From the moment a would be novelist clicks open that first bright white screen-page and keys in a working title, he or she has a pretty good idea what lies ahead.
Most likely, many months, perhaps even years, of solitary slog, of Herculean effort; writing, re-writing and re-writing again.
If the writer is committed enough, or perhaps just stubborn enough, to complete the work, he or she will know that when, eventually, they key in ‘The End’ that this, in fact, is really just the beginning.
Unless the manuscript is one in a million, a blending of the prodigious genius of James Joyce with the commercial savvy of Dan Brown, odds are it will remain just that, a manuscript. If not forever, then for many, many months.
If the writer is fortunate, then literary agents canvassed might actually write back to explain why they have no interest in representing the manuscript. If not, the mail-box will remain confrontingly empty. Publishers too, if you’re actually able to get through to them, will most likely, over time, provide you with enough rejections to paper a small cathedral.
Often you will be told that your subject is passé, that ‘nobody is interested in Vietnamese black ops or the Irish Troubles anymore.’
Unless you are a special breed of narcissist, you will have many long and sleepless nights of self doubt, trawling over sentence and para trying to see if they can be made any better or wondering whether the whole thing is just one bloody great crock that should be consigned to the bin.
If, eventually, some remarkably astute publisher contacts you and sets your heart aflutter with an offer to turn your manuscript into a real live book, even this is not The End. It is simply the end of the beginning.
Once you’ve signed a contract, you are still quite possibly a year or more from seeing your book in print. There are the inevitable delays as the publisher determines the most appropriate publishing window, the best time to release, the most convenient time for the distributors. There is the editing process and the sometimes robust and extensive discussions this produces, there is then the cover design, the typesetting, the proof-reading and the marketing discussions; all manage to consume far more time than might be imagined.
And then, finally, there is the printing process and the news that comes via phone or email, sometimes from way over on the other side of the world, that your first copy is in the mail.
I tell you all this in an attempt, simply, to explain my goofy smile in the picture above. Three years or more have been dedicated to this moment, the moment when a padded envelope arrives, you tear it open, use nervous fingers to locate its contents and, with a clumsiness born of eagerness, struggle to drag out, at long last… your book.