Books, like humans and other animals, undergo a process of conception, development, and birth. It may seem, when holding a book in hand, that it is the singular work of one person, but in fact most books are a community effort. I’ve read many books where the author was a specialist in one area and decided to write a book in a different field. This used to be more acceptable, as various polymaths showed that specialization wasn’t the only way to understand the bigger picture. Such efforts these days, however, take some convincing of skeptical editors. And with good reason. Factual books, especially, are subject to close scrutiny. Does the author indeed know what s/he is talking about? Is s/he qualified to write this book?
Recently I was reading such a book. It was published by a university press, and the author was a specialist in one field, but writing in an unrelated one. In my mind (so fictionally) I went through how this may have developed. A writer goes to an editor and says “I have an idea for a book.” From my own experience as an editor, this second party then asks her or himself a few questions. Is this topic a viable book? If so, who will buy it? Is this author the right person to write it? (It is possible that a person has an idea for a book better written by someone else.) Depending on the author’s stature, the editor may cave and say, “Okay, but you need to let me help you.” Editors (present company excepted) are some of the smartest people I’ve met. They may not be specialists like professors, but they know an awful lot. Many authors constantly question their editorial decisions nevertheless.
No matter how rational an author is, emotion plays into the process of writing. I frequently tell my authors “the book has to be what you want it to be.” Still, that may mean it should be published by someone else. An author who publishes books s/he doesn’t like is not a happy person. For nonfiction books other readers, such as peer reviewers and colleagues, also shape the final tome. Seldom does the book in your hands represent something straight from the mind of the writer. There are places for such things, of course, this blog being one of them. (And there are many more.) What makes the book authoritative, however, is that it has been fact-checked by many readers other than the author before it ever goes to press. Gestation is important. No book can be fully formed without it.
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