Dr. Joke-All and Mr. Hide: Author vs. Writer

Author! Author!

Sweet words to hear, when your book has been published and you’re looking for acclaim, not to mention sales.

Meet the author! Yes, that’s me—or better, It is I, Dr. Joke-all.

Pleased to meet you. Yes, happy to read to you from my book, happy to answer your softball questions: what the book says (didn’t read it? Never mind, as long as you bought a copy), where my brilliant ideas came from, how the world is different and better thanks to my little book.

Yes, I wrote a book and it made me an author. A year ago, for a little while.

OK, I’m just a “midlist” author, which is a polite way of saying I didn’t sell enough books to quit my day job and retire to Aruba. I’m not on anybody’s best-seller list, except Amazon’s list of top books on abbreviations invented in the 1830s. But it’s a happy time anyhow.

There’s nothing like the 15 minutes of fame you get as an author. Sure, a hundred thousand other books are published each year, but there’s nothing like the flattery of the publisher’s publicity, the notoriety (yes, I know what that means) of reviews by people who pay attention, the interviews by media people who usually want to make you look good, the book signings where the only writing you have to do is your name.

Ah, the reviews! Look at them all! And in those prestigious publications. Yes, true enough, in lots of unprestigious ones too. So what? The more, the merrier. And yes, not all of them merry either. Well, it comes with the territory. Some reviewers are dolts, not smart enough to see the merit that is in plain sight for all to behold. Well, they laughed at Thomas Edison too. And anyhow, all publicity is good publicity.

In conversation with strangers, you can let slip how happy you are now that you have a little more spare time. Why is that? Oh, it’s that book of yours just published by that prestigious press. You know, it took so much time to get it just right, as the reviewers in those prestigious publications (well, some of them) have acknowledged.

On an airplane, if you’re very lucky, your seatmate will be reading a copy of your book. You can lean over and modestly say, “You know, I wrote that book.” “No way!” “Way! Would you like me to autograph it?” (There, that prevents it from being resold as new.)

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A person who writes for publication has two stages: butterfly and caterpillar. Two personalities: Dr. Joke-all, the author, and Mr. Hide, the writer.

The author as butterfly is the fun part. The book is out. The publisher is telling perfect strangers how good it is. As Dr. Joke-all, you’re graciously accepting praise from friends and loved ones.

But before the butterfly comes the cocoon, and before the cocoon the grubby caterpillar, laboriously spinning out skeins of deathless prose. That’s when you’re just the writer, Mr. Hide.

If you always meet deadlines, you’ll be Dr. Joke-all, the author, most of the time. But the majority of us, I suspect, struggle to pound out those promised pounds of prose. The deadline that seemed so far away looms closer and closer, and you become more and more Mr. Hide. When a friend who had heard you brag about a published book asks what you’re doing next, you deflect the conversation. E-mails and phone messages from your editor call for evasive replies, or a trip up the Amazon out of cellphone range.

It’s not just books that bring out Mr. Hide. This very post is perilously close to being an example. If you’re reading it, I will have made the deadline, much to the editor’s surprise. Then I’ll be able to enjoy a day or two as Mr. Joke-all before I go and hide again.

So farewell, world, see you later. I’m hiding out from a new deadline.

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