In Track a Book, we follow one manuscript’s journey from creation to publication. This monthly series will look at Brent Newsom’s upcoming CavanKerry release Love’s Labors, which is scheduled for release in April 2015.
I am home with my two kids when the call comes. It’s early August, midafternoon. Snack time. Water and ants on a log. No—be honest, Brent—probably it is Goldfish and apple juice. My son, four, sits at the dining room table, my daughter, not quite two, still in a high chair. Hot as Hades out in the Oklahoma sun, and not much cooler in our dining room, a converted sunroom with tall windows and three skylights on the west side of the house. My phone buzzes in my pocket. No name on the caller ID. A New Jersey area code. Telemarketer, no doubt. A call I would ignore if it came two weeks later, at the beginning of a new semester. But the kids are occupied, I’m bored, what the heck. I answer: Hello. This is he. (No—honest, Brent—This is him.)
A woman on the other line introduces herself: Teresa Carson, Associate Publisher of CavanKerry Press. It takes a moment or two for this to register. To remember the manuscript I sent off back in March. To realize this person does not want to sell me anything. She is not offering a free cruise if I just answer a few simple questions and pass a credit check. She is not conducting a national poll of randomly selected poets living in landlocked states with panhandles. She wants to publish my book. I sit down. She wants to publish my book.
I remember sitting down, though I remember little else of my conversation with Teresa. That was the first surprise in the process of making my book, and it still surprises me some days: This is really happening. They want to publish my book. But there have been other surprises too, starting with how long the process would take. Teresa initially told me I could expect the book to come out in something like the spring of 2025. Ages and ages hence, it seemed, whatever it was exactly. No matter. The book was accepted. I could wait. Then another surprise: something had changed, and the release date was moved up to spring 2015. Suddenly there was so much to do and so little time.
And it seemed each step of the process contained another small surprise of one kind or another. Developmental editing, for example: an email came out of the blue one day from an editor who doesn’t appear on CavanKerry’s masthead, a poet whom I greatly respect. (He had some very helpful comments, with blessedly few criticisms.) Or copyediting: something in Microsoft Word made my manuscript’s formatting go wonky when I sent it to the copyeditor. (Multiple emails later, an unformatted version finally displayed correctly on her computer.) Marketing and promotion: writers with small presses often write their own marketing copy. (I’d rather write a poem any day.) Cover art: getting permission to use a woodcut image by J. J. Lankes, who illustrated some of Robert Frost’s work and about whom Sherwood Anderson wrote in Virginia Quarterly Review in 1931, turned out to be too difficult. (Instead I chose a fantastic photo by my friend, graphic designer Corey Lee Fuller.)
Each of these surprises, of course, is a consequence of that first one, the one that came with an unexpected phone call on a hot August day. When I hung up, I was trembling with nervous energy and a quickened pulse. I stood to my feet and, searching for anyone with whom to celebrate this good news, looked at my four-year-old son, and said, “They’re going to publish my book!” Unaware that the world had somehow fundamentally changed in the past few minutes—no longer so oppressively hot, so drearily summerish, now glowing with light and grace—he looked at me warily, chewing all the while, and gave me a thumbs up. (Four-year-olds are good for keeping things in perspective.) “Dad,” he asked, “can I have more Goldfish?”