What To Do Before You Publish Your Book & Dirty Windows or Perfect View
I finished reading ORDERING THE STORM: How To Put Together a Book of Poems edited by Susan Grimm. It was definitely interesting, I mean, I'm also the one who has the book WRITERS DREAMING, so it's in my DNA to like to listen to other writers talk. But did I learn anything new? Anything I didn't know?
Well, I learned a lot about personalities. One poet in her essay kept moving off subject and returning to what went wrong with her books. Her first book was not enough pages (she thought it was a first book, but it was under 48 pages, so technically it was a chapbook). Her second book had problems with the printer, then the judge suggested she should remove the note section in the back and she said the reviewers/critics were confused with her book and wanted more notes, etc. etc.
Occasionally, she'd talk about ordering. The essay was probably my least favorite in far as suggestions for ordering a book because it was so intensely focused on her own personal problems. The thing is, I did learn from her. I learned that with ever press, ever experience, every book, it's not going to be perfect and things are going to happen that you don't like. In the last year, I've known quite a few poets who have published book, good books, and each of them has a couple things they either don't like about their book, the printer, or the press that published them. It's common. It happens. But the best poets highlight what went right and don't take out a list of sins every time someone asks them about their book. I'm not saying hide that information from others, esp. if you feel it's something important they should know if their considering publishing with the same press, but don't dwell on it. Don't dwell on the page where there's a misspelling of your college or a comma instead of a semi-colon.
I look back at my book and can see how things could have been better, how I could have done things differently. But I also realize, publishing is learning. It's learning to understand how things work and also, what you like. I think a good exercise for poets getting ready to publish their first book is to create your first book in house (and when I say "in-house" I mean, in your house). Set it up, table of contents, acknowledgment page, dedications, note to friends, and then your book. Now put it in a manuscript binder, also called a spring binder (I have to thank Peter for introducing me to these little things, in our town they are available in the UW bookstore) and live with it for awhile. Proof it with red pen. Pretend that this is your book because it is. Learn what you don't like about it-- you never noticed how the chronological order flip-flops halfway through, or you have a misspelling, or more likely, a forgotten word like "a, for, an, to."
This exercise also helps you really visualize your book being published. Plus, it gives you the time just to experience your book deciding for yourself what you like and don't like about it. Make notes. Make your own cover with artwork for it. It allows you appreciate its themes and to strengthen them if you wish. It gives you the gift of time with your book that once accepted, you won't have. You'll receive your proofs and have X number of days to get them back with any changes or mistakes you've found.
I have my second manuscript in this binder and I've created a faux book cover for it because I'm someone who needs a complete idea or picture of what I'm trying to create. The book has taken many forms, but I finally think I have it where I want it (I say *think* because I, like Whitman, could revise a book all my life...) But it feels complete and if one of my favorite presses said, "I'd like to publish this," I'd be happy where it's at.
Of course, the best experience I've ever had publishing a book was with Floating Bridge Press when they published my chapbook. Starting out with "the best" raises one's expectations a bit. But I also realize, they publish one book a year, so the poet and the book is the focus. There are no others taking away from that. It made a difference. But I also think the attitude one brings makes a difference as well. I think if I had the personality of the poet who wrote the essay, I could found problems. But that's life, all around us there is ripped wallpaper and dirty windows. We can see that or we can realize that we're warm inside and enjoy the view of the evergreens and the snow melting from its branches.