Lessons from a Book Release + If August Turns 1 Year Old

Tomorrow is the 1st birthday of my book of poetry, IF AUGUST, which was released on May 19 last year. It has been a pleasure to share this work with others, and frankly, to have a book with such a handsome cover, thanks to the painter Richard Kooyman, whose work I have admired for many years. (His latest body of work is primarily figurative, inspired by time spent in Italy looking at ancient art. I love his project to revisit scenes from history, and “remove the patriarchal elements”. See some of that work here.)

Probably the sweetest thing about having this book in the world is reading the private notes I’ve received, usually from friends and acquaintances, who often want to know more about how I had the idea to write a book with so much silence between the lines. The author Elinor Nauen wrote to say the following, after I gave her a copy during an artist residency last spring:

“It’s like a 300 page novel in 100 words and I keep thinking about how inviting this book is — that the reader is invited in as a partner but without being expected to do all the work. A work of such generosity. I guess I continue to puzzle over the fact that there is so much in so little. I haven’t admired any new book as much in years, or to that effect. It’s true! It’s riveting! I cannot say more about the book than Holly does in the book!” — Elinor Nauen, author of My Marriage A-Z: A Big City Romance

I worked on If August in almost total isolation, so it feels really amazing when someone else receives the message that was sent. She got it.

I’ve learned a lot about what it means to put one’s work out into the world through the experience of launching this book. First of all, it’s vulnerable. I didn’t have particular expectations for how it should be received, but I do feel clumsy when it comes to connecting it with readers (what others might call promotion). I am so appreciative of the librarians and public libraries that have added it to their collection, which makes it easier for folks to find it, and for it to find the readers it was meant to find. I’ve learned the value of a short, handwritten card, in which someone has taken the time to share their impressions of what they’ve read. I cherish these, and have definitely written more such notes of my own this year, because I want the poets whose work has mattered to me, to know when that happens.

I’ve learned that, while I feared reading this work in public, because it is quiet and slow, and I wasn’t sure how it would land, people actually enjoy that quality—maybe it’s an antidote to all the noise in the rest of the world—and they tend to close their eyes, and seem to immerse easily into its atmosphere. I’ve learned how sweet it is to have an editor who believes in a book, and wants to give it a beautiful form, in every sense of what that means. Jill Peek at Alice Green & Co. took such care selecting the appropriate fonts, thinking about the layout (I have her to thank for the sensitive arrangement of the pages), thinking about the cover art and design, and working closely with the printer to make sure that the colors on the cover were as close to those on the original oil painting as possible.

I learned hard things, too, like the fact that if you are under the weather and not feeling very fascinating or extroverted when your book arrives, it’s going to more or less languish until you pull yourself together and start doing what indy authors have to do these days, which is to give it to reviewers, and set up events. I did neither, but I have another collection in progress, and that means I get another chance! As I tell my students, nothing is wasted. We do these things, often for the first time, and then we get to learn from our experience, whatever it was.

I learned that when I really believe in a piece of work, it feels really good to put it out there, without self-recrimination or hesitation. I’ve not always felt this way when my work was published, fearing, I suppose, that it could have been better, or should have been different. This time I finally got to feel what it means to have made the thing, and set it free, and know that it is done. It can exist in the world without me, as it is, and that is wonderful.

I learned that what I imagine will sometimes find its rightful form, and even when someone reads it alone, in the privacy of their home, they can enter that space, and receive what was meant to be shared.

Thanks for reading this post. I send you best wishes for your own books and writing projects.

I have a few books left in my private stash and you can get a signed copy while they last. (I’ll cover shipping costs if you use the promo code BOOKIVERSARY when you check out)

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