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
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.”
article happens to be about speaking at events, and the thrust of her argument
is that giving talks is one of the aforementioned processes.
sound advice, but the point I want to focus on is that those processes exist –
that there are intermediary stages, and many of them.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.