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Between Books

31 May 2015

From The New York Times:

Novelists do all kinds of things as they wait for their books to be published, from imagining unforeseen commercial success to imagining unforeseen commercial success. Just kidding — we also update our websites. But eventually we have to face the fact that we are finished with that book — finished, and it’s not even in bookstores yet — and it is time to start something new.

This is not an easy moment. In an interview after the publication of his story collection “The Wonders of the Invisible World,” David Gates was asked, “What are you working on now?” He replied: “Same to you, buddy.”

. . . .

 Most manuscripts have more pages than the books they eventually become, but let’s be conservative and estimate that the manuscript consists of 350 pages, too. Figure four drafts (again: conservative), plus copies read by editors and friends, and it’s easy to see how a writer might have several thousand pages taking up prime real estate on her desk and making it impossible for her to start a new project. What to do with all this paper? Even though each draft is on a computer file, the printed pages are valuable because they contain notes from those who read the book along the way. How can one decide whether or not to save these manuscripts without rereading the comments?

I read a margin note on one manuscript page that said, “She is the world’s worst mother.” Twenty minutes later, looking through a different copy of the same draft, I discovered that another reader had written, “I feel so much sympathy for her here.” Which reminded me that reading is subjective, and that for the most part people enjoy debating the faults and virtues of characters — witness the popularity of book clubs. But things get complicated when readers meet writers.

“Which of your characters do you like best?” they want to know, and “What do you think happened to them after the book was over?” and “Was it hard to let go of them?” Some writers can jump right into this kind of conversation. “I like all of my characters, but I really love So-and-So.”  “I think they probably moved to Carmel and bought a fixer-upper.” I can’t do this. Sometimes I hem and haw, saying, “Oh, they’re like children, you don’t have favorites, you love them all,” or “Gosh, I don’t know, what do you think?”

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Tom for the tip.

Books in General

40 Comments to “Between Books”

  1. Preaching to the choir here, but when my wife, Gina Lake, or I finish a book we immediately start marketing it and watching the sales figures on Amazon. When a book is finished it is almost immediately in bookstores including print-on-demand paperback versions.

    It is hard not to feel sorry for the traditionally published author who does have to wait months or even years to see any actual sales to readers.

    On a side note, I have not figured out yet why some articles on the NYT allow comments and others do not.

    • “On a side note, I have not figured out yet why some articles on the NYT allow comments and others do not.”

      Clickbait?

  2. To this article-writer with blinders on, the steps ‘write the next book,’ or ‘keep on writing the next book,’ or ‘do all the other tasks necessary to getting a book actually read’ for indies don’t exist.

    The single biggest benefit to self-publishing is the absence of this wastage.

    Finish it. Do whatever comes next. But you don’t have to anxiously wait for SOMEONE ELSE to do whatever comes next. You just grit your teeth and do it.

    The time wasted by writers waiting for responses from agents, etc., added to the time wasted like this, ends up being a lifetime.

    • I used to say that if my life expectancy was 125 years then all the delays waiting for agents and editors to reply in a timely fashion would be fine. I am, however, not expected to live past 100 and these people could rightly be accused of “theft of time”.

    • Isn’t there an old saying about that?

      “If you want something done right, do it yourself.”

    • “If you want something done — at all…”

  3. “What to do with all this paper?”

    It’s funny. I haven’t gotten written notes in like a decade. It’s been all Word comments.

  4. I’m actually almost never between books since I usually start a new one before I finish the old one.

    • Same here.

      I’m in the last fourth of WIP, but I’ve already generated 5 pages of preliminary notes on the next book. Not because I “had to” or “should,” but just because I was thinking about it and had all sorts of cool ideas for it. I was excited and wanted make those notes.

      As soon as I finish WIP and send it off to my first reader, I’ll start writing that next project.

      I’ll have to take a break from what will then be WIP when the feedback returns from my first reader, because I’ll want make the revisions right away.

      Sometimes those revisions can be accomplished in just a day. (Generally on short stories.) Longer works usually require a week. My last novel took 3 weeks of revision, because I changed the order of all the scenes in the first 20,000 words and then wrote new bridges between them.

      Once the revisions are done, I’ll return to writing the current WIP.

      The publishing tasks for the revised book can easily be fit in around writing hours. No need to stop writing while I publish. 😀

    • I start new ones before I finish. :/ I have about four WIP and one in the endstage. As soon as I finish the endstage one, I’ll be ready to dive into one of my WIP. Just have to decide which one–or start a sequel to the one about to be published. Decisions, decisions! One thing I won’t do is sit around waiting.

    • I’m never between books either. I always have multiple projects going on at once, because there are downbeats in my process. If I’m waiting for a beta reader or the proofreader, or letting something simmer on the back burner for a week before I start the final pass, I’m not spending that time eating bon bons and watching soaps. So it seems like I’m always outlining one thing and writing another and copyediting something else.

  5. “Most manuscripts have more pages than the books they eventually become, but let’s be conservative and estimate that the manuscript consists of 350 pages, too. Figure four drafts (again: conservative), plus copies read by editors and friends, and it’s easy to see how a writer might have several thousand pages taking up prime real estate on her desk and making it impossible for her to start a new project.”

    Dang, I’m doing it wrong! 😛

    • There is a thing called a computer….

      350 pages? Doesn’t the author know how to write concisely?

      I think I am on the extreme end- I’m too concise.

      Why waste time reading rejection letters? I have rejection emails that are stored on my inbox. Mostly, I spend too much time checking my dashboard instead of writing.

      I don’t think I could handle waiting MONTHS for a royalty statement. Heck, Amazon’s 15 day wait is kind of a pain, but it’s still preferable to trad pub’s sloooow reporting.

