The young and the published: Some advice
Do you have a book in you? Imagine: Late nights pecking furiously on the keyboard with a glass of red wine by your side, animated conversations with your editor and agent and, eventually, the final, beautiful product: a hardcover book with your name on the cover. Then your publisher sends you on a book tour where you sign books, do readings, hobnob with literary types and generally feel very writerly. Dream on, baby!
When my non-fiction book "My Start-Up Life" was published last year, I became the latest first-time author mugged by reality. Here’s how it works for most. Before you begin writing, your idea is massaged to be as commercially viable as possible even at the cost of artistic merit. After it comes out, you’re expected to get in your car and flog the heck of out your book on your own nickel. At every stage in-between, a gritty reality demolishes the romantic conception of what it means to be an author.
New uncertainties and financial strains are partly to blame for the dog-eat-dog attitude that’s become the status quo. Technologies like Google Books and the Amazon Kindle are causing heartburn in publishers. Government studies showing plunging reading rates raise the question whether the younger generation--my generation--will still be reading print books when they’re adults. These points of stress create an understandably tumultuous situation for all involved.
Yet, even after all the ups-and-downs, I’m still happy I wrote a book. There are indeed good reasons to write upon dead trees, even if the process is not as it’s been mythologized. Americans still buy and read books. Millions of ‘em. There’s probably no more intimate exchange of ideas than someone quietly sitting and reading your prose for several hours. There’s also probably no more credible way to establish authority on a topic (non-fiction) or demonstrate legitimate creative ability (fiction). And, if you love to read and buy books, there’s no feeling quite like seeing your own book in a bookstore for the first time.
So if you’re one of the 81% of Americans who’d answer "yes" to my opening question--do you have a book in you?--go ahead, take the plunge. But feel no shame in bailing once you see what you’re up against. The smartest writers in the world, in my opinion, are snuggled in their bedrooms, wearing pajamas, with a glass of red wine by their side, writing a blog.
Ben Casnocha is a student at Claremont McKenna College. He is the author of "My Start-Up Life: What a (Very) Young CEO Learned on His Journey Through Silicon Valley" published by Jossey-Bass.