This is part 4 of an 8-part series on what I've gone through to get my debut full-length poetry collection, Solving the World's Problems, published by Press 53 (click here to learn more). Here are links to the previous posts:
- Part 1:Assembling and Submitting a Poetry Collection. In the beginning, there are poems and trying to get them in some order. Then, it's time to find a publisher.
- Part 2:Pushing a Poetry Manuscript to a New Level. After my collection was accepted, the work was not over. In fact, the poems took a completely new direction.
- Part 3:Promoting a Poetry Collection. Promotion doesn't have to be a sleazy thing. In fact, I'd argue it shouldn't be. That said, writers can lay the foundation for their promotion efforts long before there's a book to promote.
Which brings us to today's post on securing blurbs for a poetry collection...
As we neared the end of our revision process, my editor Tom brought up the issue of securing blurbs for Solving the World's Problems. I knew the step would be coming up eventually, and I was dreading it for two reasons: One, I wasn't sure who to ask; and two, I was afraid of rejection.
Who to Ask for a Blurb
Tom said Press 53 uses 2-4 blurbs on the back cover (depending on length). He advised asking 5 people, because 1 or 2 will likely forget. Normally, this is probably sound advice, but I had a gut feeling that anyone who agreed to write a blurb for me would remember. My problem was who to ask.
Here's the thing: I know a lot of poets, and I love the work of so many poets. So it's not like I didn't have people to ask. It was more of how do I decide who the best poets are to ask, because I started with a short list of poets that quickly expanded beyond a dozen poets.
So what I did was to take that long "short" list and narrow it down in a few ways. For starters, I tried to make sure the poets were aligned somewhat with what I try to do in my poems. Then, I wanted to ask poets from different locations and slightly different backgrounds.
After spending a lot of time on this process, I decided who to ask: Sandra Beasley, Patricia Fargnoli, Scott Owens, and Nate Pritts.
What If They Reject Me
Once I had my list of poets to ask, I faced the hard part of the process: Asking them to review my work. I don't know how other poets are, but I have a strange mixture of confidence and insecurity about my writing. When I send my work into the world, I think it's great; but I also fear that I may have delusions of grandeur.
And so it was when I asked Sandra, Patricia, Scott, and Nate if they'd be interested in reading my manuscript and offering some praise if they liked what they read. First, I expected them all to claim they were too busy--either mowing the lawn or washing their hair. However, they were all available and willing.
After I sent them the manuscript, here's the next fear that set in: They would not like what they read. Specifically, I pictured this scenario: Poets receive my manuscript; poets totally hate what they read; poets let me know how much they hated the manuscript; poets share their loathing of manuscript on social media (and in the process learn the identities of other poets who reviewed the manuscript; and then, the poets unite to form a special blog in which they tear apart the manuscript poem-by-poem, line-by-line. Yes, I have a vivid imagination.
To my surprise and delight, the poets loved what they read.
The Blurbs for Solving the World's Problems
Patricia Fargnoli was the first one to respond. She wrote: "The 'World' in Robert Lee Brewer's Solving the World's Problems is a slippery world ... where chaos always hovers near, where we are (and should be) 'splashing around in dark puddles.' And one feels a bit dizzy reading these poems because (while always clear, always full of meaning) they come at reality slantwise so that nothing is quite the same and the reader comes away with a new way of looking at the ordinary objects and events of life. The poems are brim-full of surprises and delights, twists in the language, double-meanings of words, leaps of thought and imagination, interesting line breaks. There are love and relationship poems, dream poems, poems of life in the modern world. And always the sense (as he writes) of 'pulling the world closer to me / leaves falling to the ground / birds flying south.' I read these once, twice with great enjoyment. I will go back to them often."
Sigh. What wonderful words to read when I was expecting the worst.
Shortly after that, Sandra Beasley sent in her endorsement: "Rather than Solving the World's Problems, this collection turns them to the sun like a prism--casting bright and spare images of humanity in flux. 'We spill ourselves all over ourselves,' one poem observes, 'our excess light / our forgiving natures.' A girl buries a blue jay beneath playground wood chips; God adjusts the brim on his cap as he watches the ice melt. Brewer's sound-play has the power to take us to unexpected places. In regards to 'the last bomb on earth,' we are advised, 'if you see the button / push the button // her button / is a dark puddle in a cave / proper handshake.' Compassionate, challenging, and filled with slinky swerves of phrase, these poems refresh how we look at our daily lives."
Double sigh. I started realizing that everything was going to be okay. Nate and Scott got their blurbs in almost simultaneously.
From Nate Pritts: "We need to have faith that what we do matters & there can't be poems out there more full of more faith than Robert Lee Brewer's. He writes with the faith that poetry is what matters, the making of a poem, & he's attentive enough to see that when other people miss out. He knows that whatever daily problems of the head or heart we find ourselves enmeshed in, well-made art can provide a solution."
From Scott Owens: "These poems illustrate the vitality of poetry in our daily lives. Diverse, refreshing, even at times startling, these poems make bold claims for poetry. Robert Lee Brewer confesses that like all poets he wants 'to say something important ... to write the poem / that inspires other people / to build chairs and / drive trucks and write poems.' Brewer knows how important the reflexive act of writing poetry can be, should be, and often is in our daily attempts to solve the world's problems."
The Importance of Blurbs
Over the years, I've seen debates over the importance of blurbs on the front and back covers of books (some even load up the interior pages too). Whether they help sales of the book or not is hard to accurately track, but I can say with confidence that they can't hurt--unless they're completely off the mark and/or offensive.
Plus, I had at least one person pre-order and cite Patricia Fargnoli's endorsement as a strong part of the decision making process. So it's not like they're completely ignored by everyone.
Personally, the blurb process took on a greater purpose than what goes on the cover (and yes, I was very sad that we didn't have enough space to include Nate's blurb on the cover--because I thought it was great). These endorsements helped reinforce that my manuscript was on the right track.
Praise alone is fine, but these endorsements touched on pieces of what I was trying to accomplish without me trying to guide them. That alone made the entire process of securing blurbs worth it to me. If I happen to get a few more sales too, then it'll be icing on the cake.
Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer's Digest Writing Community. That is, he edits books like Writer's Market and Poet's Market, creates a free weekly newsletter for WritersMarket.com, writes for the Writer's Digest magazine, posts on this Poetic Asides blog, and lots of other fun stuff. Voted Poet Laureate of the Blogosphere in 2010, Brewer's debut full-length poetry collection, Solving the World's Problems, will be released by Press 53 on September 1, 2013 (learn more here). He's married to the poet Tammy Foster Brewer, who helps him keep track of their five little poets (four boys and one princess). Follow him on Twitter @robertleebrewer.
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