Asking, when is it a book is a lot like asking when is your pile of logs going to be a structure. Last week we examined NaNoWriMo as a tool: your ax to chop down material. If you meet the challenge, you’ll have 50,000 words by the end of 30 days.
Some writers use the term WIP, as in a work-in-progress. I prefer the term project because it resonates with my experience with project management. I’ve learned to let go and write during NaNoWriMo, and I’m learning how to manage the result. It seems doable if I call it a project; daunting if I call it a book.
Yet some writers get to the end of their book and call it thus. First draft, and they publish. Why? Because they can. You don’t even need money to publish a book these days because you can forgo print, design your own cover, transfer your text into a template and hit publish as easy as tapping enter your keyboard.
Why do it? Well, people do have reasons. It is an accomplishment to craft 50,000 words into a story and the fundamental premise of NaNoWriMo is that everyone has a story. Some just want to share it among friends or family. I’ve met some WriMos in my region who only write in November and they love the activity as an annual hobby. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Other writers mistakenly think that publishing a book is a quick way to make money. It’s less about what is shared or the story told and more about sales potential. I met such a writer. She drafted about 30,000 words, designed a cover and published it digitally. She didn’t want to create a writer’s platform (too much work) or work with an editor (too expensive). She said she’d “hire” those people after her book sold. It didn’t.
Then there are writers who dare. They dare to finish it. Dare to call it a book. They do the best they know how with the resources available. They revise according to feedback from beta readers. They find someone to edit. They publish the book both in print and digital and promote it along the platform they have built and continue to work. Reader reviews are mixed. But you know what? A writer has to start somewhere, and often those in this group learn from newbie mistakes, hire a better editor and write a stronger second book.
On the other end of the publishing rainbow is not necessarily a pot of gold, but a possible contract. Publishing houses range in size and benefits. One benefit is professional editing. It’s kind of like winning a game show where you get to select your prize behind one of three doors. It’s a mystery as to what you really have won.
But reputation and quality are a big deal to those writers who are career-minded, who want to publish books traditionally. It may take years to call a book a book. Revisions with an editor. Revisions with an agent. Revisions with a publishing house. Not to mention rejection letters in between.
Some writers try to fast-track the traditional route by investing in an MFA. It’s paramount to networking and puts in to question, are the best books truly from college educated writers or do they simply have the better connections? Often there’s a pretentiousness that is discouraging to writers outside the ivory towers.
With so many possibilities it is hard to answer, when is it a book. All I can offer are opinions. All I can say is that I have career goals. I’m not in an MFA program, but I feel like I’m apprenticing, trying to figure it out via workshops, blogs and writing mentors in a book. It’s an unpaid apprenticeship with no guarantee I’ll become a journeyman or ever a master.
So, we write. It is the best we can do. We have nothing without writing. Call it a book when you feel ready to put it out into the world. Do it justice. And we’ll talk about editing next week.