COUNTDOWN TO PUBLICATION: 20 Days (The Book as Object)
Written by
Sandra Beasley
March 2010
Written by
Sandra Beasley
March 2010
My second poetry collection, I Was the Jukebox, won the 2009 Barnard Women Poets Prize (selected by Joy Harjo) and will be launched into the world on April 5, 2010 by W. W. Norton. Given the experience with my first book, you can imagine my shock when a copy of I Was the Jukebox arrived early. It must have come the day I left for New Orleans, overnighted from W. W. Norton. But I didn't know to be on the lookout, and I didn't instruct my boyfriend to keep watch over the mail. So it waited. And waited. Patiently, in its generic padded envelope. My editors probably wondered at the silence. Had they spelled my name wrong? Had I mistaken orange for pink on the cover design? They had nothing to worry about. The book is beautiful, and after years of flipping through the baby photos of friends (trying to pretend that their super-cute kid's smile covered with strained carrots is any different from the shot of her smeared in ice cream...or the photo of her in the sandbox...then in the jumper...then on the hobby horse...), it is my turn to be the proud and overzealous mama. Look! Look! It is real. "Sandra Beasley" is legible. (This is not always a given: I had to fight New Issues when a wayward designer set my name in lavender--on a purple background--meaning that when the cover was reproduced in grayscale, it disappeared entirely. I fought, begged, and haggled my way to green.) This is hardcover, which feels much thicker in the hand than the galley. Thank goodness, because when your publisher has set the price at an outlandish $24.95 (though Amazon has a deep discount going on), you want something with enough heft to be handy elsewhere--say, for killing insects, or stopping bullets, or fixing wobbly tables. People often ask about how much input the author has on the cover. With both books I could not choose my own artwork, but could offer a page of suggestions for an original design. I know enough artists to know that the best way to guarantee that an image won't be used is to ask for it directly. So I didn't prescribe. I used my space to talk about what I didn't want: a jukebox. The title phrase comes from a series that is about displaced voices and personae. I didn't want people to expect something akin to Tyehimba Jess's leadbelly or Keving Young's Jelly Roll, two amazing books whose covers scream "music." I requested a palette of vibrant colors that reflected the book's humor and hyperbole. No olives and tans. No muted anything. There are many aspects to Chin-Yee Lai's design that I couldn't fully appreciate from the advance look I had at the front cover. All the flat yellows (which looked a little weird against light gray) turn out to be gold. The blue paisley is a run-over design anchored by the bar code on the back cover, which also reuses an orange frame. I love the fact that even though the design uses classical elements there's a kind of restlessness--a kinetic energy, a slight displacement of centers--that feels, to me, very modern. As you can see here, the orange frame that seemed oddly clipped on the 2D cover turns out to be a clever overlap from front to inside flap. A dirty little secret about the inside flap copy: I wrote it. You'll probably write yours too. It's a terrible exercise, describing your work in heightened terms to sell it to an unknown reader browsing in some theoretical bookstore (in other words, this is no time for modesty). As much as I hated putting it together, I knew that if Norton had sent me someone else's draft-for-approval I'd have micromanaged each phrase. They know that too, from years of frustrating experience. So they decided to trim out the middleman and just make the author write the damn thing. This is the first interior page I flipped to. Why? Because the final proof had a humdinger of a typo--somehow "In the Deep" was listed on the Table of Contents as "In the Dee," which makes it sound less like a poem about octopi and more like a sitcom set in a West Village apartment. The "P" has been restored, but I'm terrified of looking at the book TOO closely knowing that at some point, I will find a typo. With Theories of Falling, this happened to me on stage, while reading the poem to a crowded bar. I just had to take a deep breath and keep going. Since I am offering boundless praise overall, I can be honest about the thorn in the roses: Norton puts three small dots to indicate a stanza break that happens to align with the bottom of the page. (See just above my thumb.) It strikes me as rather intrusive, especially if the stanza is enjambed. When I saw those dots on the galleys I struck them--every single one--thinking they were a formatting error. Nope. House style! Every press has its quirk (for New Issues, it was setting the poem texts in a sans serif font), and there will always be some back and forth over trying to accommodate the dimensions of a particular poem without breaking the template--especially long lines, or 31 lines on a page meant to fit 30. You pick your battles. The dots won. Returning to my earlier analogy, this is the obligatory naked snapshot: my book, without its cover, grinning up from the bathtub. For some books, Norton embosses the signature of the author on the inside cloth jacket. When I found that out I spent an afternoon snooping through my home library, looking for others (Marie Howe! Todd Boss!). The request for my signature came when I was in the mountains outside Sheridan, Wyoming, at the Jentel Artist Residency. Never have I felt so self-indulgent as to be sitting at a desk with ten sheets of blank paper and three different pens, signing my name over...and over...and over...each time second-guessing slant and size. Part of the problem is that my muscle memory appends a dinky little daisy to the Y in Beasley, a remnant of high school days when I was formalizing my signature for my Driver's License and wanted something special. But I'm not 16 anymore, nor even 26, and I refused to have a flower curlicue on this book. You can see how loooong the tail is on that Y. Trust me, it was an act of will. I sent it off. And two months later, I'd learned that the outgoing assistant had misplaced the signature, and I had to send it off again. 46 times. 46 times, I wrote my name. That gilding was hard-earned. So, what now? How do you countdown to delivery, when the baby is already sitting on the table beside you? The truth is that a book's creation is always a diffused experience, with milestones easier shaped in hindsight than recognized at the time. When a book is chosen through a contest you have send out manuscript after manuscript, each time tweaking lines and order. Yes, there was one day when the book was "done"--when I put it in the form Joy Harjo would choose. I have no idea what day that was. Yes, there was a day the cover was revealed to me--but was it when I opened that email from my editor (and the design was new), or was it when I slit open the padded envelope (and the design was complete)? My book will probably not receive the "announcement" of a review in some major venue. There will be no week when it moves thousands of copies; there's a reason the New York Times Book Review doesn't have a bestseller list for poetry. I will find my audience one reading, one reader, one poem at a time. So I say: let the Countdown continue. There are still issues to be explored between now and April 5. Also, I haven't gotten the snapshot of my book on a hobby horse yet.

Let's be friends

The Women Behind She Writes

519 articles
12 articles

Featured Members (7)

123 articles
392 articles
54 articles
60 articles

Featured Groups (7)

Trending Articles

  • Victoria Mixon

    Congratulations, Sandra! How absolutely wonderful to have your signature embossed in the cover in gold. I discovered the extraordinary early-twentieth-century Dutch writer Maria Dermout in a second-hand shop because her initials were on the cover of her book, and I just liked the respect it showed the author. I wrote a whole blog post about how I got into writing as an idealistic teen so that I, too, might someday have my initials on the cover of my book. Your whole name! And in gold.

    I love your cover. The little special details like the gold and the fold-over flap and using the barcode in the design are so professional. And the wave is simply spectacular.

    What a marvelous thing to be able to put on your shelf forever. Yours.

  • Julie Jeffs

    Congratulations. I am almost embarrassed to admit that I often will choose books in the bookstore based solely on cover ... this is a definite winner, beautiful cover, beautiful embossed signature (daisies just don't emboss that well), looking forward to the hobby horse photo, hope you will share with all of us.

  • Sonya Chung

    The book is beautiful. I love the "naked" hardcover, too -- the fabric texture, the binding, etc. The whole package lovingly made.

  • Lisa Rivero

    Congratulations! I love the embossed signature.

  • Precious Williams