It’s extremely slow. In fact, you might think nothing is happening at all. I mean the book publishing process, of course. It takes a long time to read 60,000+ words. Even longer if you’ve had a few poor nights of sleep. And many people have to read it before it gets anywhere near a printing press. Everything about writing a book takes time. While everything in the outside world happens at an unbelievable pace—last year at this time there was no war in Ukraine, for example—the slow process of organizing thoughts, putting them into words, sending them to a publisher who has many, many other proposals and manuscripts to consider, getting it rejected once or twice, finally finding a publisher, making the requested changes, getting it copyedited and typeset, getting the files sent to one of the few domestic printers left (who have tremendous backlogs), then to the bindery, and finally shipped out to the warehouse—it takes years.
Current events publishers can rush things through and it often shows. Meanwhile the authors of all other books learn to wait. And wait. Often the payoff isn’t great. (I’ve received no royalties at all for Nightmares with the Bible.) So why do we do it? Those of us compelled to write have many motivations, I suppose. One is to expand human knowledge. We’ve discovered something and we want to share it. We want to inform and entertain. Those of us who write fiction also hope that our ideas may speak to others. Having the fiction piece accepted is a validation of our outlook and experience. Those who do so well may be inflicted on future literature classes. I still remember The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner by Alan Sillitoe. We had to read it in twelfth-grade English.
None of my friends liked it. It was a collection of short stories by Sillitoe, titled after the one story that is still his only real claim to fame apart from his novel Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. The tale of an English boy’s alienation didn’t speak to the rural western Pennsylvanians of the late seventies. One of my classmates disliked it so much that he drove his pencil through the runner’s image on the front cover in a kind of uncouth performance art. Now as I experience trying to get short stories published (with a little success here and there, but no royalties), I can feel for Sillitoe. Still, “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner” was made into a movie and has quite a few cultural references pointing its way. Long-distance running, like publishing, is sometimes a slow process. And at times you decide not to finish the race. Or at least realize this race may last for years.