Back in January, I was talking with the author of a book that was about to come out. I had been thinking in terms of celebrating his job well done, and was wondering what his next project was gong to be. He surprised me, then, by talking about how he planned to spend the year promoting the book he had just finished. It seemed to me both a good decision on his part, and a somewhat depressing reality. He had been working on that book for more than a decade, so it seems like being able to finish the project would be welcome.
The reality is, however, that books want promotion, and generally the people who have to promote them are their authors. Authors give talks. Authors write to people about their book, asking them to read it, to review it. They work to get the word out.
When I was trying to put the final pieces in place—reading the page proofs, doing the index—I started thinking about working on my next project. But, not really. Immediately after finishing the page proofs, I started working on blog posts, videos, and letters to people.
I think that I have “finished” my book a number of times over the years. There was the time that I finished the first complete draft and gave it to someone else to read. There was the time that I finished a completely revised draft and gave it to someone else to read. There was the time that I finished a draft and began writing proposals for agents/publishers. And then there was the time I finished revising the draft to use what I learned writing the proposals. Then, once I finished that draft, I had the proposals to write. And once I had a proposal accepted, I needed to work on the contract. Then I revised the draft in response to the reviews, finishing the project yet again. Not long after than, I had to read the copy-edited files to check the work of the copy editor and get an almost last chance at changes. (At the copy-editing stage, the publishers were emphatic about not making significant changes—they even gave me locked files—not that I wanted to make big changes. I wanted to be finished.) And only a little while after that, I had to read the page proofs and do the index. And then, I was finished! The publisher took the files, and began production of the book.
Except that I’m not finished. I may be finished writing the book itself, but the book project continues. This blog post—a short one for me—is part of that process. Three videos are in production. Sending out promotional copies is on my to-do list, though I think I’ll wait until after Christmas before I brave the post office to send stuff to people.
There is a famous saying that a work of art is never completed, only abandoned (from Paul Valéry). I have always thought about that saying in terms of being willing to let the work go in the sense of not messing around with the work itself once it reaches a certain point. But as I write this post, I see a different view of it: not only can you abandon the work itself, you can abandon the larger project as a whole. One possible option I face is to simply let the book go. Not make any promotional effort. But that just doesn’t seem like a good idea in terms of my larger career as a writer, writing coach, and editor. Having invested a lot of effort into my book, and having gotten support for it from my publisher, it seems to be worth the continued effort to see if I can help it along its way.
I was recently pondering what it means to be a writer. Without wanting to get into a semantic debate, it seems to me that part of being a writer is this indeterminate nature of projects. They don’t just grow and finish. They jump along in fits and starts with multiple drafts reviewed by multiple people, and include all sorts of related effort to promote the book—first to agents or publishers, then to potential readers.
At this point, my feelings about being done are mixed. As, indeed, my feelings about projects generally are. On the one hand, I have my conviction that my book and my ideas provide dissertation writers with valuable insights. My book can help negotiate some of the problems with the early stages of writing a dissertation, in particular, problems in dealing with the literature and in designing/defining and developing a research project. And it’s done! On the other hand, I made a lot of choices—what to include and what to exclude; how to present ideas, etc—that maybe weren’t the best choices. I must admit anxiety over potentially bad reviews (and I expect there are a lot of people who would reject my ideas out of hand if they read them). And I have even greater anxiety over the book not being noticed at all! Into this mixed-bag of emotions is thrown the choice of whether to keep working on this project—at this point to produce promotional materials and to reach out to people—or not.
On a final note, I want to say that even though the project is still ongoing, there is still reason to celebrate an important accomplishment within that larger process. Yes, I may not be done working on my book, but I got my book published!