By Eric DeVaughnn | contributing columnist
I consider myself a patient person. I wait my turn in line without huffing or muttering under my breath. I’m an editor. That takes a special level of patience. So, when a friend read my first collection and recommended reaching out to a local publisher, it was a bit surprising when all that cultured patience disappeared.
Looking over the publisher’s shoulder as she scrolled pages, adding little comments about what she would do differently, it was obvious she was much more knowledgeable about the process than me, especially considering I’d never published anything before. We spoke about the various labors that go into producing a finished book. When it came time to discuss royalties, I was onboard and willing to sacrifice creative control [LIES!!!] with a reasonable degree of input.
As enthusiastic as I was with the idea of being published, I’d been planning to self-pub through a platform called CreateSpace. This was 2017, and the site had not yet been acquired by Kindle Direct Publishing or KDP. A poet I’d met the previous year had talked me into spending my 2016 winter break writing a book. After a week of procrastination, I compiled all the poems I could find, then pored through my Facebook memories for little clever quips. I was determined that this book would be a standout. No stuffy forms or predictable lines here.
The book took two weeks to finish, and in one month’s time, I planned to take physical copies with me to a show in Las Vegas.
Another publisher had shown me about page breaks and section breaks, about including bleed when I sized images. He gave me just enough information to convince me I could do this on my own. And now, peering over the shoulder of this editor, I learned about spacing equally across the tops of each page throughout the book, page numbers, etc. There was so much to do, and I was almost glad it would be handed off to someone else.
I say almost because being a “creative type” comes with an almost radically fierce sense of protectiveness and control about my art. About anything, if I’m being honest with myself. All too often, I will watch someone do something and think, “Hm, I’ll bet I could do that better!” Listening to the publisher speaking so casually about my baby, my collection of very carefully arranged poems, lamenting how “spoken word poets are a headache to work with,” gave me anxiety I had not known could exist outside of LA traffic. And still, all of that would have been acceptable. Then I asked:
How long will the whole process take?
Well, if we get started now and rush, we can have it out by July, maybe June at the earliest.
It just didn’t make any sense; I mean the whole book was right here. I’d already done the hard part! I even took a photo for the cover! And it wouldn’t be ready for my February show in Vegas. I backed out and said I’d publish this one myself and give them my second book, “The Beauty of Dragons,” for which I had already written maybe 40 pages. I left, determined to show them I could complete in a couple of weeks what was supposed to take half a year. And by the February show, I had a couple dozen freshly printed copies in hand.
In August, I began the process of revision. While the first version had been fun and certainly creative, I now hated my own cover design, saw missed potential for grouping poems in a more meaningful arrangement, and recognized just how random and scattershot some of the pieces appeared, making the book feel disjointed at times.
I realized there was much more to editing than just correcting grammar and catching misspelled words. There was more to designing a cover than simply being good at art. Formatting requires an understanding of what happens behind the scenes, the invisible magic.
I also learned I love the process. Every word in its place, every space, every keystroke, every function, every blank page… it’s all so intentional. And the result is a tangible thing that will forever have existed. A gift I can hold up and say:
“Yeah? I did this.”
Eric DeVaughnn is a father, author, educator, and poet. He has hosted open mics, facilitated workshops with the local literary laureate, and is cofounder of the publishing group innateDIVINITYbooks.