SO–YOU WANT TO WRITE A BOOK…

My first book, “Mirth, Wind, and Ire,” is finished. In about two weeks or less, assuming I can figure how to upload it successfully and have equal success getting through the publisher’s review phase, it should be available for sale. The process has prompted these thoughts.

The very first is that writing a book is hard, even when you’ve already written it. It’s not you, that sentence reads as it was written. MWF, as I affectionately call my opus, is a collection of political and social op ed pieces written and published over the past twenty years. Thus, I didn’t actually have to write the book, it was already written. What had to be done, with the help of my editor, John William Johnson, was organize it. I’ve written maybe 800 or more columns. Every one is full of insight, wit, and wisdom. (Isn’t everyone’s?) How could I possibly choose amongst them…? That’s what an editor for, heartless humans though they be.

Now I have about 60. These 60 need to be put into some sensible order. To do that one needs a reason why the book is worth the work and why it is worth reading. Then one needs a thesis. Just what does this book say?

Oh did I mention, all this has to be written: a preface, and introduction, acknowledgements, headings, and so on?

Now comes the fun. You throw them all up in the air and hope they self-sort into similar topics. Not really, though that reminds me of being a TA in graduate school and being taught the “stair-case” method of grading essays…. No, one goes through all the columns and finds that they cover five or six categories, about 8-10 columns in each. That’s your framework. Just so the reader isn’t faced with figuring it out the themes him/herself, a category introduction for explanation needs to be written. Why are these columns grouped together beyond the fact that they deal in some way with the same topic–religion, politics, silliness, whatever?

Unless one is writing this to be placed neatly at his side in a coffin, there are other things that have to be done in terms of publishing while the above is going on.

Unless you’re Shakespeare, Dickens, King, or the like, publishers aren’t singing odes of praise to you below your window at night hoping you’ll choose one ode-singer over another. Nope, you buy  one of several Bibles for writers. They list, with an overview blurb, every agent and publisher that exists in that year. It takes hours to find a reasonable number–a dozen, two dozen?–that seem like your work would fit their play list.  Having taken exquisite care to follow to the “T” their instructions for submissions, having proof-read what you’ve offered up as an example of the work or written the required synopsis of same, you begin sending them out. Some only take email. Some only take snail mail. Some only want a precise number of paragraphs to answer a given number of questions, some want one or several chapters of the work. Off they go.

Then it starts, the most disheartening process since college application time. The rejection process. Most are boiler plate “thanks but no thanks” responses. Some, by sensitivity or cruelty, seem to indicate that even though you didn’t win the duck you did knock over most of the bottles, so good for you and good luck.

Somewhere into this battering it comes to your attention that self-publishing is no longer the so-called “vanity press” it once was where for a few thousand bucks a publisher would print your book. “Indie” publishing is growing exponentially. It is an extremely professional industry made up mostly of publishers from “the other world.” It’s production far outstrips standard publishing. It costs little to nothing. It’s an answer to one’s prayer. But……once you choose one and learn how to punblish with them, you then find that even these prayers aren’t so easily answered, especially if you were born well before the word-processor was.

Thus while you are doing what precedes this paragraph, you are now researching the “Indie press.” “Do I go with Amazon/Kindle? After all it is the largest purveyor of books in the world.” “Of course.”

But wait, there are others and you can get to Amazon through them. It turns out there are about five recognized companies that are “standards of the industry” and each has a house full of contracts: publishing outlets all over the world, libraries, schools, you name it. I went with “Smashwords,” which I keep calling Smashmouth for some unknown reason. Being from Brooklyn, probably. Why did I choose “Smashword?” With all the research done, I can only tell you this: “because.”  Because it felt right. Part of that “right” was it passed a test. I had read something by the owner, Mark Coker, that said, “If you have a question, email me. I always try to answer my emails.” So I did. And what-do-know? He did! And the same day. I was impressed. When I tell you a little more about the company next week, you’ll understand why.

So I pack in the agent/publisher stuff, file my rejection letters and dive into self-publishing. I then find out I really am not ready to swim in this pool. The lessons the post-computer generation people have insinuated into every moment of their lives, we post-processor folks have to study, learn, practice. It’s worse than piano lessons.

And…..? What happened? Did I sink? Did I swim? Was I pulled off the tracks before the train came? You know I was, but how?

Next week I’ll share the cliff-hanger ending of how I was saved.

Until then, friends, if you’ve been thinking about writing that book we all have inside us, “wait ’til next week.”

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