Next: The Worst Part of Writing a Book



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Just wanted to talk about this! Also, I didn't say it, but "A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor" is available for pre-order now:
Hello, hankschannel, it's been a while.  I've got some questions recently, I want to clear some things up about publishing at this particular moment in history.  The first thing to say is that some books are being pushed back, and that is a thing, but it does not appear to be a thing for me, and there are a couple of reasons for that, like, basically, books that are being pushed are either sort of out of an abundance of caution or they are books that are specific to certain sales channels, like, books that are, like, do really well with airport travelers, for example, are books that maybe aren't going to be being put out right now, so it's a good idea to pause those because you're really concerned if you're one of those authors and you want to give your book the best chance and not publish at a time when airport traffic is 5% of what it usually is.

For me, though, that's not a big deal.  Everything is on track, going as normal.  I am working on my last pass here, so there's a thing called first pass and that is sort of the last chance the author gets to make any substantial changes to the book and then there's the second pass where you can maybe change one or two words and they get mad at you every time you say I want to change this word or I wanna add a sentence, they get mad, so second pass, they get mad, first pass, you don't wanna make any big structural changes to the book but you can change sentence level stuff.  You can add some, maybe a paragraph here and there, you can rearrange things and a lot of what I'm doing is like, changing individual words.  Like, I just, I'd rather this word not be here or I'd rather this word be that word, so it's really interesting.

Now, the other piece of publishing at this particular time is that I and many other people who are writing books that take place roughly in the present time and the present time has changed a ton and this is really interesting to me.  It's a little terrifying, but it is, I think that it's fascinating, and so I wanted to talk about it.  We in--when you write stories, you are trying to capture something that feels real, and what feels real changed a lot in the last couple months.  That happens, like, that's happened before and it's really interesting to see the things that are written--that were written in the 60s that still feel real, especially in science fiction, where it's stuff that's like, written about the future and still feels like it works and things that don't and often, like, near future stuff is the stuff that feels the least accurate, or the least representative of what actually happened, because you're trying to be really specific about, like, what's going to be interesting and new.  Like, you read Neuromancer and they're sort of like, you know, al agog over a certain number of megabytes being held on a chip and you're just like, I mean, a lot of this stuff holds up really well but like, that specific thing that you said really took me out of the story because megabytes aren't a thing anymore, but I'm really lucky in two respects here.

First, is that I'm doing my second pass after a lot of this stuff has started to happen, and so when something really doesn't ring true, which there is stuff in the book that didn't and it's about sort of like, how good the economy is, for example, felt like that was something that was fair to say when I wrote it.  It certainly doesn't now because in this book, and, like, a thing that happens is the economy goes from good to bad.  Now it feels weird talking about it going from good to bad in the same way, you know, like, I can still--like, this is obviously not the same universe that we are inhabiting.  The world is different, the president is different, like, the--the Carls exist, so I can have the world be different.  I just can't talk about it in the exact same way that might bring somebody out of the story and make them feel like, oh, Hank, you are not sort of reflecting the attitude and the feeling of people today, and so there are things like that that like, are just like, things I should change because things feel different now, but overall, I am also lucky--so that's one reason why I'm lucky, that I'm doing second pass right now so that I can put in things that make me feel like this is more representative of reality as it has changed, and these moments happpen!  It happened with my last book.  Like, I had to change things about the book because Donald Trump got elected and that like, made a lot of the antagonists in the book feel representative of Donald Trump and so, like, I had to change things maybe so that they seemed a little less representative but also that they seemed like, worse than they were?  

This is what's really interesting, like, I had to make my antagonists worse because the world like, because like, that style of discourse got worse, so in order to like, be elevated from where we were, like, in 2014 when I started writing, like, this was elevated from where we were, and then like we were here, and so I had to elevate it further, and this isn't like, about any individual, it's about how discourse was happening, how people were speaking, how people were, you know, and how like, internet discourse had evolved, but like, right now, as I am 94 days, this is my countdown clock, 94 days from publication, I am able to go through and change and add stuff and that feels like I'm very lucky to be able to do that.

It's also really interesting to like, do a full document search for the word 'pandemic' in this book, which appears four times before first pass.  So like, it was out there as a thing that, you know, like, you know, it's discussed alongside other potential sources of catastrophe, but like, wildness to see that I don't have to add so much to make it feel relevant.  I just have to take stuff out that made it feel less relevant.  

The other thing that's really like, encouraging about this and like, that I'm very lucky, and this has nothing to do with anything but luck is that like, this book is about things that have become more relevant and I was really worried about that when, like, I was putting off doing second pass.  I'm like, this is due Monday, so I'm like, I'm way behind, but I'll get it done.  I'm gonna have a couple long nights in the next few days, but I was super worried that I would read through and things would feel less relevant.  Like, when I looked at the sort of copy that's on the back of the book, I was like, ooh, I need to change a bunch of this stuff, like, this was written for a world that no longer exists, and I was worried that it was going to be, like, every page of the book. 

