One thing I’ve been busily picking away at is completing the tip sheets for our Fall 2011 titles. This has been a little more challenging than in seasons past because our line-up for Fall 2011 includes one book whose author/artist doesn’t own a computer (kind of hard to email her for advice and approval in that case); a very readable academic book with whose background I am largely unfamiliar; and also the third addition to Wayne Clifford’s The Exile’s Papers (volumes one and two here) – although I enjoy poetry, it takes me a very long time before I am confident enough in my interpretation to write promotional copy!
Although their web pages haven’t been started yet and the titles haven’t been presented to the Literary Press Group, I’ll give you a brief sketch of our Fall 2011 plans just to give you an idea of the job for now:
Dancing With Mirrors by George Amabile. A fabulous poetry collection that you might remember my mentioning earlier. Originally scheduled for a Spring 2011 release, Dancing has been postponed until Fall. This means that the tip sheet and web page, however, have been ready to go for some time now.
Out of the Wood by Rosemary Kilbourn. Kilbourn is a brilliant wood engraver and stained glass artist who has been living in an old schoolhouse in Caledon, Ontario, for years and years. Many people see her art in churches and schools around the province, but because she lives in a rural area and doesn’t own a computer, she isn’t as well-known as she should be. Out of the Wood is a beautiful collection of prints of wood engravings from her entire career as an artist, and she has also written several short accompanying notes describing her artistic process and memories of each print (including her memories of Farley Mowat!)
The Exile’s Papers: The Dirt’s Passion Is Flesh Sorrow. This is poet Wayne Clifford’s third installment in his immense series of sonnets, which we’ve been publishing since 2007. If you visit the links to volumes one or two that I provided up above, you’ll find a very interesting author’s note that will give you a better idea of the scope and importance of this project.
P. K. Page’s Brazilian Journal. Last published in 1987, Page’s Journal is making a much-needed comeback with us in the fall, and will be introduced by Suzanne Bailey. Brazilian Journal is an edited version of the diary Page kept while stationed in Brazil with her husband, Canada’s diplomat. It’s gorgeous and poetic and funny and intimate, and a wonderful glimpse into the mind of one of my favourite poets. This is our second installment in the 10-year project to republish Page’s work alongside a hypermedia scholarly edition; the first was Kaleidoscope (you may remember my talking about it extensively in the summer!)
Inward of Poetry, edited by Sean Kane. This is a series of letters between academic William Blissett and poet George Johnston, organized, annotated and presented by Sean Kane, one of Blissett’s students. It shows a lot of the editorial guidance that Blissett gave Johnston’s poetry (including drafts and previously unpublished poems), and a lot of the academic shenanigans that goes on behind the scenes at university. Kane does a great job introducing the letters and showing the men’s friendship in an honest and heartwarming light.
In fact, I’ve finished most of the tip sheets – or at least the first drafts. But my process may still be of interest to you. Luckily I’ve found that, for the most part, I’ve gotten more efficient at writing tip sheets since I first started in 2009. (It depends on the book, though.)
First of all, I need to read the book! I imagine that at larger publishing companies, where you have to write promotional copy for tens or hundreds of books, you won’t get the chance to read the book before promoting it – but at the Quill I have the luxury of actually reading and getting to know the text before writing about it. While I read the book, I make sure to record any really interesting sections or excerpts that I might be able to use in the excerpt section of the tip sheet or to quote in the main description.
After that, I try to gather up every other item in the tip sheet apart from the descriptions – which means I hunt down reviews of previous books, endorsements, introductions or prefaces, bibliographies, illustrations (if possible), author biographies, subject codes and other bibliographic data, and comparable books. The reason I put that before the description-writing is that I often get a fuller sense of the book and who might enjoy it after I learn more about the author’s previous books and how they were received. This is particular useful for books whose genre or topic I’m not as familiar with, like Inward of Poetry.
Once the entire tip sheet is complete and formatted as well as I can get it, excluding the descriptions and what Tim will later add, I sit down in a quiet place and get to work. In university, this meant going to the library; in Avignon, this means heading to my favourite coffee shop, Chez Francoise. I find that the longer I wait to write the descriptions, the more hesitant and self-critical I become when I finally start. What’s most helpful is to ignore my internal editor altogether and just write blather onto the page – tons of it, far more than would ever be useful in a tip sheet – until I find some of it sounds natural and interesting. Then I pare it down – a lot.
If I have extra time, I leave the tip sheet for a few hours or a few days and come back to it with fresh eyes. One more glance and edit, and I can send the tip sheet to the author or editor for advice and/or approval. Authors’ reactions can vary; occasionally they have a ton of new ideas, other times they’ll enthuse about how wonderful it all is, and on further occasions they just email me back with a quick “Looks fine.” Regardless of how we get there, once I have the author’s approval I send the tip sheets to Tim for marketing and sales ideas and for (finally!) putting the information in our database.
And there you have it. The lowdown on how I write tip sheets for the Porcupine’s Quill. I have the feeling that the process varies widely by publishers, but hopefully you found this information interesting and helpful regardless!