Late to the Party: Some Comments on Trying to Publish and Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys

You might notice that the list of links on the blog is growing. This will keep happening as I keep finding new sites that help with my understanding of the publishing process and business. If you’re an aspiring writer, I recommend any of them, as they’ll help you get the lay of the land. They most certainly should be read and carefully studied before you start the query process. I especially recommend Kristin Nelson, Nathan Bradsford, and Janet Reid for this.

As a whole, the process of publishing can really get you down. Writing and publishing are two very different things. When I was writing my first book, I heard a lot of comments that made me scratch my head. Most were usually along the lines of: “Won’t that be nice? To write a book and make a ton of money?” I knew these weren’t comments on my talent, but rather a supposition that writing a book leads to fame and fortune. Let’s be clear: I’m getting more savvy about the state of publishing every day, and it’s an uphill battle to make it out of the trenches, publish a book, and see it succeed. Even if you reach this point, continued success is not guaranteed. You have to continually evolve, continually market yourself and your work, and continually improve. Frankly, the whole process of breaking into commercial fiction can get me down. Quitting isn’t an option, but taking a breather isn’t a bad idea either. For me, a breather is a book or movie that reminds me why I love writing, and the English language, so much.

Nearly eleven years ago, my friend Alan gave me a copy of Wonder Boys. It’s even autographed. And for eleven years it sat on my shelf, unread. I wish I’d cracked it open years ago. Wonder Boys is that rare book about books, like A.S. Byatt’s Possession, that brings out my love of the written word. Chabon nails his characters so well, so cleverly, and sums up the crazy things writers do to find material to work with. He also captures a lot of the pretension and manic energy that surround them, and I have to say, I can spot myself or some people from my college program in his pages. Here I am, reading a book that most of you probably discovered a decade ago. But I think we’ve established I tend to move at my own pace when it comes to reading, though I’m quickly trying to better synch myself with the state of the market and adjust my reading list accordingly.

When reading a book as good as Wonder Boys, you have two directions you can take your feelings: jealousy that you may never write anything nearly that good, or you can be inspired to write more, write better, and fall back in love with your craft. I’m sure there are some people out there who would have a third reaction, which would be “I can do better than that,” but I’m not among them. I choose to be inspired, to let books this good drive me to write better and push myself out of my comfort zone. I could give you a solid critique of Wonder Boys, break it down for you, but I wouldn’t want to spoil your fun. It’s worth reading if only for Chabon’s fantastic phrasing, which turns over and over to make me laugh or catch my eye on some delicious detail in his wording. If you trust me on these matters, just read the book.

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