30 August 2013

Interview with author Jay Ponteri (Part II)

Last Friday I posted Part I of my interview with the fabulous Jay Ponteri, author of Wedlocked, a memoir published earlier this year by Hawthorne Books, and a creative writing faculty member at Marylhurst University. Part I was about Jay's writing and writing process. Today I'm happy to bring you the final segment, in which he talks about publishing with Hawthorne Books and gives new and aspiring authors a bit of advice.

How did you find your publisher?  
I know what presses publish what because I'm an avid reader and bibliophile. On any given day, If you go to the Blue Room at Powell's, you might find me. I was there one hour ago. This is a costly hobby, but it pays off when you need to consider what distinguishes one press from another. I think I sent this book to like six or seven serious small presses of unconventional nonfiction---Hawthorne being one of them---small presses that take chances on young writers without an agent / representation.

What did you look for in a publisher? What sorts of negotiations did you go through before signing with Hawthorne Books?  

I wanted a publisher who would work hard at every stage of the process: editing, design/ layout, distribution, promotion, etc... I didn't want a limp-handshake of an edit. I wanted somebody to challenge me, and Rhonda Hughes absolutely did. She took me through a few rounds of substantive revision that included adding more pages, cutting pages, and reorganizing things. It felt like a real collaboration because, among other things, she really gets my book. I guess that's what you want, somebody who GETS your book and wants to cheer for it. We negotiated little. She said she wanted it, and I said, Take it.

Did you get an advance? Do publishers even do advances anymore?
I received a modest advance, which is acceptable and normal for small presses. Small presses are pretty much single-handedly saving literature. They are not simply focused on what sells (although that's certainly a consideration); they care about our language and about the development of our country's literature, about form and the progression of forms. But that comes at a cost, which is to say, small presses don't make a ton of money and have to keep their costs pretty tight. My sense is Hawthorne tries their hardest to focus funds on book design / distribution / promotion so that their books have a real chance of getting in readers' hands. That’s my sense. Rhonda would be the person to ask.

What support & services does Hawthorne Books provide, and what do they expect you to do on your own?  

Hawthorne edited, designed, distributed, and helped me to promote my book. They are very very very good at all of those things. They work hard for all of their books, and there's only four people plus interns. I don't recall they expected me to do anything, but I presume they're pleased I'm willing to advocate for my own work, that is to say, I'm willing to step out into the public realm and ask my community of writers and readers to hear my work, to receive it alongside the work of others. I write blog entries, do interviews and readings, I try my hardest to use social media (Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter, Pinterest) to spread the word too. I have my limits of course, but I have no expectations that another person is responsible for selling my book to readers.

What was the process after signing with Hawthorne Books? Did you go through more revisions? How many proofs? Did you get the choose the cover art? Etc.  

I went through about a year of revisions from fully substantive to line edits. I think there were four or five proofs after the book was designed. The amazing Adam McIsaac designs all the Hawthorne Books’ covers; he designed three different versions, and Rhonda asked me which one I preferred, and they made the final choice, which is pretty normal, generous really. Most major houses and many small presses give writers little-to-no input on cover design. Before Adam designed the cover for Wedlocked, I sent him examples of covers designed by my favorite designer, Alvin Lustig. He was this bauhaus designer who did covers for New Directions and Knopf (among others) in the 30's and 40's. Thankfully Adam made a contemporary design influenced by Lustig's beautiful work. (http://www.alvinlustig.com/bp_nd/bp_nd.php

Any advice for new and aspiring authors?
The secret is to keep at it. That's advice I received over 15 years ago from my writing teacher Robert Boswell. The secret is to keep at it. Keep doing it. Keep READING and keep writing in the face of rejection. Everybody writes at their own pace, their own output. It's not a competition. Don't rush it. Learn to find enjoyment in the process of composition, in writing sentences, making words and phrases, in the present moment of composition, of solitude, which is different every single day. Be kind to yourself when you can't do it and reward yourself when you do it. The reward of publication comes so infrequently that we have to discover the reward that comes from maintaining a writing and reading practice. Be kind to yourself. Be kind to yourself. Be kind to yourself. Did I mention, Be Kind to Yourself?

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