Wednesday, 6 June 2012

June 2012: The shortest decade of an author's life

After a long(ish) hiatus from my little writing world (mostly spent getting married and lying on beaches), I've returned to the realm of tracked changes and late nights spent fantasizing about book launches to come.

Seeing long-lost and far-flung friends and family, as one does at events like weddings, has made me realize that being an author is, in some ways, one of the most boring endeavours one can undertake. Not that the idea of seeing my name on a book jacket has made me anything less than absolutely, earth shatteringly, deliriously happy. But talking about it with the average person can end up being met with a lot of gazed looks. In reality, it's just a lot of waiting.

I suspect that the two phrases heard most often by writers waiting for books to come out are: 1) "What's your book about?" (met with a slight cringe from most first-time fiction writers when they realize they have no idea how to describe their book) and 2) "What's taking so long?"

Good editing takes a long time. It's an artful tapestry of tactfully crafted queries and brutally literal line edits. It's critical, and creative, and revealing, and elusive at the same time. But above all, a good substantive edit takes lots of time.

A book designer is likely working on at least 6-10 designs at any given time (maybe more, depending on the house). For the one set of interior and cover proofs that the author sees, the designer has likely gone through a half-dozen alternatives in-house. One of the privileges of editing a book is being one of the few who gets to see preliminary design ideas. Hand-sketched lettering that turns into a unique typeface. Purposely underexposed photography given a digital wash to become an ethereal, brooding image. It's like seeing the book distilled into its purest form.

But these two stages of the book's creation, the stages I'm so used to (and excited about) engaging with in my day job, happen completely separate from the author.

A good publicist is arguably the most important piece of the publishing puzzle, but she won't make her appearance until much later.

So, all in all, outside of the work to be done between substantive editing passes (which is important work, don't get me wrong), the first several months of the approximately eighteen months between contract and finished book are pretty low-key for the author. She doesn't get to see preliminary designs. She's isn't there when her editor calls in a friend to help her make sense of a character's motivations (thankfully!). She reads the book review pages every Saturday at her kitchen table wondering what might be said about her own book, when it eventually comes out.

Somehow I have the feeling that these eighteen months are going to end up feeling like the shortest decade of my life!