Friday, August 29, 2008

How I Connected with My Dream Publisher and Had All My First Book Dreams Come True, Part 2

My first contact with Bruce Covey was back in March 2005 when he sent a submission to No Tell Motel. I liked it very much and accepted 5 poems for publication. Although I had read a few of his poems in other magazines, I didn't know much about him or his work. In May he also sent some poems for the first Bedside Guide that I accepted. After his poems appeared in No Tell Motel in June, we started chatting about a mutual friend (Amy King). He invited me to send poems for his not yet launched magazine, Coconut. In August he accepted some for the second issue and then invited me to submit my chapbook for a new online chapbook series he was starting. The chapbook is a parred down, edited version of my first manuscript (and graduate thesis), Home-Schooled By a Cackling Jackal. (The one I entered into all those contests -- and named this blog after.) Poems in the chapbook were published in 5AM, Ducky, Esther Press, Good Foot, LIT, MiPOesias, Pip Lit and Best American Poetry 2006. One was also supposed to appear in Drunken Boat but I pulled it.

Bruce and I continued our correspondence, discussing poetry, my ideas for starting a press, our children, our mutual distaste for SUVs and a hundred other things. We finally met in person in November in Miami when we read for a MiPO reading. We really liked each other. I admired Bruce's poems, what he was doing with Coconut, his work ethic, his personality -- we published each other's poems and we worked well together.

When I decided to start a press, I asked Bruce to send a manuscript, he did and I agreed to publish his 3rd book, Elapsing Speedway Organism. He was still waiting for his then-publisher to release his 2nd book (they eventually did, 8 years late). His 2nd book was published a few months after No Tell published his 3rd.

A few months after I accepted his manuscript, Bruce embarked on his own press: Coconut Books. He invited me to submit my manuscript (a brand new one I had not sent to any other publisher). We discussed the possible pressure he might feel since I was publishing his book. He said he knew enough of my work to know that he liked it and if he decided he didn't want to publish my book, he knew I wouldn't freak on his ass. At this point we had known one for over a year and become close. When he accepted the book to be the first one his press would publish, we very briefly discussed the inevitable eye raising toward our publishing one another's books. He said he didn't care. I said I didn't care either. And that was pretty much that.

Poems from Your Ten Favorite Words were first published in MiPOesias, Coconut, Kulture Vulture, Tool a Magazine, The Carolina Quarterly, mem, SOFTBLOW, Melancholia’s Tremulous Dreadlocks, The Hat, past simple, The Concher, Jumps, OCHO, The Bedside Guide to No Tell Motel, The Bedside Guide to No Tell Motel – Second Floor, The Displayer, The Fishouse, Beltway Poetry Quarterly and Vs.

During the editing process, I kept changing my manuscript and sent Bruce 4 or 5 versions. Over the course of 3 months I proposed over 10 possible titles. We did not go with the one he liked best. I convinced him to let me do the typesetting because I like to be in control. We spent a lot of time discussing fonts. He made a case to include some poems from the chapbook. I explained why I didn't want to do that. He accepted that. I had A LOT of input into the cover -- although Bruce did talk me out of using my own face (like a pop star!) on the front. He didn't want my personality to overshadow the poems. His observation was that more people knew of me from blogging than from my poems. He's probably right. When we were doing the print galleys, there was an issue with the spine not being centered. I told Bruce how he should handle it, but he didn't do exactly what I suggested and several print galleys after that were still screwed up. I got a little testy and made Bruce feel bad. If you consider the following report from Gideon's speech camp and replace "Gideon" for "Reb" and "teacher" for "publisher" you'll kind of get the gist of the situation:

"Gideon's interactions with the other children in the classroom were in general very good, although at times he tried to control the behavior of the other kids and needed reminders that he was "not the teacher."

Bruce took my last minute hissy fit in stride and did not tell me to go "suck a fuck."

The book came out, only a few weeks later than it was supposed to and I'm very happy with it. I wish more people were reviewing it (Yes, I'll send you a review copy, just ask!) and more people were buying it -- but almost a year later I'm still thrilled and forever grateful to Bruce Covey.

That's how it happened for me. I correspond and have friendships with many poets, the majority of them have never published me and probably never will, but some have. I don't make friends with poets in hopes they'll do something for me. In most cases they won't. I make friend with poets because I'm often lonely and misplaced. Poets tend to understand that part of me because they often experience it themselves. Sometimes, when there's mutual respect and interest, poets do really wonderful things for other poets' poems. That's an added benefit. We talk about "publishers" but sometimes forget that almost ALL publishers of poetry are also poets. Poets are the ones passing the torch.

Next I'll talk about putting together the Bedside Guide anthologies.


At 8:10 PM, Blogger steven karl said...

Hey Reb, I've been really enjoying your post. It's great to these insights esp. since you know No Tell & Coconut are two of my favorite presses!


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