Yesterday my sister-in-law's husband, a physicist, called me with some questions about the publishing business. "I just wrote a book," he said, "and I'm committed to getting it out there. I really feel passionate about this."
"What kind of book is it?" I asked. "Is it related to your job?"
"No, it's about my hobby."
"Great! It's a subject you know a lot about. Is your book nonfiction or is it creative nonfiction--you know, a memoir?"
"Actually, it's a novel, except I don't know what kind. I don't read novels myself."
(Yes, that's right. He never reads novels, and yet he thinks he knows how to write one.)
"Do you want me to describe it to you?" he asked.
So he told me all about his story, which apparently has no plot and no main character and mixes fiction with nonfiction. (Specifically, whenever he feels he needs to explain something, he sticks in a chapter on that subject; for example, after a scene in which a character has to deal with a tragedy, he has a nonfiction chapter providing information about psychological issues related to trauma and grief.)
"How long have you been working on this manuscript?" I asked him.
"For three months now, and I did three drafts!"
"Three drafts isn't actually all that much when it comes to writing a book," I said gently. "And many novels can take a year or more to write."
"Oh, really? I didn't know that. But I can't spend any more time on this project because I want to quit my job and to do that I need more money in the bank."
"Yeah. You know, from book sales. I'm absolutely sure I'll be able to sell 100,000 to 200,000 copies because I did some research online and that's how many people are involved in my hobby. And the great thing is that they'll buy my book even if it's not any good, because people always buy everything related to their hobby!"
"But don't you want your book to be good?" I asked, trying not to sound ready to bash my head against a wall.
"Of course. But the important thing is to get people to buy it so they can decide for themselves whether it's any good. So do you think I should get an agent and go the traditional publishing route, or should I just self-publish?"
I took a deep breath. There was so much I wanted to say, but no way I was going to say it. (Dealing with relatives can be a tricky thing!) "It's hard for me to give you any advice without my actually reading the manuscript," I said. "And unfortunately I just don't have time to read anyone else's work right now. I'm too busy trying to meet my deadlines."
"Okay, I understand. I suppose I'll just start sending it out to agents then. It probably won't take me very long to get one. And in the meantime maybe you can tell me about self-publishing over the holidays. Aren't we getting together for Thanksgiving?"
"Uh, I'm not sure."
(Something tells me I might be 'out of town' then!)