I just finished writing a book. It was a four-year-long project. You’d think I’d want to take some time off but you’d be wrong. When you’ve been writing pretty much every day since Grade Twelve, you get twitchy when you’re not typing away at something. The whole thing started with a weekly high school news column in my hometown paper, the Guelph Mercury. I was paid nine cents a column inch. It was due Monday morning so I’d sit down at 9 p.m. on a Sunday night and write until I fell asleep. My forty inches of copy earned $3.60, enough to take my then girlfriend to the movies on Friday night and for chips with gravy and cherry Cokes after. What’s not to like about this, I thought.
Since then I have written countless newspaper features, opinion columns, magazine profiles and executive speeches, but mostly books, twenty of them, all non-fiction. I‘ve tried fiction but I’m terrible at it. It’s tough for a non-fiction writer to give himself permission to make things up. Books take a lot of work, up to 150 interviews, extensive archival digging, and the relentless habit of writing 500 words every day for eighteen months, then re-writing, editing and proofreading.
My books have generally sold well but not because of good reviews. Reviewers always say desultory things, as if they feel it’s their calling to find something wrong with everything they read. Moreover, bookstores seem to give your books poor display. Doug Gibson, who published my first book in 1983, advised me never to go into a bookstore looking for my book because I wouldn’t be able to find it. And if I did go in and couldn’t find it, don’t ask staff where it is, he said, because they will say that they’ve never heard of it.
Promotional tours involved ten-city cross-country trips with eight interviews a day in each city. No one conducting an interview had ever read the book. That was OK, you just took charge. But you’d be part way through a radio interview, getting ready to tell one of your better anecdotes, then think, “I know I’ve already told this story today, but have I told it during this interview?”
As you can see, there’s a lot to dislike about publishing a book. But as with most things in life, it’s about the journey, not the destination.