The Contester: Down Came a Contest, Cradle and All

Kevin Larimer

Although Brown says she spent countless hours "correcting the ways in which the editor messed up that manuscript," citing formatting mistakes such as missing italics, misplaced underlining, and incorrect punctuation, her main objection involved the book's layout and design. In late June, Andregg sent Brown the table of contents for her book—essentially one long poem in sections—and Brown disagreed with how titles were assigned to some of the sections. During an exchange of charged e-mails that stretched into early July, both parties raised the issue of editorial authority. "TOC is a book editing issue, so Robert and I will sort it out so that it's consistent one way or another," Andregg wrote on July 1. "Please just let the editors do the editing, okay?" Later that day Brown replied: "I understand that you feel that the TOC is an editing issue, but the vision and content of this book, a book-length poem in sections with no individual poem titles, is my arena, and I can't go along with the idea of putting those labels in the TOC as if they were titles." Despite rising tensions—exacerbated, Brown says, by her decision to turn down an offer by Andregg to design her Web site, although Andregg says it had no influence on the press's decisions—Cider Press acquiesced to Brown's TOC ideas, and the focus turned to the back cover.

Brown had supplied blurbs from Rodney Jones, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Major Jackson, but on July 14, when Andregg sent Brown a mock-up of the back cover featuring edited versions of the blurbs, Brown rejected it. "They had cut [the blurbs] and chopped them, slashed them together," Brown says, acknowledging that she understands blurbs are often edited by publishers. However, she points out, one of the blurb authors explicitly requested that it not be edited. Why didn't Brown ask for approval from the other two authors? "That presupposes that at that point we had a functional working relationship," Brown says of her rapport with Cider Press. "After the Web site and spacing and editing and table of contents disagreements, things had degenerated into a full-on power struggle." She adds that she feared such a request might offend the blurb authors, and that there remained other solutions. Wynne, who says the blurbs were edited in order to accommodate other elements on the back cover, claims that Brown told them she couldn't contact the authors of the blurbs "because it's horribly unprofessional."

Instead, Andregg restored the complete blurbs and moved Brown's author photo and bio to the inside of the book. Wynne (who around this time took over the correspondence with Brown because, as he puts it, "I'm a little better at calming people down than Caron is") sent Brown the revised cover on July 16. Brown didn't like the revision, and suggested the press instead cut a five-sentence description of the Cider Press Review Book Award that appeared on the back cover in order to solve the problem. "We really need to leave the contest information on the back cover in order to make it more visible for potential future entrants," Wynne replied. "I hope you can appreciate that our interests, as well as yours, need to be taken into account when it comes to the design—and not the content—of the book."

While award information is typically reserved for the interior of the book, it is within Cider Press's rights to insist this element—not dissimilar from the logos, contact information, names of series editors, and other information incorporated into the design by other presses—remain on the book. (The editors say it has been a part of each of the three previous award winners' book designs.)

Brown then made a series of appeals to the editors, suggesting they try to fit her author photo, bio, unedited blurbs, and award information on the back cover. "Can we at least try?" she asked, to which Wynne wrote, "We can make space for the photo if we edit the blurbs, but that will be the only way."

The e-mail correspondence slowly devolved from there: Brown opposed the press's contacting the authors of the blurbs (standard procedure at many publishers); Wynne drew a line in the sand between editorial and design decisions "not tied to the content of the book"; and Brown labeled the press's decision to put award information on the back cover as "self-serving and disrespectful."

"You are overstepping your bounds with this repeated request," wrote Wynne in one e-mail, while Brown called the award information on the back cover "outrageous" in another. Finally, she added that the press already had a bad reputation with poets because of the Caston situation and that she wouldn't sign off on the book until an acceptable compromise had been reached.