“I have a great story to tell,” my seatmate might say. “I’d write a book if I had the time.”
On one of these trips I went to Chicago to interview the four police officers who’d captured the mass murderer John Wayne Gacy. My agent thought their story would make a compelling book. But the cops wanted to divide the royalties evenly among the five of us, which would give me twenty percent. My agent said no way.
“It’s our story,” said the cops. “All you have to do is type it up.”
So how long does it take to type up a book? Joyce Carol Oates, probably the country’s most prolific writer, has published 140 novels, short story collections, essays, and so on since her first book came out fifty years ago. This year alone she’s published three works of fiction.
But on the other hand, it took Donna Tartt ten years to write her bestselling novel The Goldfinch.
As for us, our book had its genesis in 2006, when we got together to form a writing group. Several months later, we each began writing about our mother, and eventually decided to gather our short memoirs into a book. The book, Still Here Thinking of You: A Second Chance With Our Mothers, wasn’t published until March 2013.
What took so long? First there were the years we spent writing and revising and refining our stories. Then we had to find an agent, send query letters to those who might be attracted to our project, and, after signing with one, write a book proposal she thought would attract a publisher. When our agent was satisfied, she began sending it to major publishers and waiting for their responses. For one reason or another, all rejected our book.
We were disappointed, but we knew that many successful books were turned down by publishers dozens of times before finally being picked up. Katherine Stockett’s best-seller, The Help, for example, had been rejected sixty times. There are, though, a few lucky writers who have never experienced rejection. Recently, Stephanie Danler, a thirty-year-old waitress at a Manhattan restaurant, mentioned to a regular customer – an editor at a major publishing company – that she’d just completed a novel. “Have your agent send it to me,” he said. He loved it, sent it to a colleague, and it was sold to Alfred A. Knopf in a two-book deal for a high six-figure advance.
But back to our book. We decided to drop the agent, rewrite the proposal, and start sending it to independent publishers. The owner of a small press took it on. After months of editing, revising, choosing a cover design, reading and rereading until we thought we’d uncovered every typo, our book was finished.
But that wasn’t the end. It was our job to promote the book -- contacting newspapers and magazines for articles and reviews and presenting readings and book signings in whatever venues were interested. Even now, when we’re reading a chapter aloud at an event, we’ll come upon a sentence that could have been more graceful, a paragraph that could have been moved to a different spot. This process of typing up a book – it’s never really over.
~ Joan Potter