A letter to new writers looking to publish a first book
My friend Cristian Terán Amil is starting to work on his first book and he recently asked me for guidance, so I decided to write this letter to him and to any writer looking to publish a first book. Hopefully, you can benefit from the lessons I learned the hard way.
As you know, I published my first and only poetry book in 2012. At 18 years old, it was an ambitious endeavor to which I dedicated around two years, though it is hard to measure because I started writing those poems long before I knew I would write a book.
Looking back eight years later, I am amazed at how attached I still feel to that book. I am still deeply connected to my writing, even though I have not written poetry in years, and having published a book is still one of the achievements I am most proud of.
I feel this way because I gave it all I had in me. For a long period of time, I dedicated myself to expressing myself and creating a narrative that would allow me to communicate with others in a way that I could have never done though casual language.
As a reader, a book is more than an object. It is an intangible box containing ideas, emotions and theories. The mere image of the book may remind you of the person who recommended it, someone you gave the book to or any other book that is somehow connected.
When I think of my book, the emotional attachment is multiplied. I think of the first poetry contest I won and how I used that money to pay for my first writing course. I think of the many poets I met through writing classes and poetry, both as an audience member and as a reader. I think fondly of my teacher Luis Luna, whom I hold very near to my heart even though our paths don’t cross that often anymore. I think of the support I received from friends and family, you among them, at countless poetry readings.
In college, I had a wall filled with printed poems and handwritten notations. I would stare at them for hours, hoping to delineate the perfect narrative.
As you start to work on your first book, keep in mind that you are gestating a baby that needs care and your full devotion. If you are lucky, your baby will touch the lives of many and profoundly affect a few, but no one’s experience with the book will be as rich as yours.
Have fun and go crazy with it. While I was in college, I had a wall filled with printed poems and handwritten notations. I would stare at them for hours, making a small adjustment here, moving papers from one side to another, hoping to delineate the perfect narrative that would help me better communicate with the reader.
Your book is a living thing and it needs as much socializing as it needs alone time. Show him the world and show the world to him. I did readings and presented my book to contests, but you can also use social media, blogs and just about any excuse to socialize your ideas. That learning process will allow you to receive feedback, but, most importantly, it will introduce you to new people and new ideas.
You may be seeking an endpoint, but you are embarking on a journey that will be yours to cherish for the rest of your life. Along your journey, you will be faced with many decisions and you may take many wrong turns; I certainly did!
Looking back, I wish I had been more patient about publishing my book. I was wise enough to take my time writing the book. I nurtured my creation in every possible way. I sought advice from poets I knew and admired. I presented my poems in collective and individual readings. I learned how to abstract myself from worldly matters so that I could be a better writer. I practiced public speaking so my poems would reach the audience. I collaborated with musicians to give my poems another dimension. I was in for the ride.
Reviewers would often point out the maturity in my writing, especially coming from an 18-year-old. But, while I was wise and patient as a writer, I was young and stupid when it came to publishing my book.
By the time I finished the book, I was already in talks with an editor with whom I felt at home. Luis had been my teacher and he ran a very exciting poetry collection for a respectable publisher. I knew these books were produced with care and attention to detail and because of the consistency in the quality of their works, I thought it was an honor to be part of their series.
But in 2012 Spain was still trying to recover from the 2007 global economic crisis. All book publishers were going through a rough time and the poetry genre was struck the hardest. I had the commitment of the publisher, but his series had been paused and he had a waiting list that could postpone my book to a 2014 launch.
Under those circumstances, when I found another publisher interested in the book, I went for it, even though I did not have much respect for the books they were publishing or the people running the company.
I suffered from tunnel vision. I did not understand that publishing is also a journey that can be as beautiful and rewarding as writing. If I ever write a book again, I will publish with people I trust or I will publish myself.
There are several good options to take charge of publishing your books, including Amazon. Nerea Nieto, a young writer I met a year later did just that and she was very successful with her first novel.
Another thing that Nerea excelled at was building a community around her writing. I did this by doing poetry readings and it was very enriching. Nerea, on the other hand, used her blog and social media very strategically and she did a great job.
Both social media and face-to-face events are fantastic ways to get feedback on your writing, promote your writing, networking and building a community of people interested in your work. These are effective ways to help sales once your book is published, but they are also enriching while you are in the process of creation.
I encourage you to leverage both the digital and the earthly in the very early stages of your writing. As a result, your book will be better.
My dear friend, as you embark on this journey, I wish you the best of luck. I do not mean to tell you what to do, but I hope learning about where I went wrong and what I would do differently will help you as you face many of the same decisions in the coming months.
PD: Take lots of pictures! One day, you may write an article about publishing your first book and you will want to include some pictures at the end.