A Window into the World of Bookmaking
Oct 21, 2016
By Sam Killmeyer, Colorado Review Associate Editor
This summer I was lucky enough to work in some way on the three books of poems the Center for Literary Publishing will release this year: Exit Theater, &Luckier, and Escape Velocity. Up until this point I thought of bookmaking as something magical, attainable only by ‘real’ poets, not MFA students—unless they were named Ocean Vuong and studying at NYU. I knew something wonderful happened between the writer’s word document and the page, but I thought of it in the same way I thought of the bread I buy in the grocery store or the pens I pick up from Target—a mechanized product, not a job done by people.
It wasn’t until I began working as an associate editor in January of last year that I started to understand the process behind the product and all the people who work together to make a book. I started by reading submissions to the magazine and learned the happy surprise of discovering a poem alive in its own way. I watched to see if others felt the same, if the poetry editor agreed, and I did a little happy dance when a poem I really loved made it into the edition. I felt like I was rooting, along with the poet, for the poem.
And while an individual poem is its own concentrated joy, the book is where a voice and vision have space to fully develop and accrete. Working on the full-length manuscripts, particularly typesetting Bonnie Arning’s Escape Velocity, was a form of immersion. As I set the poems on the page, made design decisions, chose the font, I went beyond rooting for poems to inhabiting the book, learning the governing rules for that world.
When I printed off the first proof, I remember touching the still warm pages and thinking how real it felt—sixty-five hefty pages and a binder clip. The page of proof looks very different from the pages I print with my own poems—their thin margins and twelve-point font. Here, on a table in the publishing office, the poems look like a book. The poems no longer live only in a word document on the poet’s hard drive, they’ve come to live with me typesetting, with other editors copyediting, proofreading, and designing the cover.
Working through the process, seeing the various stages of proof next to the manuscript on the table, reminds me of something a playwright once told me. He said that the reason he loves writing plays is because they bring so many people together in the creative process. And while the poems are entirely the author’s work, I’ve learned that the publishing process is collaborative as well.
The cover for Escape Velocity is still being designed, and there are several more steps to move through in the process, more hands and eyes spending time with the book, but it is becoming its own reality. And I can’t get over my name on the last page: typesetting by Sam Killmeyer. I know it’s a long way until my name appears on a cover and my poems fill the pages of a book, but working through the publishing process has made it less magical and more of a real outcome for my own manuscript.