When does a manuscript become a book?
January 22, 2012 3 Comments
“I’m a writer,” I said.
“Oh cool,” he seemed impressed. “What do you write?”
“Fiction mostly,” I told him. “I write fiction books for young adults.”
“Oh,” he looked at me and scratched his head. “Yeah, I could do that. It’s just making stuff up right? I always wanted to write a book.”
I left him to his doorjamb.
Back in front of my computer, I continued work on the manuscript I have been writing, editing and rewriting for the past fourteen months. Yep, FOURTEEN months. That’s over a year of living with these characters in my head. A year of plotting and sub-plotting, drafting and redrafting; of worrying about character development and voice, making sure they are ‘growing up’ right; of being concerned with consistency, ensuring all questions are answered and all loose ends tied. Then writing and rewriting it all over again. I worked on it three days a week. Every week. Over a year. For one book.
My last novel was the same. By the time it was ready for publication it had taken about a year to write and edit. Before that, I spent two years completing a Master of Creative Writing to develop and hone my writing skills. And that’s without mentioning the hundreds of thousands of hours over a lifetime spent reading, or the years before and since my degree spent writing in a variety of genres for a variety of purposes —all for the purpose of developing and refining my craft.
So could anyone do it? Well, sure. I guess. If they had the time and tenacity. But unless they intend to have their book read, why would they bother? When does a manuscript become a book? Is it when you finish writing it? When you receive the completed draft back from the printer and put it on a bookshelf? Or is it when you format and upload it as an eBook? Maybe it’s not until you sign a contract with a publisher. Or is it when someone actually engages with your work and reads it?
I would suggest the latter. Writing (like reading) is a very subjective thing, but the common factor experienced by every successful writer is this. People read the book. That’s it. That’s all it takes. The thing is, readers are not a particularly charitable bunch. I know this because I am one. As a reader, I have no tolerance for bad writing. I won’t persevere with a badly written piece. And like most avid readers, I can tell from the first paragraph (sometimes even from the blurb) whether the writing is any good, or more importantly—whether it’s readable.
Now I’m not talking about the abject quality of any particular writer, that’s a discussion for another post (writers of literary fiction versus writers of commercial fiction for example), I’m talking about whether or not a piece of written work can be easily read and understood. If the technical aspect of writing is there, if the characters are authentic, the dialogue genuine, the plot believable (whether or not it is fantasy), then someone will read it. And it becomes a book.
There are thousands (perhaps even millions) of writers across the globe, all vying for readers’ attention. And in this age of electronic publishing, the ‘keepers’ of the book are no longer there. There is no middleman. It’s more cut-and-dried than ever before. And with all that choice, readers are less inclined to persevere with reading something they have to work at.
The bottom line is that unless you are prepared to learn the craft of writing, are committed to improving and are prepared to put long hours for many years into it, there is little point to ‘writing a book’ at all.