Last night during a discussion with the Big Dawg, I asked a question that involved the adverb "When." Much growling and snarling ensued. The 'when' word is apparently a serious no-no, even if it doesn't involve your own work. When is bad, no matter whose work you're talking about. No when's. Just patience and the willingness to wait.
According to Big Dawg, 'when' instills additional anguish in whoever you're talking to. Publishing and agenting are businesses. Business. Nothing more. It's about product, supply and demand, about giving the customer what he/she wants. When your work leaves your hands and goes to the selling floor, it's not yours anymore. That book you nurtured, the one you healed through revision, is not your baby any longer. It's just a product on the shelf. Hard to accept, huh?
After much whining from this old Query Dawg, I have to admit that Big Dawg's right. (Shhh! Don't tell, okay?) A book is very much like the child of the author. After all, just like that blastula that lodges in the walls of the female uterus, a book is a part of its creator.
An author experiences a moment of great passion, if you will. That passion is the desire to write. The idea for a subject emerges, sometimes in a burst of excitement, sometimes as the result of partial ideas merging into one. Zygote! That cell of a thought moves to the author's hindbrain and rests comfortably there until the writer formulates how to best tell the zygote's story. Time passes. With each stroke of the keyboard, the story develops, growing arms and legs, taking form. Eventually, the last stroke of the author's fingers manages a 'the end.' The story's fully developed and ready to make its entrance into the agenting world. All it needs is a little introduction.
Big Dawg says, that's where the child ends and the product begins. Once the idea and the author's talents are sold to an agent and/or publishing house, you've given your baby up for adoption. It no longer belongs to you. It's no longer a part of the family of documents in your personal files. It's product, making its way through the assembly line and heading for retail shelves everywhere. The better the product, the more often the creator of said product will be asked to produce more.
No matter how eloquent the producer is, no matter how in love with the embryonic idea, no matter what, ultimately any writer becomes Henry Ford. In the end, the goal is to create product that so entices the reader that the producer can earn a living through their creation. In other words, so that you can become a full time writer instead of a part time teacher or waiter or insurance salesman.
Art as product. We sometimes fail to believe that those singular, one of a kind creations are just shelf stuffing, but they are. Whether you're Gauguin or Grisham, art is product. If you're lucky, you don't give your babies away, you make a very good deal with Random House.