The myth of the book


 

People have been pestering me for years to write a book. I have yet to accomplish this. That is not to say that I haven’t written reams of things that could probably fill many books. However, collecting enough singular thoughts or trains of thoughts into a book-sized collection of pages seems beyond me.

No one in their right mind wants to write a book, but EVERYONE I have ever met wants to have written a book; these two things are completely dissimilar. Writing a book is a painful laborious process of putting one word in front of the other and rewriting until your brain bleeds, but having written a book is like a runner’s high (or so I am told). Unfortunately you have to work very hard to get high. I am lazy. I don’t run; I poke along enjoying the view.

Why do people feel the need to have their name on a book jacket? It can’t be just the name on the jacket, hell, gimme PhotoShop 7 and an Epson printer and I can have your mug smirking out from a back flap before you can say “Jackie Collins.” But that doesn’t seem to be enough. And you can’t get by with writing anything else. You can write bits and pieces for magazines and newsletters and even assemble entire issues of magazines, but unless your name is on a real genuine book, it doesn’t earn the same appreciation.

There is an entire economy out there revolving around and benefiting from this urge to expose ourselves in public: schools, guides, manuals, magazines, seminars, software. (I have this theory, about reading about how to write being a form of mental masturbation that allows you to think you are actually being productive, when in reality you should be writing–but it’s just a theory.)

Whenever you get a published writer in a room full of wannabes you inevitably get questions about the actual process of writing, regardless of the fact that each person has their own unique methods that probably won’t work for anyone else. This always amuses me. If you are asking how to write, you aren’t one. (I know this because dwelling in the in-between world I get to lurk ambivalently on the sidelines.) Writers write.

I never asked how to be a writer, before I was one, I didn’t want or expect to be one, and most days still don’t. First you write something here and then you write something there and then someone pays you to do it and sure enough you become addicted to the act of trading words for money. It also doesn’t hurt that you never have to make yourself presentable anymore.

Perhaps it is the illusion of immortality? The masses believe their words will live forever once it’s bound inside several thousand copies. But booksellers know this is another untruth. How many nothing books by no-name authors do we discard when burrowing through a box looking for just one that might have still retained some value. Too many. More books are written and forgotten within the year than anyone ever remembers.

But still people try and after having plugged away and produced 189 precious pages it starts logging air miles being mailed it to some very busy people in New York. And after it’s been rejected by publishing houses that are already busy churning out unreadables that they actually paid money for, the authors can invest their own money into the dreaded ‘self-publish’ previously known as the ‘vanity press.’ One of the unspeakables no one ever utters to someone who is full of pride at their investment is the invariable fact that self-published books suck. Even self-published items by authors who became well known are never as good as their later professional works. Doubt me? Go do some research, come back and we’ll talk.

Another myth is that writing a book will solve all your financial woes. Trust me, another pipe dream. The average writer in this country, Steven King included, makes 8 G’s a year. That’s it, 8 G’s. If Steven King and Anne Rice are making megabucks, some of us are well, writing for free. This part is true. (I have seen it said only 5 thou but I wanted to be hopeful.) There’s a local writer in these parts, by local I mean he lives here, not that he only writes about local matters, who has had 2 books published by Crown in the last 3 years. He and his son still live in his brother’s side of a duplex. So much for retiring early.

Regardless, I still walk through Barnes & Noble on a Sunday night, running my fingers across the covers of the new books, and it just reinforces my belief that 90% of them are crap. The covers are great, I mean really great, worlds away from what they were 20 years ago, even 10 years ago. But still they are just delicately molded Easter chocolate; all foil wrapper on the outside and big fat hairy nothing inside. Why do I still feel like a slacker cause my name isn’t on one of them?

Joyce Godsey

The Standard: The Journal of the Independent Online Booksellers Association

Check out the Independent Online Booksellers Association Website