How has your first book changed your life?
29. Sarah Mangold
What do you remember about the day when you saw your finished book for the first time?
Hmm, I didn't expect my life to change but I thought the book would introduce the possibility of change. New Issues sent an informative packet "What happens next, and what to expect" so I was up to speed on the realities of the First Book. I did hope maybe someone would love the book and be interested in publishing the next one, maybe I would get lots of reading invites, maybe I could get a teaching job. None of these happened but I was kinda looking around to see what happens next. Household Mechanics is a shortened version of my MFA thesis Operation Bird Dog. It was my secret dream to 1) have the thesis published as a book and 2) have a book by thirty. I was incredibly lucky both came true. (It was close though, the manuscript was selected three months before my thirtieth birthday.) If neither came true I'm sure I would still be sending it out since I still genuinely enjoy the poems in the book. I'm also very aware having a book published is a bit like winning the lotto---there are lots of poets with terrific manuscripts that haven't been picked up yet. Every time I see a finalists list at a contest I think, ooh, I want to read their books too.
I've had more confidence to ask for readings and apply to residency programs. And I have the great satisfaction of having "a book" which legitimizes my hours of writing to just about everybody and takes a little sting out of the monthly student loan payments (which I'll have paid off in my seventies if I'm lucky).
Yes. I had sent it out for three years--five or so contests a year. The year I won I had sent out two different versions of the same manuscript--one long, and one a bit shorter. New Issues sent on the longer version to C.D but she thought it was too long, so they sent the shorter version which ultimately won the prize. I was thrilled to be a "finalist," kinda like a super-hero "The Finalist," since the manuscript had never made it that far before. And actually having the manuscript chosen by C.D. Wright was incredible. She's one of my favorite writers and knowing she liked and understood my work was such a mental boost.
Yes, a little bit. New Issues asked for ideas and they passed those on to the graphic design student who had read the manuscript and would design the cover. I liked that the cover would be a collaborative project and help someone out with their portfolio. I asked for something "domestic"--like a picture of an open cutlery drawer or one of those old refrigerators kids have been known to get trapped in. I'm happy with what they came up with. The first draft of the cover had some writing on the wrench but I had that taken off.
I didn't really know what would happen. I knew there was the possibility of something new happening, maybe? At the time I didn't know anyone else with a book. The New Issues packet explained how the book process works and what may or may not happen and not to be discouraged, this is all normal.
Do you still have that "What happens next, and what to expect" packet? What kinds of things did it say?
I do still have the packet. It works as a de-briefing before the book publication. Ideas about what to expect, what happens, what to do, and what the press is doing and willing and able to do. There's a list of things to do before the book comes out, like getting blurbs, an author photo, writing an author's statement, and sending out remaining work with a note that it will appear in your book to be published--I had a much better success rate getting work into journals with that line "they will appear in my first book…" than I did the months/years before with no book. They also give a timeline of when ads will be reserved and where, when and where review copies will be sent, and the press's success rate of having reviews in particular publications. They encourage setting up readings at local bookstores/libraries and are ready to send out promotional kits as requested. There's a section on reviews, "It may seem to the author that her book (finally) comes out and nothing happens. Reviews may be few and slow in coming"--which is realistic. But mostly they stress the press's belief in the book and the importance of the author remaining an active writer, reader, and promoter.
I traveled to New Orleans for the official book release at AWP, signed books at the New Issues table, plus did a reading for the Unassociated Reading that happens at AWPs. New Issues sent out a hundred review copies so I felt that was covered. I've read where I could. Travel costs and time off work cut down on asking for readings too far away.
What prompted you to create Bird Dog?
Do you see publishing a journal as a method of promoting?
What advice do you wish someone had given you before your book came out?
But the book publication itself was such a gift and validation I'm on the right track. The new manuscript is in year-one of the submission process. I've added non-contest presses this time around.
I've had one review that I know about. John Olson, a friend and local poet, wrote a review for First Intensity which I very much appreciate.
Sure, change is good. I'd like to spend more time writing and studying and less time working to pay rent and student loans.
I've adjusted my work hours from forty to thirty-two (while keeping my health insurance) which is good for my writing but not helping the rent or student loan situation.
A man comes to our house
He seemed to speak
Boy scouts slept beneath the stars
The scale model with all the little people
Ever since the closet door swung ajar
. . .