I cannot explain exactly why I decided I had to put out a chapbook at the Harlem Book Fair. The urge came over me and I committed to having it done. I called my friends at Exit the Apple/Inner Child Books to see if they wanted to share a table and sell their book Bullshit or Fertilizer. They said they did. Together we filled out the application for a table and sent in a check. So the intention had been manifested into a commitment, now the book had to be made.
The book is called The Single Woman’s Manifesto. It was written as a result of a commissioned column (that never ran) on being single. The editor who commissioned the original piece suggested that I make the Manifesto into a book. She thought I could expand each of the Manifesto’s nine points into a chapter.
I liked the idea of making the Manifesto into a book, but I didn’t like the idea of writing nine chapters to fill up the book. I decided I would write a proposal and send it out to agents. If I got a bite, I would write it. If not, well, maybe I wouldn’t put myself through the trouble. Because my parents taught me the value of community, I tend to pull others in when committing to projects. So I called a proposal-writing meeting with a friend who also wanted to put out a book. When I explained the concept for my book to her, she asked, why add more to the Manifesto? Why not let the Manifesto be a book as is?
I thought leaving the Manifesto intact was a radical idea that called to my current self-dictated mandate to simplify, simplify, simplify. What a simple (and brilliant) idea! There was no need to schedule more writing days, brainstorm more ideas, and plan out new chapters. I could let the book stand exactly as it was written. Suddenly, the project seemed doable. We discussed me working with a local artist/designer to create illustrations to round out the book. My friend agreed to help me figure out how to produce it. With that, the concept was born.
I left the meeting excited. I decided I would spend money on my chapbook. I visualized a beautiful, elegant book that spoke directly to people’s hearts. I contacted my artist/graphic designer friend. We talked about the project and agreed to have a meeting once her schedule cleared. But as time wore on, I became more and more uncertain about spending big money on designing a chapbook. I was having problems visualizing the book with illustrations at all. I began to think of all the wonderful things I could buy with the money I intended to spend on design. By the time the artist/graphic designer was ready to work with me, I had changed my mind about the project. I no longer fantasized about a glossy book with perfect binding. I decided I wanted the Manifesto to have more of a chapbook feel: spare, photocopied, handmade. I wanted to do it myself, but I was still uncertain of how to make it happen.
Weeks passed with me doing nothing. The date of the book fair was fast approaching and I was still at a loss as to how I was going to create this book. The friendly folks at Exit the Apple/Inner Child Books contacted me. “Hey, I thought we were going to help you find a printer for the book,” they told me. “If you want to get them printed we have to do it now.” Well, I told them, I decided to scale down. It’s going to be a handmade, photocopied endeavor rather than a professional print job. “Well, we have more time then,” they said. I didn’t tell them I was completely empty of ideas and motivation to get the project done. “Let’s meet in a few weeks time to work out some concepts,” they said. And just like that, we became a team.
The first (and only) concept meeting was fun. I told them I was seeing a small little handbook that folks could carry in their pocket. We decided we wanted the Manifesto to look like a propaganda publication. We examined a book on Chairman Mao and a photocopied leaflet from the 60s. We talked and brainstormed until a cover concept emerged. When we began to discuss the inside pages, I told them I couldn’t imagine illustrations in the Manifesto. Pierre got excited—he was visualizing a little book of affirmations. No pictures, just words. Each point of the Manifesto would be a “chapter”. And each sentence could have its own page. He got me to imagine a blank page with one powerful sentence speaking directly to single women. Finally I could imagine the project coming to life.
While Jamyla worked on a design, I went through the Manifesto and broke it down into pages. I reorganized a few sections and rewrote a few lines. Working on my mother’s dissertation has caused me to rethink a few things in my own writing. One thing she’s committed to in her writing and theorizing is decentralizing/de-privileging male references. Instead of automatically writing “men and women”, she consciously writes “women and men”. Taking a cue from her, I decided to de-heterosexulize the Manifesto. Instead of referring to getting a “man”, I talked about getting a “mate”. I switched my language to “partner” and other non-gender specific terms to embrace women-loving women and also men who might have something to gain by reading the book.
