Note:I wrote this before the pandemic and the whole world turned upside down. I was going to leave it but today on Facebook someone had one of those quotes about writing being hard work, so maybe it is still relevant.
True story: I had a friend, a wonderful person and an excellent writer who published a book and was lucky enough to get several interviews. On the radio. He was so thrilled to be published, so happy to be interviewed that all he could talk about was how much harder it was to write a book than he’d thought it would be.
I understood the impulse. It was harder than he’d thought and he imagined his readers were just like him - they, too, probably had no idea it was so hard.
But he learned too late - talking about how hard it was to write did not sell one single book. Listeners were probably on their way to work. Many most likely had difficult jobs. I could picture them muttering as they faced another endless commute - You want to know hard work, buddy? Just take my job for one day.
And to be honest, I’ve never heard a brain surgeon or a rocket scientist comment that their work was hard but it wasn’t like writing a novel, for godssakes.
Prospective readers want to know: what the story is about; will it keep them entertained, turning pages, staying up half the night? Are the characters quirky or sexy or evil? They want to be fascinated and there is nothing fascinating about the fact that you had to work hard.
This came to mind recently when I was reading an introduction to a book. A good, powerful work-in-progress written with the kind of honesty that takes courage. It was a very difficult book to write. It’s not easy to reveal yourself to strangers. And in his effort to be honest all around, he wrote that he’d had no idea writing the book would be such hard work.
I’m sure it was. I know he struggled for weeks and months trying to get it all down on paper. But his intended audience – emergency room doctors – knew about hard work.
Still, I hesitated to tell him the lesson from my friend - skip over the part about how hard you worked and tell the readers why they’ll like the book. Would advising him to make a few cuts feel like I was minimizing his experience?
In the end, I did tell him and he took it well. But I’m still not sure if it was the right thing to do. What would you have done?