Back in the day — I like this expression because it’s so vague — my sister used to buy and read every cookbook she could get her hands on. She never followed one recipe from any of them, but she had lots of information to share at parties. I thought this was a riot.
Until I realized that I was currently doing the same thing, but with a book about writing.
I like to write, and the occasional person has occasionally suggested that I should write a book because I’m a gluttonous reader of them. By their calculations, I should inherently know how to compose a novel, by osmosis.
However, I have no idea how to plot a book, or how to make the characters come to life. I also remember a college professor saying that it is damn near impossible to find someone to publish a first novel. Some writers do, of course, but if you look at the New York Times Best Sellers’ list, the same writers’ names appear there week after week and year after year. That fact alone suggests that publishers (and readers) like to stick with already-successful authors.
So, I bought a book on writing, written by an author I admire, Lawrence Block. The book is Writing the Novel from Plot to Print to Pixel. Block broke down every step of how to write a book, and how to get it published. I read the first 13 chapters with a student’s attention (a good student’s), but stopped reading a few pages into Chapter 14, “Getting Published.” That chapter is followed by chapters on “The Case for Self-Publishing,” “The Case Against Self-Publishing,” “How to be Your Own Publisher,” “Doing It Again,” and finally, “Now It’s Up to You.”
What I learned from the first 13 chapters is that writing a novel is extremely hard work that must be done consistently. What I learned from the beginning of Chapter 14 is that, while I might produce a publishable book, getting someone to actually publish it is an even harder job. I didn’t even bother reading the self-publishing chapters, because I know many people who have self-published and, once their friends and family bought their books, sales dried up. The authors had no idea how to market their books and no giant publisher to help them, so along with sales, interest in their books disintegrated as well.
Unlike my sister, I’m not going to buy more books on writing. I’ll either write a book, using what I learned from chapters 1 – 13, or I won’t. I probably won’t be able to find a publisher without having an agent represent my book, or find an agent without having published before, so I’ll have to leave it up to serendipity, or luck.
It’s worked for others. Those others were probably predestined to become published authors, and there’s no way to check if I’m on that list, so I’ll have to leave it to chance. I’ll cross that bridge, as they say, when (and if) I come to it.
Right now, I think I’ll go read a cookbook.