What Does It Take to Make a Book?

A blog about book publication

by Dianne Van Dien

As an aspiring author, I love books that consider how to write well. Recently I read The Art of Slow Writing: Reflections on Time, Craft, and Creativity by Louise Del Salvo. As Del Salvo discusses the writing process, she shares her own writing experiences as well as those of her students and of famous writers like John Steinbeck, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Virginia Woolf. Reading about how Woolf and others worked was fascinating! But writing a book is such a daunting task—I wanted to hear more stories and anecdotes about how writers get it done.

As I thought about this, it occurred to me that through my work at the University of Utah Press I’ve made the acquaintance of dozens of authors, all who would likely have interesting and useful tidbits to share about book writing. It also occurred to me that if I find this topic interesting, others would too. Maybe I could tap into the authors’ hard-earned wisdom and share what I learn.

So I put together a survey with questions asking about the book-writing experience and sent it to a cross-section of the press’s authors, trying to cover the main subject areas that the press publishes—archaeology and anthropology, Mormon studies, Utah and Western history, religious studies, nature and environment, biography, and memoir.

Twenty-one authors generously took time to respond.

While each author has his or her own approach to writing, all of them shared one sentiment in common: book writing requires persistence.

Here’s what a few of them said:

Nathan P. Devir, author of New Children of Israel

“Slow and steady wins the race. Don’t get discouraged by hiccups in the process, and don’t expect miracles or too many moments of genius. Being diligent, thoughtful, and willing to reconsider your understanding of things will go a long way in making the finished product what you envisioned it could be.”

Jennifer Sinor, author of the memoir Ordinary Trauma

“Writing is old school. A made thing. It takes a long time to come into its own. In an age of social media and sound bites, we often want our writing to be efficient, shiny, and effortless. But writing is first and foremost a craft, and craft requires apprenticing, humility, and a lot of sweat. No shortcuts. You must earn every single word.”

Shane Murphy, author of the biography John Hance

“Dig in for the long haul. This ain’t no weenie roast.”

Over the next few months—about every other week—I’ll be sharing more answers from our authors as they discuss writing, researching, making time for writing, revising drafts, and related topics. Whether you’re an aspiring author, an author already, or someone who simply enjoys books, I think you’ll find their insights informative and inspiring. I hope you’ll watch your inbox (or Facebook and Twitter feeds) to read each installment.

Dianne Van Dien began working for the University of Utah Press (UUP) in 2010 as a graduate fellow while earning a MS in Environmental Humanities. Later she shifted to her current role as UUP’s freelance marketing associate. She lives in rural Missouri, from where she also writes and edits for the Missouri Department of Conservation.

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