zoli 2

If You’re Done, You’ve Only Just Begun

Colum McCann > Letters to Young Writers > If You’re Done, You’ve Only Just Begun

Just because you’ve written a book doesn’t mean that you’ve actually finished a book. A book might take a few years to write, but even after it’s written it still has to be finished. Writing is about 75 percent of the job. There’s the editing. And then there’s the editing. Oh and then there’s the editing. And, after that, there’s the editing again. After that there’s the copy-editing. Then there’s the publicity meeting. And then there’s the marketing meeting. Then there’s some more editing. Then there’s the request for blurbs. Sometimes they come, sometimes they don’t. (More on blurbs later, but get one or two. Cajole, plead, beg, bargain, implore.) Then there’s a proof copy. Then there’s the final editing. A tweak here, a tweak there. Then there’s the wait. The pause. The hold. The catch of breath. The wish that you had edited more. Then there are the op-eds that you hope to place at the very least in the New York Times. Then there’s the wailing and gnashing of teeth when the op-ed appears in an online journal read by only six people. But, hey, that’s six more readers than before. Then you wait some more. You lie awake at night. Then there’s the visit to the seventh circle of hell: the first reviews. Don’t despair too much. Don’t rejoice too much either. You are only halfway through. Then, a month or so before publication, the first six copies comes in the post. Take out one of the box. Cherish it. Give it a drink. Give yourself a drink too. Dance around your apartment. Knock over the shelves. Tuck the book away as the first copy you ever touched. Give out other copies to your loved ones: your Mum, your Dad, your friends who supported you all the way along. Buy at least 20 more first editions. Yes, you have to buy them, believe it or not. There are no endless free books. But you should get them half-price. Or if you have a good editor she’ll sling a box of them your way. These are first editions, remember. Do not give them all away. Repeat, do not give them all away. Tuck away five or six of them for you, your kids, your grandkids and others you love. Hopefully there will be many more editions in the future. Trust me, you don’t want to end up paying for a first edition of your first ever book. Hopefully it will be good enough that readers will want it forever. So it sits on your shelf. And then you get ready for the onslaught. Hopefully at least some of it comes. You have your first reading. You do a small book tour. You find some kindred spirits. But a lot of the time you go out to silence. That’s the toughest thing of all. But good writers are about stamina. Good writers are about perseverance. Good writers are about desire. And you get back up and you begin again. Even better, you have begun your second book long before the first comes out.