The Hermit Poet

February 13, 2008

Making the Most of Your First Book: More Prelim Work

Filed under: First Book Advice — admin @ 4:46 pm

I received an email from my book designer early this week who provided a more complete list of things needed before we can go to press. Many of these can and probably should be prepared well in advance.

So, in addition to the points made in the previous post – here are some more things that you can do even before the book gets picked up:

  1. Keep an electronic version of your manuscript. A MS Word file is probably best. Most presses use computer-aided printing, so a digital file will cut down on typos and other errors. More importantly, keep track of which version you sent to which press (I number the revisions of my manuscript and keep track of the dates I send things out as well as the version of the manuscript — this helps ensure that the right version of the manuscript gets to the press).
  2. Author bio. Note that this is not necessarily the same as the bio you send out with your regular poetry submissions. I’ll post more about bios, blurbs, and reviews later. For now just know that a good author bio should provide a glimpse into the person behind the book while maintaining a professional tone.
  3. Dedication. Do you want one? If so, who and how personal? I argue for keeping it short and simple. Parent(s). Lover/mate/spouse. Avoid cute.
  4. Acknowledgments. You probably have already assembled a basic acknowledgments page listing where poems in the manuscript first appeared — to this you should add any notes and thank yous for grant support, writing retreats, close readers, mentors, and other supporters. Don’t get too long-winded — it’s impossible to list everyone, so in most cases you will have to be general. For example, while I can’t list the entire MFA class at UC Riverside, I can note the program and my mentors. I definitely recommend listing anyone who served as a close reader of the manuscript. I’ve noticed that some acknowledgment pages list only given names, an approach which I am somewhat in favor of — sometimes name-dropping in acknowledgment pages feels pretty heavy-handed or awkward (edit:  on the other hand, a first book really does need to say Thank You to certain people for its existence — I’m switching back to a reasonably pared down list of full names)
  5. Artist’s Statement for Publicity Packet. To be honest, I’m not really certain what this is yet. I need to ask my press for some examples. I think this might be just a general statement of the scope and interests of the book, as well as something of an ars poetica. If someone has a better idea, please let me know. If you’ve done a press kit before, then your extended bio there is probably a good place to start from.
  6. Contact List of Local Newspapers. Email and physical mailing addresses. Again, this is something worth developing early on. The objective here is to have a list of newspapers which might run a “local poet does good” type story. “Local” doesn’t need to mean just the communities that are geographically near — consider other “neighborhoods” or “communities” that you are a part of. For example, being part Asian, I might also add some publications to my list that are directed more toward the Asian American community. Being Canadian with ties to both Vancouver, British Columbia and Regina, Saskatchewan, I could also add newspapers from both those communities to the list. Being alumni of BYU and UC Riverside, I should also have the alumni and general university publications on the list as well. Sometimes having an unusual previous career can work to your advantage. In my case, as a former computer games programmer, I have contacts with a number of computer industry magazines — those people as well would certainly be good to add to my list.
  7. Contact List of Potential Reviewers. It’s a good idea to build this list early as well. While it’s nice to have a few guaranteed good reviews by asking people who know your work already, these reviews often fail to come off as unbiased (frankly, I see a number of these come in at Boxcar and it’s usually clear who is a close personal friend of the poet doing this as a favor, and who is genuinely interested in the work). Build a list of journals which accept review copies as well as poets and critics who might be interested in reviewing the book. In terms of potential reviewers, try to pick people whose work you respect and find an affinity with — hopefully they will sense a common ground in your work as well. With respect to journals, it’s helpful to send out review copies to a variety of places: east and west coast, big-name and smaller-name, places you’ve published and places you haven’t, etc. You will probably find that the journals where you’ve previously published will be the most interested in running a review of your book — it’s good PR for them as well (again with the “community” angle). We’ll talk a little more about reviews in another post.
  8. Contact List for Readings. Essentially, are there places which might be interested in having you come and read if they had a chance to read your book? Such venues might include universities, bookstores, reading series, book festivals, etc. You probably don’t need to send a review copy to the local coffee house reading, but you might send copies to places you’re interested in stopping at as part of a book tour.
  9. Book announcement postcard mailing list. As you do readings, get feedback from people via email, and otherwise make friends in the poetry world and beyond, be certain to ask if they would be interested in being contacted when your book comes out. Other people you might consider adding to your list: editors of publications you respect, writers you respect, in short anyone who you feel might have an interest in the book, but aren’t already planning to send review copies to. When your book comes out, your press most likely will print out a good number of postcards and send them to you to mail out to your list. You should also keep some as promotional material at readings for those people who might not be able to buy the book right away (people like free things — but books are not free).

Next up: Bios, Blurbs, and Reviews

One Response to “Making the Most of Your First Book: More Prelim Work”

  1. January Says:

    Hi Neil. It was nice meeting you with Joseph at AWP.

    As someone going through the same things with a first book (my book comes out in late ’09), this is a good list. I am doing much of the same planning with my publisher, as well as creating a marketing plan.

    Good luck with everything. And I look forward to your upcoming interview with Nic at Very Like a Whale.

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