This September has been an exciting month for me. Not only did I have the enormous pleasure of seeing my best writing buddy and fellow Los Angeles Review editor Tanya Chernov ink a fabulous book deal with a fabulous press, I also came, at long last, to the 18-month mark before publication of my own book.
As many of my readers likely know, my collection Burn This House was accepted by Red Hen Press for publication some time ago. And though I knew I’d have to wait my turn for publication, I was so pleased to have the book accepted at a wonderful press like Red Hen that I would have waited a decade longer to see it in print. (And because I’m a compulsive tinkerer, I enjoyed having a great deal of time to continue to fuss with the poems in the book.) Even though I’ve been polishing individual poems in the book for some time, as my final manuscript delivery date came closer into view, I began to get a serious case of the nerves.
As I put together my author questionnaire, selected some strong candidates for the book’s cover art, wrote bios of various lengths, wrote book descriptions of various lengths, and even conquered my fear of having my author headshot taken (really–I sat still long enough for an author photo! However…let’s just say the intrepid photographer has her work cut out for her in terms of airbrushing), I avoided digging into the manuscript itself. I was scared of my own book.
What if the manuscript as a whole didn’t stand up as well as I remembered? What if I reread some of the poems and was embarrassed by them? What if the whole thing was just no good? I hate to tell you that I lost sleep over this, but it’s true–there were more than a few long nights of lying awake, staring at the ceiling, and wondering whether the book was really ready, and whether I would have my fledgeling idea of myself as a “real writer” shattered by hindsight.
Finally, when I couldn’t put it off any longer, I made a huge pot of coffee, sat my butt down, and read the manuscript through, not allowing myself to stop and tinker with individual poems. I read the whole thing, from the first to the last page. And you know what? I liked it. I really did. I was proud of it. I think it’s a real book.
After a little more polishing, a little more editing, and a little more pulling and adding of poems, this morning, I sealed a copy of the manuscript in a big envelope and mailed it off to the press. I didn’t let myself get too emotional about sending my little book out into the world. After all, there will be many more steps along the path to publication over the next 18 months. Maybe I’d let myself get emotional about the galleys, I thought.
When I got back from a long, cathartic run after hitting the post office, I found an email in my inbox from a writing mentor. He was a teacher who was neither lavish with his praise nor shrinking with his criticisms, and he’s a formidable writer and reader I thought I’d never impress with my writing. I never felt that I’d brought forth more than a base-level interest in him, and spent much of my grad school experience trying to write a poem he would like. He’s also known for not being into blurbing books, so I felt it was a coup when he agreed to let me take a small, positive phrase he wrote on my thesis manuscript and use it as jacket copy. But in his email, he told me he was proud of me, and that he’d been thinking about me and my book, and would like to write a real, substantial blurb for me.
Folks, I lost it. I dissolved into a blubbering puddle of weepy nonsense and all that emotion that I was trying not to have. Maybe I’ll never feel like a “real writer,” but having a book manuscript in production and having that one, elusive reader actually say he’s proud of me? This feels pretty damn close.