Monday, February 12, 2018

The Story Behind the Cover

As the publisher of Terrapin Books, I like to ask each of my poets what they have in mind for a cover. Although I reserve the right to turn down suggested artwork, so far that hasn’t happened and each Terrapin poet has had input on their cover art. For example, Neil Carpathios’ cover for Confessions of a Captured Angel was done by his wife, a graphic designer. Christine Stewart-Nunez’s cover for Bluewords Greening was designed by her former student. Patricia Clark’s cover art for The Canopy was contributed by her husband, a painter. Hayden Saunier festooned her own black coat with greens from her yard and a set of antlers, then hung the coat on a wall and took a photo of it. I extracted the background and replaced it with a solid blue background. The result is a cover much like a piece of surrealistic art.

When I asked Geraldine Connolly what she envisioned for the cover of her forthcoming book, Aileron, she suggested a farmhouse. I began to hunt for one, but didn’t find anything special enough. Then one day while wasting my time on Facebook, I saw some unusual pieces of art coming down the feed—“feather art” by feather artist, Lewis Mark Grimes. I sent several images to Gerry and asked what she thought of them. Following is a discussion of what transpired from that point on in our search for the perfect cover.

Diane: Tell us what the word “aileron” means and why your first thought for your cover art was a farmhouse?

Gerry: An aileron is a small hinged surface—a flap—on an airplane wing, used to control balance.

 It was difficult for me to think of a way to incorporate that technical concept into a concrete image for the book cover. Airy images are hard to translate into solid pictures.

A photo of an airplane wing didn’t seem quite right because the reader might see only the wing and not see or understand where the small flap was and what it meant to the flight of the plane.

The main theme of Aileron is the loss of a cherished family farm to a large company and how to deal with that emotional loss, to rise above it. So that’s why I thought a photo of a farmhouse might work. I spent a couple of days looking through stock photos of farmhouses, but something was always wrong, the setting, the color of the barn, the crops in the field were not quite right. And I couldn’t find a photo of our particular farm, so I felt a little frustrated.

After weeks of obsessing over commas, capitals, misspellings, spacing issues, the acknowledgments page, the title page, the author’s page, all of a sudden when you asked what I had in mind for a book cover, I was kind of panicked. Vague thoughts of airplane wings and photos of farmhouses were floating in my mind, but I was actually floored. I knew that I really liked the Terrapin covers I’d seen, so I hoped you might be helpful there, and thankfully you were!

Diane: When I sent you the pieces of feather art, you wrote back that you’d stick with the farmhouse or a barn. Why?

Gerry: When you first sent ideas for cover art, I think there were seven images, five pieces with feathers plus one barn and one abstract painting. Seeing all seven together confused me a little because they were so different, so I clung to the idea of something that was an exact representation of a farm, which was a farmhouse or a barn. And the barn had happy associations for me, of safety and security. When I looked out the windows of our farmhouse, that’s what I often looked at, the big white barn and the silo next to it, the fields beyond. As a child, I loved the soft hay, the smell of the bales and oilcans and the animals, the texture of the old beams and the wood floor, the patterns of light and shadow. So yes, I clung to the idea of the farmhouse or barn. But I’m glad we found something more upbeat and visually exciting.

Diane: A few days later you emailed and said that one of the pieces was “haunting” you. What was responsible for that haunting?

Gerry: When I again looked over the seven art pieces that you’d sent in one file, I could see that the barn was, in fact, boring. You sent a print of one single feather, a couple of images of dream catchers (those nets with trailing feathers) and at the very bottom, two pieces of artwork done with molted feathers by Lewis Mark Grimes. I liked those two pieces best because they seemed unique, but I still had the barn idea fixed firmly in my head. I spent another day looking at stock photos of barns and feeling less and less satisfied with that idea. I looked at all of the images again that evening and decided, as they say, “to sleep on it.”

