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The Woman Who Thought She Wrote a Book: On the Brink with Footnotes, Marketing, and Distribution

September 13, 2016
The Situation Room The Situation Room Tershia d'Elgin

Not until the epic 2013 Front Range flood inundated both our farmhouse and Boulder did my manuscript and I wash into University Press of Colorado.

Not until the epic 2013 Front Range flood inundated both our farmhouse and Boulder did my manuscript and I wash into University Press of Colorado. For years hitherto, I had written, edited, and book doctored—always books-for-hire or other authors' books. This long experience, which includes over twenty-five published books, most with big Manhattan publishers, made writing seem the same as publishing . . . but it's not.

People don't write books. They write manuscripts. The difference lies with publishing houses.

Writing is a lonely obsession, one word following another word, with nothing but words for company. Sure, research is necessary—some phone calls and missives, an occasional foray. But mostly, I just sit here. I turn over an idea, I examine a corollary, some ham-fisted sentence falls on the page, and I then stare at it, thinking what a dullard I am. Maybe later a more lyrical approach manifests, whereupon I hasten back to the sentence and try again. Does this have anything, anything at all, to do with readers? No. It’s all about me! And I was getting nowhere with my manuscript of The Man Who Thought He Owned Water. Nowhere.

All changed antediluvian. The University Press of Colorado’s receptivity to my project demanded dogged research and fastidious referencing, itself leading to new resources. Moreover, the press’s fine reputation prompted Colorado’s water cognoscente to inform and review the work in progress. Almost immediately the project became not my project but our project.

Meanwhile, upgradient, the publishing house’s avid corps had their cumulative eye on our prospective readers. They worked their network of connections, all of which lead to readers. Their view of my copy was clear and unfettered by the alternating pride and ennui that can blind me. They were careful. They didn’t swill from a bottle on the job. They track trends. They have friends! And now, no longer alone and lonely, I am one of them.

As part of my other passion—land activism and wetland restoration—I've seen water slowed by obstructions, not dissimilarly to my manuscript’s progress toward publication. A log or branch, sand, or a mound of trash can keep water from flowing to a natural destination. Though pooling or eddying, water can persevere. If it gathers volume, as my manuscript did with the force of University Press of Colorado, it breaches what turns out to be a temporary dam. The same can happen for authors. A manuscript going nowhere can gather adherents, as mine did with University Press of Colorado staff. Their numbers and their insights inspired my manuscript to more rigor, my subtitle to more persuasion, my endnotes to better scholarship. And thanks to the press’s production and marketing staff, it busted loose of MSWord and into the future. Lo and behold, by drops and by gushes, that manuscript is now even more than our beautiful book. It's an invitation. It's relationships. It's a conversation.

Tershia d’Elgin is a social activist with deep Colorado roots and a special interest in water policy, water conservation, and the tension between agricultural and metropolitan claims on water. A San Diego–based writer and water resources consultant, she also oversees a working farm on the South Platte River in Colorado with her family.

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