If you told me five years ago that I’d have a book in the window at St. Mark’s Bookshop, I would have plotzed. I used to go to St. Mark’s and sit on the floor in the poetry section eating Jujyfruits, as if it was Grauman’s Chinese Theater. From big names like Ted Kooser and Marie Howe (okay big names in the poetry world) to indie press poets Eve Grubin and Jason Schneiderman, if your book was there you were Brando.
So when a friend called me in April to tell me that my first book of poems was in the window, why didn’t I go see it?
I’ve only allowed myself to savor a few moments in publishing this book. One moment was when a man named Milt bought a signed copy for his wife for Valentine’s Day. For that, I love Milt and I want him to be my Valentine. Another was when the poet Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz told me she read it on the subway. Imagine! My book on the subway. But mostly I’ve propelled myself through the publishing process on a cocktail of restlessness and panic, which left little room for awe.
I don’t believe that publishing a book with an indie press, as I did, is necessarily more harrowing than publishing a book with a large publisher. I work as a publicity manager for a big house and I witness my authors’ fears firsthand every day. Publicists do a lot of talking authors off of ledges. We are good at talking. When we get tired of talking, the literary agent steps in and asks us to turn up the volume. But I’m a poet and poets don’t usually have agents. So I had to advocate for myself.
I constructed an illusion (as many authors do) that I could worry all aspects of the book into perfection–from marketing to distribution. Pair this reasoning with my publicist’s head for breaking news, plus the fact that CNN will never see poetry as breaking news, and you’ve got a recipe for some serious Sysyphus push. I was afraid that if I surrendered control even a little bit, my book might disappear completely.
I do recognize that savoring the moment is a talent. It is not my talent, but I believe in its value. Throughout the publishing process I kept telling myself that I would eventually slow down and enjoy the experience. I’d stop worrying after final edits were in. I’d surrender when tour ended. Now it’s four months after pub and I have yet to take more than that minute with Milt to absorb the experience. On some level, I think I’m still afraid that the book will just vanish.
There is also the question of what to do with ourselves once our 15 minutes of literary notoriety has ended. As a poet, those 15 minutes are less about Oprah and more about an ex-boyfriend knowing you are a published author. But it’s still addictive.
Years of working as a publicist showed me that every book has a cycle, some bigger and some smaller, when it comes to media. I assumed I was immunized against trying to ride my moment past its expiration date. What I didn’t realize was that I’d have a reaction to being in the spotlight, which felt almost biological (or bio-illogial) in nature. I physically craved that attention when it ebbed. So I stayed in constant motion to try and keep the spotlight on. I can only imagine how the authors I represent must feel a month after the Today Show, when Kathie Lee moves on to some guy with a juice fasting book. I suppose all writers hope that when the attention subsides, it’s merely a lull before the next set of 15 minutes. That’s why the three book deal is king.
My answer to the lull was to start blogging like a maniac about topics that drifted progressively further away from poetry. I became obsessed with Twitter and started using ‘tweet’ as a verb. I gained an entirely new understanding of why aging actors do what they do on reality television. Look, here I am blogging right now.
Oh, and I finally went to see my book in the window at St. Mark’s last week. Of course, given the literary cycle, the book was no longer there. I was so busy with the big shill that I missed my big premiere at Grauman’s.
But I did find my book in the poetry section, right next to Joseph Brodsky. If you aren’t into Russian-American poets, I’ll assume that you, dear reader, don’t know who Joseph Brodsky is. So let me tell you–in the poetry world, he’s very a big deal.
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