July 31st, 2009 / 2:32 pm
Snippets

If each person were only allowed to publish at most three books in his or her life, would you still be sending around that manuscript? This is a realistic question.

56 Comments

  1. Ogawa

      Not at all. But if all authors could only publish three books in his or her life, then we would be deprived of a great many interesting works. I don’t think one should write only to create masterpieces. Rather, artists should develop a body of work that is greater than the sum of its parts, where the achievements of a minor piece can enrich and illuminate qualities of a greater one.

  2. Ogawa

      Not at all. But if all authors could only publish three books in his or her life, then we would be deprived of a great many interesting works. I don’t think one should write only to create masterpieces. Rather, artists should develop a body of work that is greater than the sum of its parts, where the achievements of a minor piece can enrich and illuminate qualities of a greater one.

  3. ryan

      that’s a tough question. i’d say “yes” to still sending out my poetry manuscript. i might hold back on the novel. but i would probably spend the rest of my life writing novels and obsessing over which one to publish. but i’d try to keep my books even, do one poetry, one story collection, one novel.

  4. ryan

      that’s a tough question. i’d say “yes” to still sending out my poetry manuscript. i might hold back on the novel. but i would probably spend the rest of my life writing novels and obsessing over which one to publish. but i’d try to keep my books even, do one poetry, one story collection, one novel.

  5. Tobias Carroll

      Speaking as someone with a manuscript that he is, in fact, sending around: maybe not. But there’s also the question of — not to sound morbid — the lifetime being something that’s different for every person. If my lifetime’s one that’s going to take me into my eighties, I’m pretty confident that I could write three books that would be better than the current manuscript. If I’m destined to be eaten by wolves at the age of 37, though, that’s an entirely different story.

      And that, I suppose, is how I’m currently operating.

      (Also, I agree with the comment above about an artist’s overall body of work. “Get Lonely” is far from my favorite Mountain Goats album; “You Don’t Love Me Yet” isn’t one of my preferred Jonathan Lethem novels. But at the same time, I’m glad both were made and find merit in both of them.)

  6. Tobias Carroll

      Speaking as someone with a manuscript that he is, in fact, sending around: maybe not. But there’s also the question of — not to sound morbid — the lifetime being something that’s different for every person. If my lifetime’s one that’s going to take me into my eighties, I’m pretty confident that I could write three books that would be better than the current manuscript. If I’m destined to be eaten by wolves at the age of 37, though, that’s an entirely different story.

      And that, I suppose, is how I’m currently operating.

      (Also, I agree with the comment above about an artist’s overall body of work. “Get Lonely” is far from my favorite Mountain Goats album; “You Don’t Love Me Yet” isn’t one of my preferred Jonathan Lethem novels. But at the same time, I’m glad both were made and find merit in both of them.)

  7. thomas p levy

      what manuscript… :-/

  8. thomas p levy

      what manuscript… :-/

  9. sasha fletcher

      yes.

  10. sasha fletcher

      yes.

  11. Paul Siegell

      shit. means i’ve only got one more to go.

  12. Paul Siegell

      shit. means i’ve only got one more to go.

  13. Derek White

      What’s realistic about the question? If you self-publish you can publish all you want.

      Or are we supposed to make-believe it’s realistic?

  14. Derek White

      What’s realistic about the question? If you self-publish you can publish all you want.

      Or are we supposed to make-believe it’s realistic?

  15. leroy

      if you could only read 3 more htmlgiant posts in your lifetime, would it matter?

  16. leroy

      if you could only read 3 more htmlgiant posts in your lifetime, would it matter?

  17. Blake Butler

      sure, make believe.

  18. Blake Butler

      not at all? dig it

  19. Blake Butler

      sure, make believe.