I woke up the next morning with the image in my mind of the white feathers exploding from a sea of blue dots. If it was strong enough to wake me, I thought, that’s a good sign. All day the image stayed with me. It “haunted” me in a very good way, so I decided to seriously consider it. The covers of my three previous books were lovely, but very conservative and representational. I thought a departure to something more abstract and mysterious might be refreshing. I showed the image to my husband and he loved it too. “Feathers,” he said, “which remind me of flight, of wings, of airplane wings, that’s perfect.” And when I looked at it metaphorically, I saw in that explosion of wings, a suggestion of Hiroshima, a tragedy, which suited the theme of losing the farm to a mining company.

Diane: I was similarly haunted, so I tracked down the artist to find out if we could get permission to use the piece. He said yes! While Lewis and I then worked out the licensing agreement, I did a sample front cover layout, that white feather image shaped like a fan against a black background. What was your first response to the initial design? Did we make any changes to it?

Gerry: The background was black and I’ve always liked black covers with a brighter color for the images and typeface. When you isolated that image and did a sample first cover, I was convinced that the image was perfect. Not representational, and so radiant and striking. Everyone I showed it to had strong positive reactions. Comments about the cover included words like “mysterious,” “vivid,” “engaging,” “spectacular.” I felt more and more sure that it was the right decision, and I was very happy that the artist gave us permission to use the piece.

The only change I suggested was making the print of the title a little larger. There was no doubt in my mind that this was exactly the right mood and message that I wanted to convey about my book. The design was so compelling and so suitable that very little change was necessary.

Diane: The cover we ended up with isn’t even remotely similar to the initial idea of a farmhouse, yet it strikes me as metaphorically perfect for your book. How do you see this cover as fitting your book?

Gerry: Sometimes your first ideas are your best ideas. Sometimes, they’re your worst. I trusted myself on an intuitive level with the decision to use the feather art and, after my initial reluctance, it turned out extremely well.

The elements of air rule this collection: birds, wings, trees. The central metaphor of the aileron on an airplane wing, which controls balance, suggests the importance of not surrendering to sadness but finding new direction, staying aloft above the blue dots which suggest sadness so that the white feathers lifting upward as in a fan connect with the theme beautifully. A lot of the book is about staying in balance even amidst trouble and an immense sense of loss. It was important to me that the final poem lift upward. When we discussed the ordering of the poems, there was thought given to ending the book with a poem that contains the image of a horse pulling freight into midnight’s darkness, but that seemed entirely wrong. The decision to end on a pleasing memory of a swing from my childhood that elevates the mood up and out into the world seemed fitting.

The collection is firmly rooted in the natural world, the landscapes of a Pennsylvania childhood, of Montana summers and a move to the Sonoran Desert which offers a strange but healing landscape, a mixture of oddness and wonder that, in fact, Lewis Mark Grimes’ work of art also conveys. It was a beautiful synchronicity and I couldn’t be happier with the cover. So much time is put into crafting the poems, revising them, arranging them in the best way for an effective narrative, but so little thought is given until the very last moment about the cover which is, of course, the reader’s first impression of the book. I like the idea of the reader being introduced to my book with this beautiful and original design. Thank you, Diane, for helping me find the way to it.

Geraldine Connolly is a native of western Pennsylvania and the author of three previous poetry collections: Food for the Winter (Purdue University Press), Province of Fire (Iris Press), and Hand of the Wind (Iris Press) as well as a chapbook, The Red Room (Heatherstone Press). She is the recipient of two NEA creative writing fellowships in poetry, a Maryland Arts Council fellowship, and the W.B. Yeats Society of New York Poetry Prize. She was the Margaret Bridgman Fellow at the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference and has had residencies at Yaddo, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and Chautauqua Institute. Her work has appeared in Poetry, The Georgia Review, and Shenandoah. Her work has also been featured on The Writer’s Almanac and anthologized in Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry, Sweeping Beauty: Poems About Housework, and The Sonoran Desert: A Literary Field Guide. She lives in Tucson, Arizona.

