Mistake No. 70: Writers write books

Here’s a wise quote from a writer of whom I’d not previously heard, but who contributed a piece for the latest edition of The Author. Her name is Juliet Gardiner. She wrote:
“Writers have never sat at home writing books. What they have done – and continue to do – is sit at home writing manuscripts which will then require a series of processes in order to be turned into a book.”
Gardiner’s article happens to be about speaking at events, and the thrust of her argument is that giving talks is one of the aforementioned processes.

All sound advice, but the point I want to focus on is that those processes exist – that there are intermediary stages, and many of them.

I think most people understand this in a vague way: that you don’t send off your completed masterpiece today and see it printed tomorrow. But newcomers may not understand the work involved – the reading, the editing, the copy editing, the fact checking, the typesetting, the design, the publicity, the marketing, the distribution… it goes on – or the people involved – the editor, another editor, the copy editor, the publicist, the designer… it goes on again.  

So, a writer will write a manuscript. Other people step in and get involved with a long list of processes to ensure a version of that manuscript gets printed onto lots of sheets of paper which are bound together into what we call a book. But is it really a book at this point? You could argue not. Books are for buying, reading, rereading and using – they’re not for sitting in warehouses, in boxes or on shelves. As Gardiner suggests, a team, including the writer, must get involved in helping promote and market these products to ensure they are bought and read and used and become, indisputably, books.

You might want to quibble with me about this, but the more I think of it the more I think it’s helpful to think in this way. There’s a follow-on reason. An occasional mistake writers make is to call themselves ‘author’ when they have a few ‘books’ – or book-length manuscripts – on their hard drives or in their lofts. Some go further. The novice writer who wrote to me on headed paper marked ‘Author and Journalist’ before she’d written or published a word sticks in the mind, and unfortunately not in a good way.

To be clear: there is nothing wrong with being aspirational. If publishing books is your goal, great. And if you want to call yourself ‘author’ while you’re working towards that goal, well okay. But I think it’s a mistake. And it’s not because I’m possessive about the term and want to preserve its rarity and therefore its cachet – I’m a writing tutor and advisor, and it’s my job to get you into print if that’s where you want to be. But if you call yourself an author, people will ask you about your books. If you then explain your ‘book’ only lives in your head, attic or C Drive, then they’re going to go ‘Oh, right’ (ordinary people) or ignore you and mark you down as an amateur (editors, agents). Not good, right?

Really, this is a plea to just think about it all differently. Calling yourself an author is an amazing thing, and while it does eventually become dull and insignificant for the most part, it’s something you should earn and reward yourself with once you’ve achieved it. It’s not something you just decide and start doing on a whim or which happens overnight. It takes work, dedication, time and a team of professionals behind you too.

Besides, if you call yourself an author now, how will you give yourself a ‘promotion’ when your book is published and out there being read? Tell people you’re an ‘aspiring author’ by all means – that’s humble and people will warm to you and be interested in you and what you’re doing or thinking of doing. A good place to be. And when you’re approaching agents or editors, you don’t need to call yourself anything: if you’re sending them a proposal or sample chapters, then they know where you want to go.

Labels: ,