I had been warned when I submitted my proposal in September that it could take up to six months before Sunbury Press would make their decision, so I knew I needed to focus on another writing project for a while. For the remainder of 2017, I worked on the chapters that would eventually become my next book, Finding Sisters. There will be more about that soon, but for now I’ll skip to the next important step that happened for Keeping the Lights on for Ike.
In early 2018, my former employer, St. Lawrence University, announced that the university president had made some funding available to emeritus professors (like me) for special research or creative projects they were still occupied with after their retirement from teaching. They encouraged me to think about how a small grant might support what I was currently working on, and I did not hesitate. I wanted to hire a consultant for editorial assistance to strengthen the manuscript currently in the proposal pipeline with Sunbury. I talked with the perceptive facilitator of my women writers’ group, a professional editor by trade, about her availability and willingness if my grant application was successful. She already knew each of the chapters I had written—they had all been discussed by the writing group at least once and sometimes twice—and it would definitely be a worthwhile endeavor to have her take a look at the manuscript as a whole. She agreed, and the grant proposal was on its way within days of getting the announcement.
By early March, my grant request had been approved, and because it was now close to six months since I’d sent in my proposal, I felt the grant would be the perfect opportunity to inform Sunbury about the good news while also asking about the status of my proposal. So, I did both and discovered that somehow my proposal had “fallen through the cracks,” they were happy to hear from me again, and someone would be in touch soon. In fact, almost immediately I got a message from the founder and CEO of this small press, asking me if the manuscript was still available.
Needless to say, I returned his message immediately with a positive response and a copy of the manuscript. A few days later, I got the message that Sunbury wanted to publish my book and a contract would be in the mail to me very soon. While I’m not advocating nagging publishers about your proposals, I am saying that it never hurts to connect with them once their published time frame for response is getting close or has passed with no word. And sometimes it helps.
By May 1, 2018, I had signed and returned my contract and set to work with my consultant on fine-tuning the overall shape of the manuscript; I was determined to do one last revision pass to get things in the best shape possible before my manuscript would be assigned to a Sunbury editor. Over the summer, I worked on revisions suggested by my consultant (a luxury not every author has and for which I’ll always be grateful to St. Lawrence’s generous faculty support policies, even after we’ve retired). I contacted Sunbury’s senior editor in July to be sure I understood all the necessary protocols regarding required manuscript format and citation formatting, as well as to get a sense of exactly when they would want me to be ready to start work with their editor. Contractually, I had until November 1, 2018, to provide my materials, but I wanted to let her know I was going to be ready far in advance of that deadline. She told me I was approaching the head of the queue to be assigned an editor, and that it would be a matter of only a few weeks before I would be contacted by my editor.
In mid-August, I met my editor online, and she went over procedures for our work process together. There were going to be two editing passes through the manuscript (one with her and one with the senior editor) before it went to the book designer for formatting, and I would have lots of agency in the process. Any suggested revisions that I was confused about or disagreed with were discussed in detail, and I’m delighted to say that I had a really great working relationship with my both my editors, even though I’ve never seen their faces (other than photos on the website) because all our interactions were text-based. For the next five months, I worked with my editors to get the book ready for publication, and when I started work on the formatting with my book designer, I was thrilled to discover that there were very few limits on the number of illustrations I could provide.
This was something that had concerned me after the proposal had been accepted because I had so many fascinating images available to me and was hoping I wouldn’t have to pick my top ten or twenty images for a centerfold illustration section like ones I had seen in many other non-fiction books. I was delighted to discover that the only limit imposed was that though many of the images were originally in color (they had been slides), for the book they would have to be black and white due to cost considerations. I was also told to be sure there were not more than a dozen images per chapter…not a dozen in all, but a dozen for each chapter!
I worked with a terrific graphic designer on the book cover. The only thing I knew for sure when he asked me if I had anything in mind for the cover was that I wanted to use some of the images that would end up inside the book on its cover. When I gave him a small collection of possible images to use and a quick summary of the book’s contents, he was the one who came up with the design that combined a photo of my parents from Dad’s basic training time in the early months of the war with a copy of the envelope from the last letter Mom sent to him overseas. The letter had been returned to her when he was on his way home from Europe, and she had put it in her scrapbook. (The image you see above in this blog is a companion image to the one that ended up on the book cover, and they are both included in the book itself.)
By the end of January 2019, after much back and forth, everything had finally been approved by all involved, and the book was ready for publication. Keeping the Lights on for Ike was released in February 2019. When it came the time to publicize the book, I discovered that small independent presses count on their authors to get more actively involved in those promotional efforts than academic presses do. Next week, I’ll tell you all about how involved I got as well as all the stimulating new developments happening this summer. Yes, I said next week. I’m making an exception to my original once-a-month-publication plan because there so much excitement going on right now.