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Writing horse books

From: Kevin

Dear Jessica, I'm hoping you can help me and my wife with this problem. We have a pretty big collection of books about horses, and my wife has read most of them once and some of them more than once. There are a couple she keeps by the bed and just keeps reading, over and over, whenever she finishes she just starts again. Your book "Riding for the Rest of Us" is one of those. I'm a slower reader than her, so it'll take me a while to catch up to where she is. We're both wondering about what it takes to write a book about horses or riding or training, and since that's what you do, we thought maybe you could tell us.

We're not planning to write a book or anything, we just are curious about how the process works. Who decides what the book is about, you or the publisher? Do you have to make it a certain length, and is it easy or hard to stretch it out to get it that long? What about the book lists in the back of most books, are those all the books that the author knows about on the subject, or are those the books that the author used for research to write this book, or are they just books that the author likes, or what? I am very curious about this because even though I am a slow reader, I remember what I read pretty well, and there have been several times when I've read a book that's let's say by Mr.Smith, and in the back it lists a book by Mr. Jones, and then when I get to reading the book by Mr. Jones, I find out that there are a lot of places where he and Mr. Smith disagree, and say totally opposite things! Can you tell me why someone who writes books would include a list of books that don't agree with their book?

My wife is reading what I'm typing and she says it looks like one of those "I want you to do my homework" questions that kids ask when they get lazy. Really it's not. I am forty-eight years old and my wife is forty- let's say that she is forty, because she is reading this and she has sharp elbows, ha, ha. I know this isn't a horse question but we do read a lot of horse books and we want to know, so if you could see your way clear to answering some of these questions, we'd be grateful. Either way, thanks for your service and the great answers you give people! Kevin (and Maria)

Hi Kevin and Maria! I can't speak for everyone who writes horse books, but as long as you understand that you're just getting my own answers, I'll be happy to try to satisfy your curiosity.

The process is simple, but not necessarily easy.

I decide what it's about - and then a publisher has to decide to make it into an actual book that you can hold in your hand. Different publishers like to publish different types of books.

Book length is tricky, but possibly for a different reason than the one you mention. "Stretching out" a book has never been an issue for me; the hardest thing for me, always, is deciding what has to be left out (or cooperating with someone else's decision about what should be left out)! A long book has more pages than a short one, costs more to produce, and the finished product costs more to buy. Publishers are in business to make money, and the prospect of putting a lot of work and some financial investment into a book that will cost a lot and sell very few copies is... a money-LOSING prospect. Authors, on the other hand, especially those who write non-fiction, educational books, tend to want to write long books, not short ones. That means that there's a built-in conflict from the very beginning. In one way, this is bad for authors - we want to include a lot more information in our books! But in another way, this is good for authors - we have to write more clearly and edit more carefully and be more precise and accurate, so that we can say as much as possible about each topic in as few words as possible.

As for the book lists in the back - now that depends on the individual author, and on the publisher. If the list is a bibliography, it should say so - and you will know that those are the books that the author consulted when writing his own book. If the book list is a list of related titles that the author thinks readers might enjoy or find useful, it should have a title like "recommended reading" or "resources". Some authors like to include long lists of books - some don't. Sometimes it comes down to a choice of using up a few pages to include a booklist, OR using those same pages to give additional information within a chapter. The author has to choose how to use the total number of pages. There have been many occasions when I've sat thinking "I can include THIS... but then there won't be room for THAT.... but I really want to include THIS... but THAT is also important..." In the end, you just have to go with what you think will be best for that book and that audience. Don't take the length of a book-list too seriously. If the author is well-read, it's very unlikely that any book list will include all the books s/he has read on the subject. If I tried to list even one-tenth of the books I'd read about horses, the list itself would be longer than most books!

I recommend books all the time. I rarely agree with every single sentence in any of the books I recommend, but that's not the point - I don't recommend them because their authors say the same things that I say, I recommend them because I find them to be good and interesting sources of information and good material for discussion and thought. As I tell people at my clinics, I'm not here to tell you what all the answers are, I wouldn't do that even if I knew all the answers - which, by the way, I don't. I'm here to try to help you understand more and ask better questions. So although I know what you mean about "Mr Smith" and "Mr Jones" and points in their books contradicting one another, I'm very likely to recommend a book that contains even two or three outstanding chapters, even if the rest of it isn't very useful. My readers are, for the most part, grown-up people with good minds of their own, and I expect them to use their minds and exercise their good judgement. I don't want anyone memorizing a book I recommend - or even one I write - and treating it as if it were engraved on stone tablets. I want people to read, THINK, and take what they find useful and helpful. It's true that when a book is really good, you may find different parts of it helpful at different times in your life, but you'll always find something useful in it. Your Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones may disagree on various points, but I'll bet you find useful information and ideas in BOTH books - as well as things that YOU don't agree with or don't intend to try. No two authors are ever going to have identical thoughts or identical ways of expressing their thoughts. Be grateful. Think of how boring life would be if there were ONE way of thinking about every single subject - and think of how much more insight you can gain, even about a subject you know well, if you discuss or debate a subject with someone else who knows the subject well. You don't need to agree on each point - it may be the DISAGREEMENTS that cause you both to make one another think and learn. One of my friends has a sig-line that I'm going to borrow here, because I think it's very relevant: "If two people think exactly alike, one of them is unnecessary."

If you're reading two books, you like both authors, both seem to know what they're talking about, and yet they disagree, try to analyze how and why they disagree. It's easy when one is writing about training and harnessing draught horses, and the other is writing about training horses to be hunted by ladies riding sidesaddle. It's less easy when both appear to be writing about the same sort of horses and riding, but read carefully, don't skip the author biography and the introduction, and you'll learn some interesting facts.

You may find, for instance, that

- one of them wrote eighty years ago, one wrote two years ago, and they did not have access to the same information regarding feed, deworming, etc.

- one of them wrote for the cavalry, one wrote for civilians - or for cowboys - or for casual, pleasure riders - one wrote for men, one for women

- one wrote for riders in hot dry climates, one for riders in cold wet climates

... and so on. If you can figure out when and why a particular author was writing - what was the book trying to achieve, and who was the book's intended audience? - you can usually figure out why THAT author appears to be contradicting some other, equally well-informed author. Looking at the author's background, time, and context is a good exercise for readers in any case. It makes the book more interesting, and that makes reading even more useful and more fun.

I like to write books - and I like to recommend books that other people write. There are a LOT of good books available. Time spent reading is rarely wasted, time spent making life better for your horses is never wasted, and if you can make life better for your horses by reading books, you're making excellent use of your time.


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