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  • Writer's pictureJohn Scherber


Many authors find that starting a book is the hardest part. That crucial first sentence, that opening grabber to the initial paragraph, upon which depends first the enticement, and then the subsequent engagement of a generation of new readers, is more intimidating than a first communion, a first marriage, a bar mitzvah, or a first rejection slip from a New York agent who doesn’t really care to know you that well.             At least, not in that way, my dear. It’s nothing personal, since it’s not about you, it’s more about me. He would rather be your friend than your agent. Hope you’ll understand. You’ll probably have a great career with another firm. I hear they’re looking for bitter memoires over at…fill in the blank, there are not many to chose from anymore.             Not personal, you say? Just how personal was that thirty-nine months of effort you put into this magnum opus? As hard as it was to talk about being a seventh grader with no friends when you changed schools that year, how much tougher was it to say all those nasty things about your mother, and thank god she’s finally dead now, since you had to wait that long to finish this book. If she hadn’t already been gone, just reading the manuscript would’ve killed her. And it certainly would have gotten you dropped from her will, even as an only child.

            This opening will resonate with many writers, however, having begun a few more books than I have finished, I want to suggest that ending a book is even more difficult. Like parenthood, the outcome of your effort will never be quite what you intended. It can even be painfully surprising for a person who imagined that control was everything in life (and in writing), and writing was your first and best opportunity to achieve it. Over the long course of writing your book, one you thought of as your sole property, other forces, not always friendly, have taken charge as you worked. You always thought you were far more in charge than the finished manuscript suggests. Why do some of these chapters seem irrelevant, especially those that cost you so much pain to write? My own struggle, with all it cost me and all I learned, is well documented.               Now, knowing this as you approach the final sentence with nothing resembling glee in your heart, only relief, some people are already suggesting you will also have to promote this book yourself, even if it’s published in New York. Your arms protectively bracket your bosom as you contemplate this further unwelcome degree of exposure. After all, haven’t you revealed yourself quite enough just in writing it? It has to end somewhere. Do you want to stand there in some god-forsaken bookstore in Billings, Montana, taking intimate questions from cattle ranchers about your early teen sex life? What will your children think? You will definitely not be flying them in for this personal appearance and signing, even if the bookstore has already ordered twenty-five copies, a record so far.

              At this point I’d like to suggest something radical. It comes from the thirty or so years I spent in business when I had writer’s block, and it’s the best advice I ever gave myself as a writer. Here it is: You can sit in your garret for years in utter privacy working on your book, but the moment you even think about finding a reader, you are in business. At that point you have only two choices. You can be in a failed small business or a successful one, but in either case you are in business whether you wish to be or not. So, the trick is to treat this process as a business from the first sentence you write, rather than as an afterthought. This involves seeing the person who will read your book. Who is this target reader? What is he or she looking for? What in the book will reward her for reading it? And for marketing, what search words will she use on the Internet that will take her directly to your book on Amazon. Are any of these search words in the title? (Best option) As many of them as possible should be worked into your back cover information. Your first task in marketing your book is to be discoverable.

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