In a few days Jamyla designed a beautiful little chapbook. All that was left for me to do was production. Jamyla linked a download of the book to a website. I went to a friend’s house to download the proper files and print them. It seemed simple enough, but nothing is as simple as it seems. Prepared to use my friend’s color printer, I bought ink and paper. Armed with my supplies, I set out to produce my chapbook.
I began with the covers. The paper I bought was matte photo paper. So I looked at both sides of the paper and chose the side that looked more matte to print on. I printed about 20 covers when the ink ran out. I replaced the ink and printed about 20 more. But these new covers had lines through them. By phone, Jamyla advised me to stop printing covers until someone could show me how to clean the printer head and avoid the lines on my print-outs. I pouted a little. I wanted everything to run smoothly and quickly. I didn’t want to have to wait to complete my job. As I was packing the covers into the empty photo paper boxes, I noticed the directions. The directions specified that printing should be done on the coated side of the paper. I had chosen the MOST matte side of the paper to print on. It was so matte that it had absolutely no coating. The ink was being absorbed into the paper. I printed a cover on the coated side, and wow!, the colors were brighter, the letters were more precise and the whole thing looked a lot more professional.
So after a few hours of fumbling, I had about 50 covers: approximately 20 dull ones printed on the wrong side of the paper; approximately 20 more dull ones printed on the wrong side of the paper, but also with lines going through the print-out; and approximately ten sharply printed on the right side of the paper but with the troublesome lines still disrupting the cover art.
Without knowing exactly what I was going to do about the cover, I moved on to the inside of the book. I started printing out the interior page spreads. Of course I forgot to take the costly matte photo paper out of the printer, so I ended up printing interior pages on cover paper. Once that started, I thought about stopping it, but I decided to let it run. The cover paper would make a more precise image for me to photocopy from. After a while, I noticed the interior pages seemed to be running for a mighty long time. When I flipped through the printouts, I saw I had more than one set of copies. Somehow, I had sent the command to print, not one time, not two times, but three times. By the time I checked, I had printed out two full drafts of the interior pages on my cover photo paper, and a third was coming out of the machine in that moment. I stopped the job, took a deep breath and assessed the situation. O.k., so if I wanted to print 100 books, I’d need more paper. My friend, bless her heart, offered me her car. I went to get the paper. When I got back we had dinner. I had arrived to her house at noon. It was now 7:30.
Before I got back to printing covers, I noticed something. It appeared that, yes, the covers were smaller than the interior pages. I called Jamyla. As it turned out, the files changed the size of the cover when it downloaded into the computer I was working on. I couldn’t find a ruler, so we began fiddling. We put the cover file into another program. We enlarged it and compared it to the cover pages. When we finally got the cover long enough, we realized we needed more background bleed on top and on bottom. Jamyla organized that and resent me the file. I downloaded it and began printing the covers in the right size. I printed about 40 covers before the second ink cartridge ran out.
It was late. I still had to photocopy the interior pages, get the whole book cut down to size, collate and assemble the books, and fold and staple the pages. I didn’t have the time nor the energy to go get more ink and print out 60 more covers. I needed to call it quits and jump back on the job tomorrow. As I was surrendering to the reality that I had more work to do, I took the time to read over the book. I knew the book hadn’t been copyedited, so I wasn’t surprised when I found a few errors (one or two were glaring) and a few things I wanted to change. I tried to convince myself that the book could be printed with the errors. I begrudgingly called Jamyla who convinced me that we should put out the best product we could. She changed the pages I found mistakes on and emailed me the files. When I went to print the pages out, the printer refused to print. Oh yeah, there was no more ink. Without one more thought, I packed up my stuff. Clearly this was the end of my first production night. I thanked my friends and went home.