  20. Blake Butler

      not at all? dig it

  21. Blake Butler

      it’s meant less as a utilitarian question and more as a doorbell

  22. Blake Butler

      it’s meant less as a utilitarian question and more as a doorbell

  23. Derek White

      Hehe, I’m not sending any manuscripts around. I’d think whatever you’re working on at the moment is the most important thing at the moment, so you’d think it would be one of them. Otherwise, why else would you be working on it? Now if what I was working on was the last thing I could publish, hmm, then I guess I would just keep adding on to it like the never-ending novel and it would never get published. I was thinking about 1001 Arabian nights, and how cool that is to have a framing device, and then you could just write thousand of stories and they would all be part of the same project. And you could just release it in volumes, so they wouldn’t be different books, but variations, like remixes. Would that count?

  24. Derek White

      Hehe, I’m not sending any manuscripts around. I’d think whatever you’re working on at the moment is the most important thing at the moment, so you’d think it would be one of them. Otherwise, why else would you be working on it? Now if what I was working on was the last thing I could publish, hmm, then I guess I would just keep adding on to it like the never-ending novel and it would never get published. I was thinking about 1001 Arabian nights, and how cool that is to have a framing device, and then you could just write thousand of stories and they would all be part of the same project. And you could just release it in volumes, so they wouldn’t be different books, but variations, like remixes. Would that count?

  25. Derek White

      You can’t unring a bell.

  26. Derek White

      You can’t unring a bell.

  27. Derek White

      She’s got big plans that don’t include you
      Take it like a man.

  28. Derek White

      She’s got big plans that don’t include you
      Take it like a man.

  29. cari

      Yes.

      If the answer is no for someone, I’ve got to wonder why they’re sending it out.

  30. cari

      Yes.

      If the answer is no for someone, I’ve got to wonder why they’re sending it out.

  31. Blake Butler

      now we’re talkin

  32. Blake Butler

      now we’re talkin

  33. BAC

      what happens after the third book. is it like logan’s run when you turn 35?

      or was it 30?

  34. BAC

      what happens after the third book. is it like logan’s run when you turn 35?

      or was it 30?

  35. ryan

      my answer about my novel that i’ve been sending out is “no” because if i knew there was a finite number of what i could publish, i know i would write tons of stuff and then spend the rest of my life obsessing over which to publish in one of those limited spots and then i would die obsessing over it and never see any of them published.

  36. ryan

      my answer about my novel that i’ve been sending out is “no” because if i knew there was a finite number of what i could publish, i know i would write tons of stuff and then spend the rest of my life obsessing over which to publish in one of those limited spots and then i would die obsessing over it and never see any of them published.

  37. Ken Baumann

      blake, you dat fire.

  38. Ken Baumann

      blake, you dat fire.

  39. Shya

      I don’t see this as what we’d call in the world of advertisement an “actionable” question. That is: okay, the kernel seems to be something about “are you submitting something you’re really truly proud of,” but what good is that question? Where does asking it get you? Don’t you think that if someone is sending something around they’ve been living and breathing this question for as long as they’ve been writing whatever they’re writing and if they don’t know the answer now they never will?

  40. Shya

      I don’t see this as what we’d call in the world of advertisement an “actionable” question. That is: okay, the kernel seems to be something about “are you submitting something you’re really truly proud of,” but what good is that question? Where does asking it get you? Don’t you think that if someone is sending something around they’ve been living and breathing this question for as long as they’ve been writing whatever they’re writing and if they don’t know the answer now they never will?

  41. Nathan (Nate) Tyree

      Oh shit. Three then your light starts flashing? Fuck man

  42. Nathan (Nate) Tyree

      Oh shit. Three then your light starts flashing? Fuck man

  43. Blake Butler

      no i dont think that

  44. Blake Butler

      no i dont think that

  45. Shya

      Huh, well, I guess I have a little more faith in folks.

  46. Shya

      Huh, well, I guess I have a little more faith in folks.

