Where Do Books Come From (part 1)?

PineTreeI’ve often thought of the writing process as something comparable to having children: there are the stages of conception, birth, and nurturing a book must pass through. Of course, being human, I think in people terms. There’s that magical beginning, a few months of gestation, and then things move in fairly natural stages until the baby/book is out of the house and paying back student loans. But books follow a different path. After all, they are—at least the non-electronic ones—made of wood.

In that sense, a book’s life cycle is much more like a tree’s: when in seed stage, try to avoid being eaten by predators; hit the ground, hope that you find a good place to settle; get into the dirt and pray for nutrients; try not to get trampled; etc.

Some of the books take ground and become part of the forest. Most of those stand for a time, until burned or cut down to make room for new trees. A few survive, like old-growth Sequoias, and become prize-winners and classics, the kind of trees/books that make assigned reading in school. That whole process can take a couple years or centuries (just ask Chaucer or Cervantes).

For the hundreds of thousands of books that hit the market each year, there are many more that simply don’t make it. Sometimes, it’s because the book is ill-conceived, but often it’s because the seed didn’t find the right ground. That’s just how it works, as unpleasant and wasteful and seemingly arbitrary as it may sound. Sometimes, it seems a miracle that any book gets published. But it does happen. Just walk to a library or a bookstore (if you can find one) or browse through Amazon. The forest is still alive and growing.

What’s an author to do? Keep dropping seeds. Maybe the next one will find good soil and sun and shelter. (Dear reader and agent and publisher: you’re the soil and sun and shelter.)


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