They say if you’re passionate about your work, then you’ll never have to work a day in your life. This is why most people dream of careers that are largely centered on their passions. But for creatives, there are options to pursue what you love and still have a different nine to five grind. One such option is self-publishing.
If you’ve ever gone around conventions and wondered what it would be like to have your own table or go to events and imagine your passion project being displayed next to the registration booth, then self-publishing could be an experience. Whether or not you make art for a living, everyone has a story worth telling. And if you’re a creative at heart, you can tell your story yourself.
We speak to three inspiring self-published creatives and their experiences on first-time convention woes, finding work-passion balance and other bite-sized anecdotes from immersing themselves in the art community.
Xenia Villanueva, poet
Xenia Villanueva is a Creative Writing graduate from UP Diliman. She was born in Manila, spent some time in Melbourne, and grew up in Pampanga. Today, she still works in digital marketing while cheering on the Community Shared Agriculture efforts of Good Food Community. She also used to blog about new Kapampangan art in Volcano Diamond Press.
“My mom’s friend who was the principal said that despite my being quiet (to a point that people worried in whispers about how something must have been wrong with me), I was a good storyteller.”
“While my earlier work was based on exercises that explore different kinds of poetry, a collection called “Postwar Polish Poetry” that was gifted by my professor Paolo Manalo really struck me and helped me power through my writing when I was out of school.”
“In my professional life, while I may not visibly apply Creative Writing, I feel like an editor/concept artist when I create a digital marketing strategy and work with a team to get parts of a brand’s story across different media (social media, website, blog, email, eBook, video).”
“I honestly felt/feel like a literary outsider, having spent most of my professional life in digital marketing and corporate communications.”
“Since 2015, I debated on self-publishing as a way to get my work out there on my own terms vs. seeking validation from institutions and networks of academic workshop panelists via the traditional publishing route.
With the publisher rejections/no feedback, I stalled and felt bad. I told myself I didn’t have the resources to do it (and its phases from designing to getting the ISBN to printing) anyway.”
“I found it challenging to secure a publisher. Initially, I thought it was because I wasn’t ready yet. But after fleshing out my work with feedback from friends and former professors, I felt my work was.”
“I self-published my first poetry chapbook “Deskaril: 5 Stations in Verse” in March 2019. That was when I got the copies of the book from the printer.”
“I feel like my book did well but that I as a person could have done better. It was the Gandang ganda sa sariling gawa! Book/zine/art fair featuring low budget and independent women creators, organized by Gantala Press at the very high-art CCP. I sold more copies than I expected to sell that day.”
“In terms of the zine fair experience, I did some research. But I ended up running out of panukli and lugging around way more copies than the usual 30 that other creators would bring. Thanks to my dad for bringing me some more loose change later that afternoon and to my partner for bringing me food.”
“The most exciting things that have happened so far have been connecting with book sellers like Bleak House Books in Hong Kong, BooksActually in Singapore, Kalye Lakandula Art Gallery in my hometown Angeles City, Studio Soup Zine Library in Cubao, Porch Reader Philippines in Valenzuela and Solidaridad Bookshop in Ermita.
I figuratively knocked on their doors to introduce myself and my work. They’ve been really supportive and I’ve enjoyed sending packages and building friendships with them.
[Also] going on Bigkas Pilipinas on Jam88.3 with Ms. Kooky Tuason. I worked with a friend to craft an email that introduced myself and my work and that said I’d be happy with just a little shoutout. Next thing I know, they asked me to go on the air with them.”
Patricia Ramos, illustrator
Patricia Ramos is a part-time teacher and a freelance illustrator—telling stories using words and pictures. She self-published her comics Sining Space, and children’s book The Legend of Nina Gigantes, which was later translated in Filipino and published by Adarna House. She is a graduate of the UP College of Fine Arts with a major in Visual Communication.
“I spent a lot of time in libraries when I was in school, so I can say creative writing was a huge part of my younger years. I ended up copying a lot of what I read and writing styles that I liked including comics and short stories since I was really young.
I liked stapling together sheets of paper to turn into books as a kid, so zines were really second nature to me.”
“I started self-publishing comics in the form of zines in around 2012, the first year me and a friend availed a table at a local comics convention. I kept self-publishing comics until I wrote a children’s book for fun in around 2014-2015.”
“I didn’t want a huge print run or to market it to a lot of stores, so I chose to ask for my family’s help in funding the printing. I mostly didn’t want to have to sell a lot of copies – it was more important to me personally that I had finished something and had it published, which I think is a valid goal for self-publishers to want to achieve.”
“It was definitely more expensive compared to photocopied zines, and it was a new experience learning about how printing and file preparation worked.
Self-publishing, whether it was in writing or in board games, gave me a lot of new experience in the industry. With the mistakes I made, I was given my own choices for solutions.”
“However, the weirdest experience I can remember is not for the book but for prints. A customer grilled me on the references and indigenous outfits I portrayed on an art print.
It really felt like a pop quiz, but I appreciated that he made sure the artists knew what they were portraying—especially for something as sensitive as Philippine history—and that they were doing it right. I think I answered them well enough because he eventually bought a copy, but it definitely felt surreal and still kind of exhausting.”
“I develop a lot of long-form stories that I might publish in the future, but I consider it a passion more than something I want to be a primary source of income.”
“Teaching art allows me to use my skills in ways I don’t often practice, and I can definitely apply the resulting lessons to my other projects as well.”
Cat Aquino, writer
Cat Aquino is currently pursuing a double degree in English Literature and Fiction Writing at the Ateneo de Manila University while writing stories about memory, trauma, magic, women, and history.
“I started writing “novels” in notebooks when I was eight, but I’ve been telling stories for as long as I can remember. I grew up cutting tiny paper dolls from books in sizes small enough to place on “I Spy” book spreads and maneuver around on the elaborate sets, making up stories as I went.”
“I’m currently studying English literature and fiction writing. I didn’t start off with these courses, though. I used to be a psychology major. I shifted and took the double degree in my junior year, when I realized that I loved being an editor for HEIGHTS more than learning about statistics.”
“I printed my first zine in 2016, a week before my high school graduation. It was a tiny space-themed poetry collection with collage art sourced from old magazines.
I enjoyed how tactile the process of assembling a zine from scratch was. Seeing my writing in the flesh brought a clarity I don’t think writing or designing apps can bring, because seeing them in print in the same way readers would, with no access to author’s “word of God,” encouraged me to have a keener editor’s eye and fully embrace the paratextual nature of physical books (cover art, margins, page numbers, and all). “
“I think that while self-publishing is an amazing exercise in creative freedom, it’s also a great opportunity for writers and artists to utilize creative control to make works they can be satisfied without the filter or demand of another party or institution.”
“Self-publishing is a crash course in editing, layouting, logistics (finding the right printer and paper type), finances (managing production costs), and marketing to friends, family, and beyond.”
“I [actually] met my boyfriend while selling my first zine! He was in the same café where I dropped off copies for our mutual friends, and he quite literally slid into my DMs to buy one for himself. We’ve been together ever since.”
“The dream is always to be Jo March/Louisa May Alcott, writing things I can be proud of and getting paid to do so for the rest of my life. But I know the world doesn’t always work that way, so I’ve decided that no matter what I do, I’ll always fight to have the time, space and energy to write on my own.”
Art by Rye Antonio