Paddockwood author using Kickstarter to self publish

Jodi Schellenberg
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Getting tired of rejection letters, one poet has taken matters into his own hands.

John McDonald, who is originally from Prince Albert and currently resides in Paddockwood, is looking for help to self publish his newest poetry anthology through Kickstarter.

Former Prince Albert resident and Paddockwood author John McDonald is looking for help self-publishing his newest collection of poetry through Kickstarter.

His first book of poetry was The Glass Lodge, a collection McDonald wrote while going through a difficult time in his life.

“The Glass Lodge was a collection of free verse poetry that I spent roughly most of my teenage years writing,” McDonald said. “I grew up on the streets of P.A. and also some time on the streets of Calgary. The Glass Lodge was a collection of what was happening to me at that time.

“Whatever I was feeling at the time I would scribble on anything -- scraps of paper, the insides of CD covers, cardboard boxes, pizza boxes, beer boxes,” McDonald said. “Just whatever was going on and whatever I was feeling at the time was written down. I was cathartic for me because I was dealing with substance abuse, with living on the streets, gangs and so forth.”

After 11 years, McDonald has a massive collection of work he complied over the years and he condensed it into book form.

“I spent 2002-2003 trying to find a publisher for it,” McDonald said. “I had basically given up when a publisher out of Ontario called Kegedonce Press finally picked up the book and said ‘We’d love to publish it.’ They published it in 2004.”

The book received a lot of national attention, he said.

“It received a lot of great reviews and it was nominated for the 2009 Community Reads program,” McDonald said. “I believe it was nominated for Sask. Book of the Year.

“I got to tour across Canada to different literary events behind The Glass Lodge,” McDonald said. “It was a success for me.”

His writing was a great way to release his feelings, McDonald said.

“Because I thought I’d exorcised all the demons I was feeling through The Glass Lodge I assumed I was the be all and end all of that style of writing -- the very dark, frank, guttural, emotion-type free-verse poetry,” he laughed. “It turns out, I wasn’t.”

After his first poetry anthology was released, McDonald continued to write. Since 2004 he has written three more collections of free-verse poetry, a collection of prose, a full-length novel and a collection of short stories. He has been trying to get another book of poetry published, without any luck so far.

“It has just been 10 years, I have probably a stack of 102 rejection letters,” McDonald said. “A lot of it is, unfortunately, a sign of the times. Few people buy poetry. As George Carlin said, ‘More people write poetry than read poetry.’”

He said although he would like to think publishers are altruistic and in it for the art, it is a business that does have to make money.

“The poetry they are looking to publish is stuff they can market and sell -- I understand that completely,” McDonald said. “Plus, there are so many poets in Canada that are trying to get their work published that there are not enough (publishers). There are more poets than publishers and very few publishers will accept unsolicited manuscripts.

“A lot of literary agents do not take on poets because they have to take their cut of the action too,” he added. “There are a lot of roadblocks set up for trade publications.”

He explained that many poets will set up a chap book, which is described as a pocket-sized booklet, with smaller limited runs of 50 to 100 copies because it is difficult to get trade publication.

“There are not a lot of publishers that will even take a look at poetry of any kind,” McDonald said. “The ones that do will literally receive 500 to 600 submissions in a year.”

It is also difficult to get exposure for poetry, he said.

“For poets, it is difficult for us to get our work out there and exposed in any type of media -- there are eBooks and stuff, but poets need to making a living too,” McDonald said. “Yes, our art is our art but for some people, art is how we put food on the table.”

The poets would not see much revenue from a 99-cent eBook as compared to a $10 hard copy.

“It is difficult for poets to get their work out there and there are very few options open to poets, particularly poets who are left of centre or avant garde,” McDonald said. “You would figure in today’s hipster society it would be the other way but it is very difficult and unfortunately if people can’t make a buck off of it they aren’t willing to take a risk. I guess that is just the way of the game.”

Since McDonald has been having trouble finding a publisher, a friend of his suggested trying to raise money through Kickstarter to self publish his book.

“I was listening to CBC radio and I was listening to somebody in Saskatoon who had a Kickstarter account and I thought I’d give it a try,” McDonald said. “What could it hurt? After a hundred or so rejects, if this is a rejection at least I could say I tried.”

It is also a self-starter or do-it-yourself approach to publishing, he said.

“It is like a do-it-yourself approach to try to get my work out there and try to retain creative control and retain as much artistic creditability as I can,” McDonald said.

Many publishers only want certain pieces and will often tell poets they have nothing useable in their anthology or want to change things about their art.

“At least with self-publishing, you get an opportunity to retain that control,” McDonald said. “You can have it at a point you are comfortable with as opposed to someone mutilating your work and quickly flipping through it thinking, ‘We need to make a buck. Where can we make a buck?’”

The minimum amount he needs to raise in order to self publish is approximately $6,000.

“I’ve got a quote from a company in Saskatoon called Houghton Boston -- they are book printers,” McDonald said. “They have give me a quote of how much it would cost to print 1,000 paperback copies of a book.

“Also, through that $6,000 I am looking to replace my severely antiquated laptop that I have been writing on since 2007,” he added. “There is a story about Stephen King writing Carrie with a typewriter that had no N. The laptop computer I’m using has 28 keys missing. It doesn’t work unless it is plugged in and the cord has seven different colours of electrical tape holding it together. It’s a 15 or 16-year-old laptop that has just had its day in the sun.”

Part of the money will be going towards getting him a new laptop with the capabilities for software he needs in order to self publish.

McDonald believes his new book, which has similar content to his first, will touch many people.

“It is something everybody has faced in some point in their lives -- my story is not unique, particularly as a light-skinned aboriginal youth growing up on the streets of P.A.,” McDonald said. “I am not the only one who has dealt with substance abuse, I’m not the only one who has dealt with sexually exploitation, with severe child abuse, with additions, with gangs.

“What makes my story unique is I was chronicling it,” McDonald said. “The story will appeal to anyone who has gone through stuff like that.”

He said in a community if one person has a problem, it is everyone’s problem, which is another reason many people in the city may relate to the book.

“There are people in the community who are still dealing with this and the work that is in this manuscript it deals head on with a lot of these issues,” McDonald said. “I don’t mince words, I don’t cut corners and I don’t sugarcoat anything. I tell it how I felt at that time, how it feels and try to be as brutally frank and honest as possible.”

It should also appeal to poetry lovers, he said.

“It applies to different genres of people who enjoy reading poetry and it applies to the whole do it yourself ethic,” McDonald said. “I have these words, I want people to see these words, and this is another way to get these words out. Hopefully it will be the catalyst for other people to say, ‘Hey, I could do this.’”

Pledges can be made to his Kickstarter account at

McDonald has until Jan. 29 to raise enough money to publish his book. Anyone who pledges $10 or more will be mentioned in the special thanks and those who donate $100 or more will get a autographed copy of the book and be included in the special thanks.  

Organizations: Prince Albert, Kegedonce Press, CBC

Geographic location: P.A., Canada, Calgary Ontario Sask. Saskatoon

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