Sunday, August 30, 2009

Dear Author

inally the contract from my publisher arrived.

Five pages of detailed clauses that spell the agreement between the author and the publisher.

I read each one of them, made notes, and chewed on my thoughts.
One clause is about competing work. It says that I, the author, can’t print or publish during the term of the agreement any portion of my novel, FLESH, or any work that might compete with or reduce the sales of FLESH. Interesting, I thought. What about giving excerpts from my novel in my blog? I intend to blog about my writing, and also about FLESH, but not giving away too much of my forthcoming novel. Better ask your publisher, I thought. Better safe than sorry. To my relief, he said that prior to publication, I could publish or blog about parts of FLESH, even in a short-story length. But he advised me not to publish large parts of it without his consent.
I read the manuscript delivery date: January 1, 2011. Ready for publication? No, he told me. Ready for pre-press process. There will be galley proof for me to read, edit, correct, before everything is locked down. Yet he assured me that the editing will be completed well before that date. Amen! I went back to one of my publisher’s earlier emails. He told me there would be minor editing only, no substantive changes. Thank God! Then I thanked myself for having done my work in getting the manuscript ready. Again, ‘ready’ is a relative word. Each writer who wants to become an author goes about his editorial labor differently. The author would thank himself when his manuscript is acquired by a publisher. However, many will be asked to revise their manuscripts structurally, and that’s when it’s no longer fun. The truth is: There could be a significant lapse between the time the writer’s final manuscript is acquired and the time his publisher requests a revision. By then the writer might have lost touch with his novel’s characters. To transport himself back to any scene to be rewritten in his novel, he needs the mood – not his mood. The scene’s mood keeps it alive, like water to plants. Worse of all revisions is structural revision. Here the writer might have to change the narrative’s voice, from first-person point of view to third-person point of view, or vice versa. He might have to add a new character to support the revised cast. Or he might have to enliven an existing character to make it three dimensional. Not only that, the dialogue in his novel might be subjected to revision as well, because no character speaks like another, no matter how you put words in their mouths.
When the publisher buys your novel, reads it, and declares that only minor editing is needed – you exhale! You feel blessed. Why? Perhaps by now you have already started writing your next novel. And the worst thing that will definitely affect your writing – and your writing schedule – is a structural revision. It’s a bad dream like Alfred Hitchcock said, “Give them pleasure the same pleasure they have when they wake up from a nightmare.”
Then I consulted my good friend, Stephen Evans, a novelist, on the clauses of my contract. Steve’s first novel, The Marriage of True Minds, came out in 2008. To date, I thought it was one of the finest novels published that year. After I took in his advice, I signed the contract and mailed it back to my publisher.
Writers. Authors. What a long and winding road.
Afterward I sat and read Charles Bukowski. Funny. When my mood needs a booster, I read Bukowski. Someone asked him this: “Who do you consider the greatest writer of all time?” He said, “I do not consider the greatest writer of all time. I consider a few moderns, then forget them. This is not conceit but a defense against intrusion.” Then another question: “Why do you write?” He said, “I write as a function. Without it I would fall ill and die. It’s as much a part of one as the liver or intestine, and just about as glamorous.” And a final question (for this post): “Does pain make a writer?” He said, “Pain doesn’t make anything, nor does poverty. The artist is there first. . . . If his luck is good, he becomes a bad artist. If his luck is bad, he becomes a good one.”

[Image from]


  1. There is little which is easy about being a writer ...
    June in Oz

  2. Congratulations on your contract! I'm sure it's been a long, hard road but you did it!!

  3. Congrats on the contract - another step forward :)

    What I find so interesting for me, reading this, is how much of a sense of relief I feel that I gave up the idea of seeking to become a writer (of something more than blog posts).

    There was a time when the idea of becoming a writer excited me greatly. Now it doesn't, but photography does.

    Looking at my reaction to this post really helps me let go of any last lingering feelings of "what if?"


  4. Thank you all, June, BPOTW, and Kim. And yes, Kim, we can only do what we love best. Our creation is the result of our labor, pain and creativity. With writing in particular, the pain from the prolonged labor of writing seems magnified tenfold when we face rejection after rejection; yet we keep writing. I felt amused when my friend Aki quoted Ray Bradbury in her Facebook: "You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you...."