The Agony and the Ecstasy, or Writing a Library Science Book; a New Writer Weighs the Pains and Pleasures of Authorship

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The agony and the ecstasy, or writing a library science book

A new writer weighs the pains and pleasures of authorship

I THOUGHT IT WOULD BE easy to write a book about the use of serials in reference services. I told myself, with all due conceit, that I knew just about all there was to know about reference work with periodicals, newspapers, and other serials. After all, I had been a serials reference specialist at the Library of Congress for over three years. For me, writing such a book would be a breeze.

I was a fool.

It all began innocently enough with two telephone reference calls I received during February 1987. In each case the caller was a librarian employed outside the Library of Congress inquiring whether any guide to serials reference existed. When I confirmed that there apparently was no such book, a seed was planted in my mind. What I could not have imagined at the time was that this seed would eventually explode into an out-of-control kudzu vine ensnaring all in its path.

In March, I wrote to Libraries Unlimited asking if they would be interested in publishing a book on serials reference. They responded positively and instructed me to submit a manuscript proposal. Late in April, I submitted a detailed proposal which included a preliminary outline, chapter summaries, and a sample seven-page draft to demonstrate content, organization, and writing style. While I waited for their response, I began performing literature searches on various topics I intended to cover in the book. Soon, I had accumulated files bulging with photocopied articles, and I started to realize that this project might be a bit more demanding than I had envisioned.

A letter finally arrived from Libraries Unlimited in late August expressing both interest in the book and doubt that I could handle this "massive project" by myself. They asked if I would consider a coauthor and if I had a word processor. They asked how I would be able to complete the project and still fulfill my job responsibilities.

Well, I had not considered a coauthor, I did not have a word processor, and I had thought that weekends and evenings would be more than enough time to complete the project. Having never written a book, or even a library science article, I began to wonder if perhaps their doubts were well-founded. After rereading their letter, I did the only thing I could--I had a panic attack.

Over the next few days, my wife Barbara calmed me down and restored my self-confidence. I then wrote a two-page reply addressing the publisher's concerns. Basically, I stated that I could do this project myself. As evidence of my commitment, I pointed out the literature search I had undertaken, which had netted 1,500 photocopied pages. I actually referred to myself as being "passionate" about serials reference service. The only one of their concerns I could not allay was my access to a word processor. I only had a typewriter.

Spunk to spare

Acquisitions editor David Loertscher called Sept. 9 to tell me that Libraries Unlimited would publish my book. They liked my "spunk." However, they still were worried about my lacking a word processor and strongly urged me to either buy one or get access to one. But I did not have the funds to invest in a PC and printer, and I could not use the equipment at LC for my private project. I was in the midst of talking to PC experts and checking out the used PC market when providence arrived. A local department store was having a sale on the Magnavox Videowriter, a word processor and printer in one unit. A day later, I was word processing for just over $600.

I signed a contract with Libraries Unlimited in which I agreed to deliver a completed manuscript by Feb. 1, 1989. My outline called for 16 chapters, which gave me four weeks per chapter according to the publisher's deadline--about two weeks more per chapter than I needed, or so I thought. …