Monday, November 4, 2019

The Book Production Blog, Part 1

On the morning of Tuesday, October 29th, I submitted the first draft of my new book, tentatively entitled Teaching Distracted Minds, to my editor at Basic Books, copying my agent on the e-mail. I explained in the body of my message that I was very satisfied with Parts One and Two, but that Part Three still needed a hefty dose of revision. I described Part Three as "ponderous and academic," destined for a 5K-10K word trimming. But I'll take care of it when you send me your revision suggestions, I concluded. I look forward to the feedback.

This is a PARTIAL list documenting the many stages of the book's
revision over the full two years of its composition. Every time
I decided to re-organize or change direction,
I started a new folder to give myself a fresh slate. 
I had no great feeling of satisfaction when I hit "Send," largely because I was so dissatisfied with Part Three, and felt like I had just slapped it together to meet my deadline. I headed upstairs to get ready for school, and stepped into the shower. When I stepped out of it ten minutes later, I knew precisely what I needed to do in order to make the necessary revisions to Part Three. I ran downstairs and sent another e-mail to the editor, asking him to hold off on reading Part Three until I could get him a revision, which I thought would take less than a week. (Authors, right? We're so annoying.)

The actual work I did on the book over the next five days began with my original vision in the shower, but then expanded into some other revisions that continued to tighten everything and make the remaining material pop. I condensed five chapters into four, and excised 8,000 words from the manuscript. (This leaves a good 50,000+ words that I wrote for the book which did not make the final cut. I know from past experience that I'll find ways to re-use some of that material.)

When I sent the revised version of the book to my editor on Sunday evening, November 3rd, five days after the original submission, I felt the sense of accomplishment that I had been missing. No doubt more revisions are in store, but for now I am satisfied that I have written a thought-provoking book about attention, distraction, and education. Two years after I first started thinking about this book, I still find the subject fascinating--which is important, since I still have to see it through a year's worth of production into an actual book, and at least a couple of years of promotion and speaking after that.

I submitted the book on November 3rd, 2019. Currently the book is scheduled for publication on Tuesday, November 17th, 2020. We chose this date because I'll be giving a keynote lecture at the Original Lilly Conference at the end of that week, and it will provide a nice opportunity to celebrate its publication.

But looking at those dates, you might be asking yourself about that timeline. What happens during that year between submission of the manuscript and the actual publication date? Why on earth does it take so long? Especially in this digital age, it seems like we should be able to produce books more quickly than a year, right?

I was frustrated and confused by the extended timeline of the book production process before I published my first books, when I was especially eager to see my babies get out in the world. But having been through this ringer five times now, and having served as the editor of a book series, I have a much clearer view of the reasons for what can seem like an interminable delay.

How I have missed writing in these beautiful, handmade
journals! They come from Bomo Art in  Budapest;
I discovered them while visiting Central European
University in the spring of 2018.
Over the course of the next year, I'll use this space to provide a monthly update on the book production process from the author's perspective. I hope it can help potential authors gain a better understanding of what they're in for--and I hope it will help them understand how they can take advantage of the production timeline in order to help make their books a success. In December's post, I'll tackle what I find to be the most annoying task in the publication of a book, in spite of its seemingly innocuous title: the author questionnaire.

For now, I'll finish by noting that I love writing books, but I also love being done with them. For the past six months I haven't posted to this blog, submitted an article for the Chronicle of Higher Education, or written a single word in my journal. I'm excited to get back to all of those activities, which I love, and dream about the next big project.

If you have questions, you are also welcome to post them below, and I'll try to address them in a subsequent blog post.

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