War of Egos

As an author you have to believe in your book.  Experience has taught me that if you don’t, nobody will.  Still, there are ways of believing in your book while keeping your ego in check.  Given the ego we’ve seen along Pennsylvania Avenue these last few years it may come as little surprise that even some wannabe authors can nearly match it.  The line, as professionals draw it, is balancing between the importance of your work with the realism that few books sell well.  Your best approach, as author, is humility.  Many people don’t read the professionals.  You quickly learn this if you’re in an editorial role.  It is normal to receive emails from authors telling you how important their work is, some even claiming it as an even on a cosmic scale (I am not joking).

I often consider how much pain authors could spare themselves with just a tiny bit of research.  If a publisher has turned your book down twice already, don’t submit it a third time.  (You already crossed the line the second time you sent it.)  And don’t send your proposal with a list of demands.  What I’ve noted both on this blog and elsewhere is that editors value professionalism.  We don’t like turning down books.  We don’t want to ruin a prospective author’s day.  There are, however, safeguards you can use to prevent the worst kinds of disappointment.  Rule number one is check your ego at the door.  Do you know how many books have been published?  Do you know just how difficult it will be for your book to get noticed?  Take a reality check.

Also, scale your expectations.  How many bestsellers have come from university presses?  If you’re after bestseller status you need to aim for a trade publisher.  This is pretty basic stuff.  Those of us who publish in the academic world do believe our books are important, but many of us also know that they start only small conversations.  Biblical studies isn’t exactly a growth field.  We talk amongst each other, a collegial little group for the most part.  And to keep things on the collegial level it is helpful to remember that we’re not publishing for ego.  We’re publishing to try to move knowledge ahead, even if just by a micron or two.  Good writing, I was once told, is simply clear thinking.  Getting that writing published is part of a conversation and conversation only works if  we are willing to keep our egos on their leashes.

The Hardest Part of Nightmares

In the process of writing a book, there comes the long time between when everything’s submitted and you hear nothing.  In fact, writing a book is often about waiting.  You spend years pounding your thoughts through a keyboard, send them off to some editor (guilty, as charged) who takes months to read and think about it.  If they like it they’ll send you instructions on how to change it and you start banging the keys again.  When it’s finally ready you submit it and wait while it gets transferred to production.  This handover is a complicated process and can itself take a month, easily.  Then the manuscript has to be copyedited.  I’m at the post-copyedited phase of Nightmares with the Bible, and this is, it seems, the longest wait.

There were only a few changes to the proofs I received.  These days your Word files (converted from Pages files for Mac users) get loaded directly into the production software.  What you see is your own words, in a different format.  You type your corrections directly onto the proofs.  Hit submit.  Then wait.  In my head I know that my book is one of many waiting in a queue to be printed.  I’m also a realist so I know the initial printing will likely be about 150 copies.  (When I first started in the publishing world academic books routinely sold 300 copies, but those days are long gone.)  At some point before then I’ll receive an email telling me the cover’s ready.  That’s what I’m waiting for at the moment.

We’re constantly told, in the business, that electronic books are what people want.  I can’t speak for others who write, but when I think of a book I think of a physical object.  Not some electrons sharing a screen promiscuously with any number of other books.  I haven’t published until I hold the printed object in my hands.  That’s still at least a weeks away.  Unless your book is anticipated to be a big seller, this is a period of absolute silence.  You just wait, nervously checking the publisher’s website every other day to see if your page has been updated, all the while working on your next tome.  Although it is priced expensively, I’m hoping Nightmares with the Bible will do reasonably well because of the subject.  Maybe some people will even get curious about Holy Horror, which was the precursor for it.  But for now, I sitting here with Tom Petty, waiting.