The Lost Origins of the Publishing Contract


where the tiny things are cover

On Facebook, it must look like all I do is write a book on Saturday and then on Sunday, find a publisher. This August, I posted about Egg, which came out in March from Bloomsbury and had some good success but then got a one star review on Amazon. I told Facebook. Lots of people posted nice things about Egg. And then in late September, Where the Tiny Things Are came out from Punctum Press. I’d just had an Egg party at Lawrence and Andie’s in April (for Easter!) and one for Micrograms in October last year. I didn’t really think that I should have another book party. But my dear friend wanted to throw one with my birthday party and I do love birthdays, parties, and books. So I was game for that. Then, the cover for Sustainability was released! That book doesn’t come out until next year but the cover. I had to share it. Then, Love in the Ruins: A Survival Guide for Life after Normal won an open reading contests with Rose Metal Press. It has been fun and wild and a little bit shy-making. It does seem like a lot of books at once.

But the real story is much longer and darker. I finished my first book of essays, Quench Your Thirst with Salt, in 2007. I found an agent, Malaga Baldi, who almost sold it to Bellevue Literary Press but the editor there asked me to write a new introduction and I must have screwed that up royally because the book did not sell. Then, I sent it to the Graywolf Nonfiction contest where it was a finalist with three other manuscripts. Instead of choosing one of those, Graywolf chose to publish my good friend Ander Monson’s book Vanishing Point. Milkweed liked it but it wasn’t environmental enough. A year and a half goes by. I send out. I get rejected. In September, 2011 I get a call from Amy Wright at Zone 3 Press to say I had won their creative nonfiction contest. A full four years after I had that first nibble from Bellevue.

In November 2014, on my birthday, I got an email from Graywolf about my book Sustainability: A Love Story. I was again a finalist but again they went a different direction. I was in Denver at the Art Museum. I cried in the gallery. Failure is the genesis of success. I got mad and wrote the rest of the book. My agent, Malaga Baldi, sent it to Milkweed and a number of other places but in between, I’d been invited to submit it to Ohio State University’s new imprint, Mad Creek books. They took it! Meanwhile, I’d been invited to submit a proposal for Egg. It was rejected! Again, I got mad. I wrote the rest of Egg. I resubmitted my proposal.

Where the Tiny Things Are was a finalist for the Cleveland State University Press’s open nonfiction contest in 2015. I wrote the book in 2010. An editor at Soft Skull Press said they would probably take it and then she ghosted me for a year. I published each part in chapbooks including the tiny essays in a chap collection called Micrograms. I was sheepish putting out the Where the Tiny Things Are–this collection of really long essays about Microclimates, Micropreemies, Microorganisms that help repair polluted water, wine growing in Arizona and The Micromanagement Era of the Distracted parent because it had been published in its constituent pieces. This book is with Punctum Press. I am so sheepish I’m having a hard time getting the word out about this one but I want to support the press and I want people to read the book so I’m going to stop with the sheep and say, yay! Thank you, Punctum Press and thank you Erik Sather who is making a companion film for the book which I hope helps the book to sell.

Love in the Ruins: A Survival Guide for Life After Normal is a collection of short essays by me and David Carlin.It’s an abecedarian–a, b, c, d, e. We wrote an essay a week starting with A (Albatross and Atmosphere) and then sent it to the other person to read. We finished in 26 weeks. We revised. It is incredible how fast Rose Metal took it but that never happens. I have novels I’ve never published. I just got three rejections in one day from my new project. I write every day not knowing if this project is going to make it or not. I have been so lucky. Maybe my luck will run out. Maybe my writing won’t be interesting to people. Maybe I’ll never win a big award for my book. But I really, really love what I do even if failure is written into doing it every step of the way.

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