Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Patience and Readers

Writing Wednesday

We hear, from a early age, that patience is a virtue. As we go through life we see that patience is a virtue honored more in the breach than the observance.

Publishing is an industry that, compared to shiny new web things, seems to move at a glacial pace. Exhibit one: the simple fact that you're generally looking at 18 months from the time you sign a contract until your book is released.

The work of writing itself is a patient undertaking. It's hard to maintain an average output of more than a few thousand words per day. And when you factor in revisions, it's not surprising that one novel a year seems to be the average output.

There are a host of other ways in which a writer must be patient. Critique partners need time to read. Building an online presence takes time. Promotion takes a lot of time.

I thought I understood all of these dimensions of patience and was prepared to develop the virtue.

But there's one dimension of writerly patience that I didn't anticipate. I underestimated the degree to which writers must be patient with readers. You see, as an author, you're always going to be ahead of your readers because you're working on the next book while they're enjoying the one that was just released.

That means you can't talk about the cool stuff on which you're presently at work and which occupies most of your attention. Instead you must try to match your reader's enthusiasm for something you thought was all kinds of awesome last year without succumbing to the temptation to spoil their fun and say, "yeah, but you ain't seen nothing yet!"

(And you thought agents, editors, and publicists were the only ones who would school you in patience.)

Image: Simon Howden /

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