  47. cari

      Fair enough, Ryan. I get obsessed with whatever my current book is and don’t tend to think too far beyond it, so I didn’t consider the way a three-book limit might paralyze a writer. What I meant is that ideally you shouldn’t be sending a ms out into the world until it’s the best, most vigorous, and true (whatever that means to you) work you’re capable of right now. Which is not to say you will not be capable of better next time. (And enter your paralysis.)

  48. cari

      Fair enough, Ryan. I get obsessed with whatever my current book is and don’t tend to think too far beyond it, so I didn’t consider the way a three-book limit might paralyze a writer. What I meant is that ideally you shouldn’t be sending a ms out into the world until it’s the best, most vigorous, and true (whatever that means to you) work you’re capable of right now. Which is not to say you will not be capable of better next time. (And enter your paralysis.)

  49. Lincoln

      I haven’t sent any books out but I imagine my response would be no. I agree with blake that there are probably a lot of writers who are willing to put stuff out that isn’t that good and that they don’t think is that good. On the flip side, I know authors whose early work I think was great and they dislike now, but either way they probably needed to publish that early work to get where they are now. Also agree with Ryan that it would be so easy to just paralyze yourself and never publish anything if the number was so finite and small.

  50. Lincoln

      I haven’t sent any books out but I imagine my response would be no. I agree with blake that there are probably a lot of writers who are willing to put stuff out that isn’t that good and that they don’t think is that good. On the flip side, I know authors whose early work I think was great and they dislike now, but either way they probably needed to publish that early work to get where they are now. Also agree with Ryan that it would be so easy to just paralyze yourself and never publish anything if the number was so finite and small.

  51. darby

      ive thought some about this question today. i don’t immediately think ‘is this thing good enough to be in my top three’ because what does good enough mean, but rather is this something that is important for me to communicate during my lifetime. and that’s a harder thing to answer because what i care about changes wrt life experiences. I don’t know what i will care about twenty years from now. when you are thinking only three i wonder if the aesthetics become irrelevant. Maybe not, but i think i would move toward the ‘what’s more meaningful?’ question which is a question I’ve moved away from. it makes me think, what am i really trying to do when i try to publish a book. is it something i should even be trying to do. in sense i’m already there because i can only fathom myself publishing maybe two novels in my lifetime and i suppose a third could be a collection afterward. the first novel i am working on now and may not be ready for a couple of years. then i want to write a novel sometime during my 50s. i envision my 50s as being my most creative and productive decade. then maybe when I’m seventy i will publish a collection. i feel good about that plan. in the meantimes i will do things which are more important than literature.

  52. darby

      ive thought some about this question today. i don’t immediately think ‘is this thing good enough to be in my top three’ because what does good enough mean, but rather is this something that is important for me to communicate during my lifetime. and that’s a harder thing to answer because what i care about changes wrt life experiences. I don’t know what i will care about twenty years from now. when you are thinking only three i wonder if the aesthetics become irrelevant. Maybe not, but i think i would move toward the ‘what’s more meaningful?’ question which is a question I’ve moved away from. it makes me think, what am i really trying to do when i try to publish a book. is it something i should even be trying to do. in sense i’m already there because i can only fathom myself publishing maybe two novels in my lifetime and i suppose a third could be a collection afterward. the first novel i am working on now and may not be ready for a couple of years. then i want to write a novel sometime during my 50s. i envision my 50s as being my most creative and productive decade. then maybe when I’m seventy i will publish a collection. i feel good about that plan. in the meantimes i will do things which are more important than literature.

  53. matthewsavoca

      haha, leroy is awesome

  54. matthewsavoca

      haha, leroy is awesome

  55. ryan

      i agree!

      i just know for myself that if i don’t have a point where i make myself step away i never will. i’m already adept at saying something’s done and then tinkering with it forever.

  56. ryan

      i agree!

      i just know for myself that if i don’t have a point where i make myself step away i never will. i’m already adept at saying something’s done and then tinkering with it forever.