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books are not babies
part i: approaching the launch
by jael mchenry (@JaelMcHenry)

In many ways, we writers feel like our books are our children -- we created them, we're protective of them, and somehow they infuriate us even as we love them to pieces. A quick search for "my books are my children" instantly delivers 140,000 results, and author blogs like Book Pregnant draw the parallel in detail.

And yet. There are some important differences, right?

Last April I had the wonderful adventure of seeing my first book come out into the world, and this April, I'll have an even more amazing adventure when my first baby does the same. I know enough to know that I can't possibly understand how much having a child will change my life. But I've observed some differences so far in preparing for the baby's arrival and the book's, so I can certainly share five ways in which the two things are worlds apart at this stage:

1. You decide when the book's ready. The baby's coming out one way or the other. Writing and rewriting your book can feel like an absolute compulsion, but in the end, you always have the choice to put it in a drawer and wait for a while. You can rework it endlessly, or keep it inside you forever. The baby is going to come out in 40 weeks or so, whether you're ready or not, whatever you do or don't do. And speaking of that...

2. The book comes out on a certain day. The baby? Not so much. A due date is an approximation. A launch date is a promise. Now, it's not that launch dates never change -- the paperback launch of The Kitchen Daughter was moved up by more than a month -- but once they're set, you know exactly when that day is coming. You're ready for it. You go to sleep on a Monday knowing when you wake up the next morning your book will be out there. With a baby, unless you've got a scheduled C-section (or an induction, though even those aren't 100%) you're likely to be taken by surprise.

3. Other people's opinions of your book matter. While you're in the writing stage, it helps to have other people reading your book and telling you what they think. You don't necessarily have to take their advice -- it's your book, not theirs, after all -- but fresh eyes can be incredibly useful in seeing where things are falling short. You also have an agent and an editor you also have to please, and even if their criticisms of your book might sometimes hurt, they're generally for the best. With a baby? Come on. No way.

4. One book doesn't preclude another. You can juggle however many books you want, while they're in progress -- pick one up and put one down, work on both simultaneously, put one away half-done and start another from scratch. Once you start on the baby, you're sticking with that one until the bun's baked.

5. Once the book is done, it's done. This doesn't mean that everything about the book is done once it launches -- there's still promotion to be handled, and book clubs to visit, and readings to schedule, if you want. You don't just wash your hands of the book after D-Day, even if you don't beat the bushes every day. And it's not that there aren't discoveries after the launch, like that small but glorious moment where you see your book in the bookstore for the first time. But there's a finality about the book launch, because the book that's out in the world is a completely finished and final product. You can't change it even if you want to. The book is the book, forever, amen.

Once the baby is out in the world? The adventure (and the work, and the commitment) has just begun.


Jael is tired of being stereotyped as just another novelist/poet/former English teacher/tour guide/"Jeopardy!" semifinalist/bellydancing editor-in-chief with an MFA who was once an overachieving oboe-playing alto newspaper editor valedictorian from Iowa. She was also captain of the football cheerleading squad. Follow me on Twitter: @jaelmchenry

more about jael mchenry


the zhivago effect
time for a hundred visions and revisions
by jael mchenry
topic: writing
published: 11.1.99

state of excitement
books that, years later, keep on bookin'
by jael mchenry
topic: writing
published: 11.5.03


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