Nonprofit poetry publisher Copper Canyon Press recently signed one of the most notable book deals in poetry in years: two collections of poems by 1971 Nobel Laureate Pablo Neruda that haven’t previously been published in English. Then Come Back: The Lost Neruda comprises unpublished poems unearthed amid Neruda’s papers in 2014 by the Pablo Neruda Foundation; Crepusculario is Neruda’s debut volume, which he self-published when he was 19 and which has never been translated into English.
Michael Wiegers, executive editor at Copper Canyon (which is based in Port Townsend, Wash.), said the two-book deal was in the mid-five figures—very high for poetry, where advances often don’t break $1,000. “It’s one of the biggest single book projects we’ve ever undertaken,” Wiegers said. The Neruda books necessitated not only a much larger-than-normal advance from Copper Canyon, but meant higher production and printing costs. To help raise the funds, Copper Canyon put the Neruda books at the center of a campaign that involved crowdfunding, a slate of national events to promote the sale of the book, and a collaboration between Copper Canyon and its distributor, Consortium, which made space for a three-page spread in the current catalogue and committed to making sure the books were widely available.
The deal was sealed this past March, but the story of how Copper Canyon acquired the books began in June 2014, when Wiegers first read about the discovery of the poems. He wrote to the Neruda Foundation, expressing Copper Canyon’s interest in doing the book. “On Christmas Eve 2014, they contacted me and sent the manuscript in Spanish, a locked-down PDF I couldn’t even print,” Wiegers said.
Wiegers met with copublishers Joseph Bednarik and George Knotek just after New Year’s, and then called in board members to ask for funding support to raise the cash necessary to offer a competitive advance and show the Neruda Foundation they could do a well-produced book. “Our board got it right away,” said Wiegers, who was able to offer the advance which secured the contract.
In Copper Canyon’s proposal to the foundation, they included a plan to stage events in American cities, including New York and Chicago. “We put up a competitive bid, and we put together a real cogent plan for how we were going to publish this book,” Wiegers said. To raise money for production, printing, and promotion, Copper Canyon initiated a Kickstarter campaign. The campaign’s goal was $50,000, and as of this writing, it has raised more than $81,000.
Wiegers believes the revenue and notoriety the Neruda books will generate will enable Copper Canyon to take on more projects in the future. He says contributors “understand that by helping Copper Canyon publish this book, it will play out over the next serval years and allow us to publish younger and riskier voices.” Then Come Back will be out in April 2016, with Crepusculario following in 2017.