It's not not a thing.  It exists, but here's a thing, and I hope that this isn't, like, you haven't read the book, so like, I don't wanna, like, get too into it, but this book is, like the first book was about a lot about social media and fame and like, influence and power and on an individual level.  How it is right now and how it was when the book was published a couple years ago and this book was the intent of it was to be what do those things look like in the future when those platforms have more power than they have now and maybe they have more reason to want to use that power and more ability to use that power?  Not like, trying to predict the future, but sort of just saying, like, here's something--here's things that we should be aware of when it comes to like, the amount of power that these companies, the amount of power that they have, what they could do with it, what we should be looking out for, and also about like, what they mean for how people are going to be interacting with each other in the future and what they are doing now in terms of isolating us inside of, you know, these more and more narrow silos of filter bubbles.

The thing that it turns out to have been is that like, this--it is, you know, the Carls were always supposed to be an analogy for anything big and world changing, and the big and world changing thing that I was trying to reflect in the first book, this is gonna be some spoiler stuff for the first book, so if you haven't read the first book, you might not wanna watch this, to be an analogy for the arrival of the internet, this new way for people to communicate and connect and how we didn't really know how to--and so like, but it wasn't like a direct analogy for that, it was just like, that was the big world changing thing that I was thinking a lot about, and then when the Carls go away and this is, now this is kind of a little bit spoilers for the very beginning of the first book, the world had to go through another one of those shifts where it suddenly felt like, okay, everything's still different, but is everything different and nobody really knows how to feel about now, and that has become an amazing analogy and like, it feels fairly true to my own experience of these last couple months of what it's like when we just don't, like, the arrival of the internet was sort of, you know, protracted and like, the effects have, you know, we've had some time to sort of like, normalize them and get used to them. 

This was so sudden that like, you know, two weeks passed between when we were like, this is a big problem to like, we are all locked in our homes and so that is more like what the Carls are like than what the internet is like, so it's become a pretty good analogy for now, like it's become the better analogy for now and the other thing is that like, I wrote a lot about isolation in this book and about the--and about, like economic catastrophe and about like, how we interface with those things and the economic side is a part that I have felt like isn't going to be directly reflective of what we're going through right now, just because I kinda don't--I kinda don't want it to be.  I don't want it to read like a book that is trying to normalize or like, quantify or understand the repercussions of gigantic economic change and, because like, 'cause I don't know, I'm not an economist and also, like, I don't pretend to understand how, like, the breadth of the effects of this, but it is about that and it is about, like, when that--when the cause of that isn't the financial system, it's an external thing.  

Then the isolation, which we are all kind of dealing with now and, you know, at different levels, and what that does to the economy and what it does to individuals and how that's not really, it's not really a sort of individual level effect.  It is a broad societal effect and, you know, the reasons are very different for why people are isolating themselves, but like, it's, but like, it's happening and it's so weird!  Like, there's a scene in the book.  I can't tell you.  That's too much.  That would be too spoilery, but like, yeah.  It's just very weirdly reflective where, you know, like, they're in New York City and there are no people on the sidewalks and it's just like, it seems intentional.  It seems like I did it on purpose, but it's not.  I wanted to be clear that it's not and like, that you ca--you honestly, you could not react this fast and when people are having books come out and they feel like they are reflective of this, if it's coming out in the next few months, like, that's not a thing.  Like, my book isn't even out for 94 days so, God, that seems like--that seems like a long, long time now.  That seemed like so not a long time not that long ago, but it seems like a very long time now.  Who knows what the world's gonna be like in 94 days?

You know, I obviously have much more information about what the future is going to look like now than I did two months ago, and so it is good to have that lens through which to view this manuscript, sort of in my last chance to change it, but do know that I was not able to change much 94 days out, when the book comes out, and I will not be able to change anything 90 days out, so from that time, the manuscript is locked and you know, unless like, something very weird happens and so I--that will be as much as I knew when I released this book, so just gonna be totally honest about that, and that feels like a necessary thing to need to be honest about right now and I think most people don't--sort of don't know that like, it takes three months to get from all of the words being where they are to a book being on a shelf.  The reasons why it takes so long are complicated and but like, they are all good reasons. 

There are some circumstances where that won't be the case, so there will be, but by the time this book comes out, there will be books that are about the coronavirus, but that will be nonfiction and those books go through very different processes and it costs much more to print those books than it does and so everybody makes less money but they're like, weighing that next to, you know, how many books they're going to sell, so yeah, like, in the nonfiction world, you can do this much faster and in fiction, it tends to be, you know, this is a fairly short amount of time, like the--my first book was way longer--it was like six months between when the manuscript was locked and when it came  out because there are review reasons, like, you wanna be able to get galleys, which are like advanced reader copies, in the hands of booksellers and of reviewers and other authors to try and get blurbs and like, that all takes at least three months and, you know, then oftentimes more than that, and so like there are books that like, the process from like, finished manuscript and then it has to go through copy editing, not copy editing, proofreading, where, you know, you have proofreaders read it to make sure that all the 'to's have the correct number of 'O's and stuff and the, yeah, and so like, that takes a little bit of time and then it takes time to get them printed and it takes time to get them from where they are printed out to all the stores so that they can all be released on the same day.  

It's a really complicated and cool logistical pro--but it is work and it is annoying right now because I would really like for the book to come out.