Curious about how others were finding their first-book experience, I made a list of questions to ask a few poets who have one full-length book out so far. I'll post responses (in Q&A form or in paragraphs) as they roll in. My basic question seems to be
How has your first book changed your life?
I remember where I was when I got the news that Winnow Press wanted to publish the book. I was home, and Corrine Lee (the publisher) called, and as she was telling me they'd like to do it I immediately started to panic. I'd changed the entire book since I'd submitted it. It was about 30 pages longer, had a new title, and though there was a little bit of overlap between the book I'd sent her months before and the book I ended up with, it felt completely different to me. I explained everything, and was very relieved when she said revisions were fine, and that a new title was even fine, and that she was looking forward to reading the improved manuscript. After Winnow made the announcement, there was a little bit of a backlash about the contest--I don't really want to get into the specifics--but I had a couple of difficult decisions to make and had to really think about whether publishing the book with Winnow was going to be worth the potential trouble. At one point I withdrew the book, backed out of the contract, which I had signed but not yet mailed. But we kept talking, and in the end decided to go ahead.
It was a Saturday (last June) so my husband was home, which was fun. The book was even more beautiful than I expected. I felt (and still do) very grateful to Corinne and everybody at Winnow for taking such care with it.
So the book existed but wasn't officially "out" for several more months. The publication date wasn't until October. So nothing changed then, not really. It was exciting to show it to my friends and just to say "hey, this thing exists." But I think my take on the experience might be a little different from some first-time authors because I've been through the process with so many people as an editor and publicist. I think I had a better idea of what to expect, and what not to expect. Still, after the book was officially out, now, it's great to be able to answer that inevitable question "do you have a book?" with a yes. Of course that's great. I'd like to say I shrugged off the pressure to publish before Down Spooky was accepted, but I hadn't completely. I'd been a finalist in another contest already with another book, and the MS that became Down Spooky was really the third full-length collection I'd written. I took the others to the prom and they didn't dance. And I felt that disappointment, and that pressure. I dismissed it as well as I could. I was just about ready to publish the book myself, because I'd had so much fun doing chapbooks.
In addition to the readings, she and I also gave workshops and visited all kinds of classes. We did one performance workshop, where I just sort of assisted Jen (she being the true Performer and having the slam background and all), and a couple on publishing/book design, which reversed our roles. But most of the time we answered questions about our books, which the students had read in advance of our visit, and "how to get published" questions, and "what's it like to live in New York" questions, and "hey do you wanna go get a beer" questions.
I learned a lot about reading and performing on the tour and from Jen--I'm still learning this part of being a poet, and until a few years ago wasn't able to read in public at all. Even now, I get nervous and bomb about 1 in 7 times, but that's lots better than 4 in 5. I like reading. It just takes practice. Readings are also a great way to sell books, and I'm obligated to my publisher to sell as many as I can. They put in a lot of money and effort, taking a chance on me. Gotta hold up my end.
The best advice I got before the book came out was from two former teachers: "Ignore the assholes," and "Publication day is the worst day in a writer's life. The writing process itself is where you should get your satisfaction." Both of those things have really been helpful to keep in mind. Writing the poems is much more fun for me than anything else.
A poem from Down Spooky by Shanna Compton:
The day of prophecy has come and gone.
Suppose he had, in his white suit and hat,
It takes two years to dissipate the shock
Its flickering cinema features two films:
The soundtracks mingle through the walls. Listen:
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next interview: Andrea Baker
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