Nathan Ballingrud is a remarkable short fiction writer who has won the Shirley Jackson Award and had his work reprinted in year’s best anthologies. I first met him at the Clarion Writers Workshop in 1992. Pertinent to our discussion of “Chasing Experience,” I remember that the first day he locked himself in his dorm room and
typed furiously for a couple of hours. Suitably intimidated, we all thought Nathan was incredibly committed to his art. But, as he told me many years later, in fact he wasn’t typing anything: he was just nervous about meeting the other writers attending the workshop. Although Nathan talks about experience in the context of “genre” writers, I believe what he says is relevant to all writers.
(This week, by the way, I’m in the Carolinas speaking at Wofford College, Malaprops, and a Barnes & Noble in Burlington. Check out the full schedule for details.)
(The remains of writers who never did understand the lifecycle of a book. Photo by the highly recommended Jeremy Tolbert.)
In this first week at Booklifenow, it’s important to provide a breakdown of the lifecycle of a book. While this information might appear basic, very few first-time authors seem to receive it prior to publication. As a result, many writers are unable to take advantage of possible opportunities. Even worse, not knowing what happens when results in the following unfortunate scenarios: writers asking for things at the wrong time, writers not understanding their role during a given part of the process, writers being really irritable about quick turn-arounds on tasks like approving edits, and editors wasting time answering questions that could be forestalled with some simple documentation.
If there’s one way that agents and editors could help their writers it would be by not assuming any prior knowledge of this lifecycle—although it is true that the process can change from publisher to publisher. (The lack of internal documentation of process at most publishers is a bit of a crime.)
The process set out below the cut constitutes a general breakdown of events and timing issues that occur during the lifecycle of a book. A week-by-week breakdown would be too long for a blog post. (I recommend supplementing the information I give you below with Colleen Lindsay’s excellent post on working with publicists.)
However, the traditional lifecycle doesn’t approach the “book” as a mutable object that can take many different forms in the modern era. If you boil the process down, stripping off the detail and making a “book” a more fluid creature, the lifecycle roughly becomes:
• Creation and perfection of content.
• Acquisition of a platform (or format) for the content.
• Creation and perfection of the “skin” (aesthetic) and context for the content.
• Accessibility to the content.
• Visibility for the content.
In creating your plans for your book, always keep this simplified version of the lifecycle in mind. It helps focus your efforts by reminding you of what’s important.