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The Book Horrors

November 24, 2012 by · 1 comment

Katerina Stoykova-Klemer

We write poems. We work hard at our craft. We learn. We get feedback from respected mentors. We edit. We send work out for publication. It gets rejected. We are discouraged. We refuse to give up. We send work out again.

Eventually, several poems get picked up in various journals. Maybe even one gets nominated for a Pushcart prize. We are beside ourselves with happiness, and oh, so proud. We tell our parents (unless the work is about them and may upset them), we tell our friends, rejoice and celebrate. We are encouraged and optimistic, and we decide to start sending a book-length collection out. We have our pick of small and large presses, contests galore and open reading periods. So we send.

Fast forward several years. The collection looks nothing like the one you started with, the title has changed twice, you have ordered and reordered the poems an unreasonable number of times. You have restructured it at least three times based on brilliant suggestions by writer-friends who were kind enough to read and comment. Your friends have all published collections already, have had readings and book signings, and you are wondering what you are doing wrong, since, of course, you are a much better poet.

But one day, as they say in Bulgaria, the sun will rise on your street and you will get a call, or more likely an email, that your poetry book manuscript was picked up by a small press that would love to bring your work into the world. This will make you as happy as you can possibly bear to be happy, and you will be ecstatic for a very long time. Very long time, because you will be surprised to learn that it will take on average about a year to print and staple your manuscript and post it for sale on the press’s website. You will be very happy and will look forward to holding the book in your hand… until you get The Book Horrors.

The Book Horrors arrive about a week before the release date. They take the form of chills around your spine and severe anxieties, attacks of shame and the sinking feeling that, by publishing this book, you are making the biggest mistake of your life. Why did you have to do this in first place? You are about to ruin any chance of a career in poetry you might have otherwise had. You should have arranged it differently.

And since the manuscript got typeset, you wrote five other poems that would go great in the book. and now you know for a fact that the book could have been better. And the first poem? Is it really that strong? What will your writing teacher say? She never liked that poem? And what if nobody comes to the book launch party? (Side note – don’t worry. Your best friends and your closest enemies will be there, and that typically makes for enough of a crowd.) What if nobody buys it? (Side note – don’t worry, you won’t sell too many. Drop every expectation about the number of books sold. ) What if nobody notices it? (Side note – don’t worry. Chances are a couple of friends will do kind reviews in local papers.)

The Book Horrors don’t stay with you 24/7. They come unexpectedly and punch you in the gut, make you want to hide because you feel so exposed. Your first poetry book is coming out. You are hoping that it will change your life. (Side note – don’t worry. It will change your life. But not the way you think.

It will change you, and then you will change your life. Because you have to step out there and own your book, your poems, even the front cover, which you may or may not love. You need to live up to the blurbs that your mentors wrote about you. And that’s a lot of responsibility and a lot of work. You also need to realize that this book is a snapshot of the best you are capable of on the date your book was accepted. If you could have done better, you would have. Now it’s time to put your efforts into a new project. )

And The Book Horrors do go away – shortly after the book launch party, after you fully realize and accept that the publication of this book was a big deal only for you, and maybe also for your publisher. For everyone else it was a relatively unemotional and distant event. Then The Book Horrors are replaced with a sense of a letdown, which only a new project can help shake off. And yes, when you publish it, The Book Horrors will be back. And that’s okay.

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