Southeast Asian American Print-On-Demand Options

As longtime readers of mine know, I’m a strong advocate for poets, particularly Southeast Asian American poets employing a mixed-methods approach to publishing their work and getting it out there. Too Long Didn’t Read: “What works, works.”

At the end of the day: Did your words reach the readers they were meant for in a way that those words will linger with them for months, years, decades, lifetimes?

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Without getting excessively philosophical on the matter, a word reaches a reader in many ways, and that experience is always multisensory, contextual, and political.

“Where you read it, what you read it on, when you read it,” is also tied in to how much you had to pay for it, the quality of that edition, what’s happening all around you as you get to read it.

Do you have to read it in a rush? Do you get to sit with it in your kitchen, at work, surrounded by family and friends, in a quiet place, or are you only able to experience it in a library, perhaps a prison, etc?

It’s subtle, as far as differences go: Experiencing a poem through a bootleg, pirated copy of a book is different from an official edition that’s signed to you personally that was printed on good paper and arrived in mint condition vs. previously used. I personally think there’s something neat and interesting to run into a book in many different stages and variants of ‘legitimacy,’ but that’s another conversation.

The process of Southeast Asian Americans liberating ourselves from the more corrosive elements of modern American publishing  necessitates empowering ourselves to print our own work in our own words, on our own terms.

Without exception this goes for Lao, Hmong, Khmu, Khmer, Viet, Tai Dam, Iu Mien, Lue, Karen, Akha, Lisu, Lahu, Nung, Burmese, Cham, and any number of poets and writers from those communities in diaspora here in the United States.

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We stagnate if we don’t build it into our personal and collective consciousness that we have a variety of valid ways to get our words out to our fellow refugees in diaspora. We must become comfortable empowering ourselves to create and print something regardless of whether we have our former colonizer’s approval or not.

This even applies to having the approval of our own intelligentsia and literati, who may or may not suffer from internalized racism and colonization that leads them to tragically undermine those who’d otherwise be among their most ardent supporters.

Once we have the psychological mindset that permits us to self-publish if no other avenues are available, the true post-war reconstructions can begin for most of us.

We can then actually see the cultural renaissance begin for many of our societies, particularly elements who may not have historically had a voice, due to authoritarian social structures that confined cultural expression to those privileged few who obediently empowered religious institutions and authorities through odious hagiography and propaganda.

In the US, we presently have mechanisms, and indeed, a particular imperative to now encourage the voices of youth, women, the LGBTQ, polycultural and other polyminority voices. But it has been demonstrated that these voices are less likely to come forward if refugee communities aren’t trained to demystify the process of production for themselves.

If our underheard voices keep seeing publishing as some “big deal” or deeply technical and bewildering process that somehow requires vast sums of money, their cultural output stagnates. And that’s a tragedy we must avert if it is within our personal power. We have already seen many promising writers opt for a “one and done” approach rather than undertake a lifelong journey in the arts that thrives in the challenge that others enjoy at great privilege.

I personally find it enjoyable to see if a large publisher, an independent mainstream publisher, or Asian American publishers will print my books. But I also know in the back of my head that I’m perfectly capable of getting my own books into the hands of my readers and my community on my own any time I want. I enjoy tremendous freedom because I can format my own collections properly and send it to a printing company and mail it to anyone who orders it. So, when I face contract negotiations for a book, I’m always able to walk away or ask for better terms and rights.

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The cultural marketplace necessitates healthy competition, however. If we only go with one print-on-demand publisher, or a handful of them, very soon monopolies will develop that increase the likelihood of exorbitant charges and setup fees and reduced quality of the final products where the books are all but falling apart in someone’s hands minutes after they open it for the first time.

But here are some resources for you to consider.

This should not be read as an endorsement in any way, shape or form, because there’s a lot of churn and shift in the field, and by the time you run into this article, there may have been some subtle change in costs or other requirements that makes their services less than ideal than when I’ve initially posted it. You’ll want to do your own research with people who’ recently printed with them to ensure it’s your best option.

As of mid-2018, prices for a typical 6×9, 300-page paperback have ranged from $4.46 to $7.25 for a single copy, plus shipping and handling. The economics aren’t necessarily great, therefore for one-offs. Lightning Source and Ingram Spark, BookLocker also charge a set-up fee. In terms of due diligence definitely check out each groups’ current Better Business Bureau ratings. For this list, I’ve tried to exclude POD publishers known to employ aggressive high-pressure sales tactics or who’ve received significant BBB complaints.

I hope that’s helpful. Let me know in the comments below about your experiences with print-on-demand publishers, and other resources emerging and even established authors might want to consider!

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