Gerry’s book, Aileron, will be released on March 1. It is now available for Pre-orders.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Terrapin Books Is Open for Submissions

I am happy to announce that my poetry press, Terrapin Books, is currently open for submissions of full-length poetry manuscripts. Please note that our submission period closes on February 28, 2018.

Be sure to read our Guidelines before submitting. Please note that we request both a bio and a descriptive statement with your submission. Be sure to include both. Most questions are answered in our FAQs, so be sure to read that page also.

Our Guidelines ask for a manuscript of approximately 40-55 poems for a book of approximately 90-110 pages (count includes poems, front and back matter, and section pages). Please note that your book will be longer than your manuscript. If you have 40-55 poems, go ahead and submit. Let us worry about book length.

Here's some general information about the press:

We publish only poetry books, primarily single-author collections but also an occasional craft book or anthology.

Terrapin Books is committed to publishing outstanding books of poetry by outstanding poets. We intend to fully support our poets. We will edit your manuscript and work with you on revisions. We expect our poets to actively engage in promoting their books. We require our poets to maintain a dedicated website and to be a member of Facebook.

Our books are 6 x 9, paperback, perfect bound, color cover, with printed spine (poet's name, title, press).

We are committed to publishing accepted titles within six months of acceptance. We do not maintain a long list of books-in-waiting.

We offer a standard contract, a generous number of author copies, a substantial discount on additional copies purchased by the author, and an annual royalty payment.

We are the proud publisher of collections by Neil Carpathios, Lynne Knight, Christine Stewart-Nunez, Jessica de Koninck, Carolyn Miller, Patricia Clark, Susanna Lang, Hayden Saunier, Michelle Menting, and Karen Paul Holmes. We look forward to books by Geraldine Connolly (March) and Michael T. Young (April).

We welcome submissions from poets at any stage in their career. Some of our poets have a long publication history with multiple books. A few of our poets have two books out. And we are very proud to be the publisher of two debut collections.

We look forward to reading your work.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

To Resubmit or Not to Resubmit: That Is the Question

As the publisher of Terrapin Books, I am frequently asked this question or some variation of it: If my manuscript was submitted to your press and rejected, should I resubmit it? Does it make sense to do so?

It occurred to me that it might be useful to have a discussion about this subject, so I invited Karen Paul Holmes, who once asked me this question, to participate in a Q&A. Karen’s new poetry book, No Such Thing as Distance, will be published by Terrapin Books with a release date of February 1, 2018.

Diane:   You submitted a manuscript to Terrapin Books during the first open reading period in January 2016. When it was rejected, were you given any actionable feedback? If so, what was it?

Karen:   Yes, and I really appreciated it. You suggested that the manuscript should not be frontloaded with my childhood and parent poems, but rather, those themes should be braided throughout. Other suggestions were to enhance the music/dancing motif and to include more poems that weren’t in first person.

Diane:  Did you follow those suggestion at the time? Why or why not?

Karen:  I revised and re-ordered the manuscript many many times, and yes, I took the advice before submitting to other presses.

Diane:  You did not resubmit to Terrapin for the following two open reading periods. During that year, were you submitting your manuscript elsewhere? If so, what was the outcome of those submissions? 

Karen:  I submitted to a few more contests and open reading periods. I had no feedback with the rejections except from one editor, who also said that re-ordering the poems was needed. (He had seen an earlier version similar to the one I sent Terrapin the first time). 

Diane:  What made you eventually decide to resubmit to Terrapin?

Karen:  I had seen what a good job Terrapin had done to publicize its books. I admired your own poetry and The Crafty Poet books you edited. I also respected your dedication to publishing good poetry and looking after your poets. I knew you read the submissions yourself, and that was important to me, as well as the fact that you’d actually edit the book rather than just accepting what I submitted.

Diane:  How did you revise the manuscript? Were poems added or removed? Were structural changes made? How satisfied were you with those changes?

Karen:  I added and removed poems many times so that I probably ended up with about 15 versions of the manuscript. It continued to evolve as I wrote new poems and tried different approaches to the whole.

