy of my book, and enough time to read “canvas” and write an honest and fair review. I’ve been surprised and humbled by the time and passion my Advance Readers have put into reading and providing feedback on “canvas.”
James Morehead’s debut collection of poetry, “canvas,” is available to purchase on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, starting June 15, 2021. “canvas” features the extraordinary art of Kari Byron and Alla Tsank, and was designed by Zoe Norvell.
Which books have you been reading lately? Let us know in the comments below! And be sure to share your best reading-vibe inspo in our #Bookworm Gallery. (Influenster app required to upload photos to galleries.)