August 28, 2008 by Tracey S. Rosenberg
The problem is, though, that seeing a book into print takes up a lot of time and energy that could be spent writing other books. Normally an advance gives one something to live on while one writes the next book; if one doesn’t have that, one is using up one’s own money, that could otherwise be used to buy time to finish a new book, to see one already written into print.
What’s confusing me here is the perspective. If we’re looking book-by-book, then yes, book B is going to take longer if you have to edit and publicize book A. (See Bookends’ post about not futzing and getting on with the next book, by the way. Very useful.)
But in order to sell book A and build your career, surely you have to take the time to edit it – sometimes drastically – and go through all your proofs to make sure no typos slipped in, and make sure your copyeditor hasn’t boofed up, and do publicity-related stuff. Otherwise, the audience for book B isn’t going to be much bigger than that for book A, and if book A isn’t edited well you might lose otherwise loyal readers.
Also, without an advance, most of us only have ‘our own money’ from non-writing jobs. And those take up an annoying amount of time, don’t you think? (I just got a call from my temp agency this morning, as it happens.) But if book A sells, then in a perfect world you not only have your advance – possibly a bigger one, since the sales numbers are increasing – but, if you get really lucky, royalties.
We don’t live in the best of all possible worlds, of course, and I know more than one author who’s gone the e-publishing route in large part because of frustration at traditional publishing channels. But if my book needs editing – which means, suggested edits that I believe will help improve the book (as opposed to ‘rewrite it in the way someone else would prefer to see the story’) – then that’s not only going to improve book A, but improve books B and beyond.
And for me, that’s time and energy worth spending.
[ETA: Helen DeWitt left a comment which clarifies what she meant when she discussed advances.]