I totally re-thought the structure from many angles. I even tried to make it a chapbook at some point, but just couldn’t pare it down that far. I made a spreadsheet listing each poem’s voice, theme and subtheme, narrative chronology, and form (prose vs couplets vs no stanzas, etc), so that I could consider how the poems related to each other in different ways. I wanted a somewhat logical narrative flow without it being too predictable nor having jarring jumps between poems. I was using recipes as section dividers, so the order within the sections needed to make sense.

Diane:  When you then resubmitted to Terrapin, what happened?

Karen:  It got accepted very quickly!

Diane:  Following acceptance, what process did your manuscript go through?

Karen:  As you will remember, you and I went back and forth on some line edits and other specific changes. I can’t say this wasn’t somewhat stressful for me, because, you know, those lines were sometimes my darlings! But I wanted an editor like you and appreciated your dedication to making it as good a book as possible.

You deleted nine poems that you felt weren’t as strong as the rest, and I was okay with that. You also asked me to add a couple of my poems that you’d read in journals. The order didn’t change much, but you wanted the recipes to be in the back of the book, and I liked that idea. You also gave me written instructions on how to list and format the acknowledgments for poems that had been published elsewhere. While revisions were being made, I asked for blurbs, and three poets were willing to provide them rather quickly.

Once the edits were complete, it was time for the interior layout of the book. You were very quick, and I found very few errors when proofreading the formatted manuscript. I loved the font and style you chose. I also had a trusted friend proof it for me. You and I discussed cover art, and when I suggested a painting by my sister, you enthusiastically agreed. Then we went back and forth on the cover design until a final design was chosen.

As we were wrapping up final details, my beloved dog died. Then, even worse, 10 days later, my life partner had a fatal heart attack. Needless to say, I couldn’t carry on very well. You were kind and moved the publication date to almost two months later, so that I could have a chance to get my bearings. Needless to say, the launch of my book is bittersweet. My beloved was a huge believer in my work, and he was as excited as I was for my second collection. I will be buoyed up by his faith in me as I do readings and other promotional activities.  

Diane:  Given your own experience, what advice would you give to someone considering resubmitting to a press that previously rejected the manuscript?

Karen: I asked you whether Terrapin would be interested in seeing my revised manuscript, and you said yes. So asking the publisher is my advice to anyone who has been given feedback on a previous submission. And, of course, let the publisher know that the suggestions were incorporated into the revised manuscript.

If no feedback was given, I’d urge the poet to be sure to put strong and unusual poems in the front, but also to make sure there are strong poems throughout. Since poets often have a hard time determining which poems are strongest, getting feedback from others helps.

It’s also wise to have someone else read the manuscript, paying attention to whether the order works. The weaving of like-themes throughout the book is very important, because it adds interest and pulls the reader through. I think we poets tend to want to lump like poems together, and that was my first impulse, but I became convinced otherwise.

I have heard that poets should re-submit to presses that have different readers during the next open reading period or contest, because the manuscript might appeal to these new readers. Whether or not there are different readers, the competition will be different each time—a poet’s manuscript might stand out from the pack when it didn’t before, especially if it’s been revised with care. One hears stories over and over of writers who sent their books out for years before being published—perseverance definitely pays.

Karen Paul Holmes is also the author of Untying the Knot (Aldrich Press 2014). She is a past recipient of an Elizabeth George Foundation writing grant and was named a “Best Emerging Poet” by Stay Thirsty Media in 2016. Her work has appeared in such journals as Prairie Schooner, Crab Orchard Review, and Poet Lore. She is the founder and host of the Side Door Poets in Atlanta and the Writers’ Night Out in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Following a corporate career in marketing communications, she now works as a freelance writer. She lives in Georgia.

Karen's book, No Such Thing as Distance, is now available for Ordering

Terrapin Books will be open for submissions of full-length poetry manuscripts on January 22 and will remain open thru February 28. Please read our Guidelines and our FAQs.

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