The next morning I packed up my daughter and all my supplies and headed for the copy shop. I went online to download the interior pages Jamyla had made corrections to. Of course these pages came out a completely different size then all the other pages I had printed out the day before. I could have said, fuck it, I’ll just print out the whole book over again and they’ll all be the same size, BUT then the interior pages would be bigger than the covers. So I went to the color copier to shrink the pages down to a size that matched the other interiors.
Because they were running a big job at the copy shop, they wouldn’t be able to give me 40 copies of my interior pages until the next day. The Harlem Book Fair was the next day. I couldn’t waste time. So I stuck my credit card into one of their self serve machines and made the 40 copies myself. Then I brought it all to the desk where they cut the covers and the interiors to a matching size. They were very helpful and made sure the covers fit the interior. They noticed one page had the text cut off. The margins had shifted during the download. So I took that page back to the color copier to shrink it down and make 40 more copies of it. Finally, 5 hours after I arrived, I went home with a box full of covers and interior pages cut to size.
That night, after napping, eating, bathing, and putting my daughter to bed, I collated the interior pages. I folded them and put them inside the covers. My friend came down to help, and together we assembled 43 books. The next morning I went back to the copy shop where they stapled the books together for me and I skeedaddled up to the Harlem Book Fair.
There is a reason that folks with experience get paid to do the work they do. There were so many junctures at which I could have made a different choice that would have saved time or money or both. But I was bumbling through, a total innocent. Well, not total, I had done production on my organization’s Red Clay Magazine back in college. But that was years ago, and apparently quite forgotten. When I was printing the covers, I was grumbling, why did I need color covers? Why didn’t I stick with black and white xeroxes? As I was having the books cut down to size I was wondering, why didn’t we do it like the simplest of chapbooks: take an 8 1/2 x 11 page, fold it in half, and voila, a chapbook. But despite the drama it took to produce, the Manifesto came out very attractive. The cover design is strong, the size makes it seem very portable. It’s a distinctive piece of print.
AT THE HARLEM BOOK FAIR: When we first settled at our table, I thought we weren’t going to sell anything. My first few sales were to people who knew me. As the day progressed, more and more people (people I had never met) showed interest in the Manifesto. Many took business cards and asked where they could buy the Manifesto at a later date. A woman who reads the KIS.list came to the table to support. Coincidentally her husband is working on his dissertation (I wish you both the best of luck). It felt good to be out there. It had been a long time since I had been in a literary environment. It was gratifying to connect with people who knew me primarily as a writer. I talked books with an editor and writing with other writers. I was encouraged over and over again to recommit to my novel. Although I know it’s cliched, I was happy just to be there. The sun was shining, there were enterprising writers and artists everywhere, and lots of positive energy flowed my way.
The Manifesto was being sold at more than one table. The woman who was selling it at the other table noticed quite a few people wanted to purchase it, but balked when they were told the book was $10. One woman who came to my table was obviously interested until she heard the price. As she dropped the book back on the table, I told her, “you’d be amazed how much work it took to make that little book that looks like nothing to you.” The other woman selling the Manifesto asked me if I wanted to bargain down so that people would buy it. Her question challenged me to think about why I was out there. I definitely wanted to get the book out to readers. But did I want to lower my prices to do so? Even if I sold all my books, I wouldn’t make a profit. So financial profit certainly wasn’t my immediate motivation. By the time the bulk of the crowd arrived, sales were in full swing. I decided too much work had gone into the book to sell it any cheaper than $10. I would sell what I sold, and figure out what to do with the ones I couldn’t sell.
In the end, I realize I made the chapbook to put myself in the flow of literary activity. I wanted to send a project out into the universe and see what the result would be. It was a joy to see people pick up the book with a smile on their lips. I don’t think the Manifesto has finished doing it’s work. This first jaunt at the Harlem Book Fair was just the beginning.
Be well. Be love(d).
: : : September 2002 – present : : :
No acceptances or rejections this week.
Rate of Acceptance/Rejection
August 2001 – August 2002
Publications: Acceptances = 6; Rejections = 6
Grants/Fellowships: Acceptances = 0; Rejections = 1
Residencies/Workshops: Acceptances = 0; Rejections = 4