      • As bad as my chicken-scratch is, writing goes from my feeble mind to my hunt-n-peck fingers to the screen — to be saved in a file which gets a ‘save as + date’ every so often. Changes/updates get a different color so they stand out for me and my alpha readers.

        I was mainly laughing at the 350 pages being much bigger than what they end up with. Mine seem to start small and grow as I expand on the ideas — which sometimes cause new ideas and more expansion! (I blame it on the cook in the story, she used far too much yeast in her mix!)

  6. Ah, nothing like listening to reporters on how to write a book. They know the process so well!

  7. “We go through our files and reread old rejection letters.”

    Don’t ANY of you even try to explain to me why someone would do this, I have already decided I that I don’t want to know!

  8. What is this “between books” you speak of?

    • That’s EXACTLY what I was going to say!

      For me, there is no such thing as “between books”. I’ve always got at least two projects going, and as soon as one book’s out, another moves into the top spot in the pipeline. Right now I’m doing edits on a book in a series while the next two books are waiting their turns for final revision and editing, four other projects (three novels and a collection of short stories) are waiting their turns to go through revisions and editing, I’m doing scene cards for another novel, and developing ideas for yet another novel and a follow-up series to the series I’m working on now. There are just too many books waiting to be written for me to spend time “between books” doing things other than working on books.

      But maybe this partly explains the very slow output of some trad-pubbed writers (one book every ten years or something like that). In addition to the time it takes to write it, they then spend a year and a half waiting for it to get published before they start the next book. Reading their rejection letters or whatever. I’d rather be writing.

    • No kidding. The concept is alien to me.

      • Right. I always have multiple projects ongoing. Right now, I have one novel that is about to get copy-edited, one novel I need to go back and do revisions on, and another novel which I just started a few days ago. No such thing as “between books” for this writer.

  9. Paper? Paper! I have spent the last few years trying to purge my home of a plague of paper.

    I write first drafts in longhand, so I have far too many notebooks floating around, but printing drafts? Imposing paper manuscripts on someone? Oh lord, the waste and ridiculousness of it all.

    I send my writers markup documents–if they want to print them out, fine, but I sure don’t. PDFs are little marvels, too. They can be marked up and commented upon and shared with a push of the button.

    Aside from the cost of paper (gah, a ream costs now what I used to pay for a case) the sheer volume of space it takes up and the ecological damage it does (paper production is a nasty, dirty business) are enough to make any reasonable person celebrate the fact that the truly paperless office is now a possibility.

    Want to do something useful “between books”? Purge the paper and vow to do no more harm. If you need a physical copy of your book, do a print on demand edition and order a copy for your shelf.

    If you’re waiting to hear from an agent or publisher, coming up with elaborate conspiracy theories about why the post office hates you and is destroying your mail is always good for a couple of hours.

    • Agreed, and I’m happy to read that I’m not the only person who’s rather obsessive about getting rid of all paper.

      When I decided to get serious about writing the first novel, I signed up for a couple of workshops, which meant printing out eight copies of my submissions and then getting back eight copies with handwritten notes on them. Like the writer of the OP, I wanted to save the more complimentary comments in order to motivate myself during low-confidence times, so I scanned everything into Evernote.

      I’ve never looked at them.

    • “…elaborate conspiracy theories about why the post office hates you and is destroying your mail is always good for a couple of hours.”

      That is a good idea for a short story.

  10. Dear God! I’d be bored out of my skull. Finish the book and start the next already. And why keep comments on drafts around? Why keep multiple drafts? (Yes, I know a lot of authors have numbered versions on their computers). I overwrite. If I get comments that cause me to make a change, I make the change and discard the comments. I’ve never had more that one version of anything I’ve written.

  11. I have no idea what this guy’s talking about. As soon as I finish a book, I start another. 🙂

  12. I’m not sure I understand this “between books” concept. I have numerous works in progress that are waiting in the sidelines. When I’m done one book – or have sent it off for reading, or am setting it aside to get some time away from it before diving in again with a fresh set of eyes – I pick up one of the others and carry on. There’s no lull unless I want to take a break. Then it’s called a vacation.

    With self-pubbing, you can dive into marketing, if you so choose, since the book will be for sale already.

    As for the piles of paper, really? I write most of my first draft longhand, but once it’s been typed up and printed (yes, I use a hard-copy for editing) I pitch it. Same with future rounds. If I remove chunks of writing that I quite like (but that don’t work in the current project) I cut and paste into a “deleted scenes” document for future reference. Everything else … gone.

    External edits come electronically. Never have I had someone review a paper copy. I think I would be mocked if I tried.

  13. I thought we were supposed to not print as much, for the environment and all that. I haven’t printed out any of my stuff in, oh, at least five or six years, if not more. It’s a giant waste of paper and I know I’ll lose it somewhere.

    Embrace digital, people! Think of the trees!

    • I don’t know, I have piles of paper EVERYWHERE when I’m working. Mostly candy wrappers, but sometimes chip bags, too.

      • I have a few Beta readers that prefer paper. I keep at least one copy in paper in case of major computer meltdown (and I lose all the backups and can’t get to my cloud drive). And I keep old versions if I remove a chunk that I might want to use elsewhere…guess I’m just a packrat.

  14. Phyllis Humphrey

    So many comments said exactly what I was going to say. With most authors working on 3 or 4 books at once, or sending them off at a rapid clip, it’s no wonder Indies are beating Trad authors. Now I really feel sorry for them. Waiting? Don’t be silly.

  15. Between books I get up and go pee. Saves time cleaning up later.

  16. Novelists do all kinds of things as they wait for their books to be published, from imagining unforeseen commercial success to imagining unforeseen commercial success. Just kidding — we also update our websites.

    If writing is a part time activity, then maybe get a full time job?

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