It Takes a Village

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“In the end, what makes a book valuable is not the paper it’s printed on, but the thousands of hours of work by dozens of people who are dedicated to creating the best possible reading experience for you.”

John Green

Part of my background is in theater, and I have spent considerable time on both sides of the curtain. There’s a lot of glamour and glitz when you’re playing the lead role — roses and spotlights, applause and curtain calls — but there’s a whole lot of “not much” when you’re working backstage. One of the most underappreciated roles in the theater is the role of stage manager. If you’re not familiar with the role, a good stage manager is the glue that holds the whole thing together, the one who knows everything there is to know and fills in wherever there’s a lack. But, there’s also the lighting and sound crews, the set designer, the director, the costume designer, and so many more. It takes all of those people to make the show work.

I remember one distinct moment where the entire cast had gone onstage for a final bow, and I was the only one left backstage, the stage manager. The crowd was clapping, and I took off my headset and just stood in the wings and watched. It was a beautiful moment, one I will never forget, but it wasn’t about me. I was a part of the whole, but I wasn’t the one on stage, the face of the show, so to speak. (And that’s okay. I am an introvert and am quite happy behind the scenes!)

Writing a book is much the same. While there are parts that are solitary (like writing a play or working to memorize lines), there are many parts that aren’t. It truly takes a village to make a book.

Alongside the author, who we will compare to that lead role from earlier, are many others who have worked to make a book come together. You have editors (sometimes several of them, depending on how much and what kind of editing you’re getting), a proofreader, a formatter, a cover designer, a publisher, a marketing person, and so on. But, unless you’re in those fields, chances are that you never hear about those people. For example, do you know who did the copy editing or cover art for the latest James Patterson book? Or who was the agent who sold Stephen King’s The Stand? Those people all played an important role. But Stephen and James are the ones we remember, as we should because there wouldn’t be a story at all without them. All of those people who have touched that book in some way are connected to it. Or, at least, that’s how I feel about projects I work on.

One of my writers, who I now consider a good friend, posted on Facebook that she’d gotten a rejection on a story. I immediately messaged her and asked which story it was. Her reply was, “It wasn’t our story.” I was relieved. I want to see that story succeed, and I want that writer to have success. That short exchange was the catalyst that got my mind thinking about how invested so many people can be in a project but many people, even the writer, may not even realize it. It may just be me being crazy, but I cheer a little louder for those projects I’ve touched, not because I want the recognition, but because I helped. (Remember the Shake and Bake commercials? “It’s Shake and Bake, and I helped!”) I’m a helper. That’s what I do; it’s who I am.

I can’t speak for everyone, of course, but I know if I’ve been involved with any project in any capacity, I follow it. I want to see if it experiences success, and if not, why not? New projects from writers I’ve worked with, even if it’s not a project I’ve worked on directly, always spark my interest. I watch to see how they’re doing because I like to see them succeed.

When I worked as a stage manager, one of my favorite feelings was the end of a show where everything had gone right — no one had missed a cue, there weren’t any “wardrobe malfunctions,” and the beat was just right for that audience on that night. Even though I wasn’t out on the stage taking a bow at the end, I smiled and my heart was full because I knew that I’d taken part in something special. I think writing is a lot like that, but I’m not always sure that those who are on the outside see it.

I’ll be honest. I am not really sure where I’m going with this post. I’ve been editing all day, and I’m kind of tired. The point I want to make is that John Green is right. A book is worth far more than the paper (or pixels) it’s printed on. It’s a labor of love that a lot of people care about. So, when you’re writing, remember that you’re not alone. You have people behind you who want to see you succeed. And give them a hug when you do…because they’ll be proud of you.

Have a great weekend folks. My daughter turns eleven on Sunday, so I will be busy working as part of the village it takes to pull off a tween birthday party!

Melissa

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1 comment to It Takes a Village

  • Razziecat

    I think it’s always good to remember the people “behind the scenes” who helped bring a project to fruition. I’m one of those people who sits through all of the credits after a movie, because I find it fascinating to see how many departments there are, and how many hundreds of people worked on that film. A book may not have quite as many “invisible” people, but the ones who are there are truly invaluable!