A couple of weeks ago I read a thought-provoking article that raised the question of whether, in the new world order of publishing, authors are attempting to write too many books per year. The article was a well thought out discussion of the possibility that too many authors are substituting quantity for quality and that as a result we’re sliding into an era of pulp fiction.
Hmm. Could this author have a point?
I know that I, for one, have felt the pressure to publish a lot. I attended a packed and exciting workshop about self-publishing at RWA Nationals in Atlanta this past summer given by Liliana Hart in which she talked about the necessity of starting a series/career by publishing five novels in a series at once with one ready to go a month later and another a month after that. Her experience and advice revolved around hitting the ground running with a whole bunch of books. That way you hook your readers from day one by enabling them to buy several books all at once.
This really worked for her. She’s got a ton of books out and shared her numbers to prove that it works. I’m really excited for her that it did work too! I haven’t read any of her books though (they’re not a genre I gravitate toward), so I can’t personally attest to the quality of her writing. It has to be at least a little good though, because she’s selling like gang-busters!
But what about the more human amongst us? In my experience, most writers can’t churn out full novel after full novel of publishable quality, one right after the other. In fact, most of the writers I’ve talked to would feel much more comfortable if they could take their time to craft one or two gems a year. Only nowadays the pressure to produce a novel a quarter or even a novel a month is pretty strong.
So is this what we should be doing?
I’m not so sure I have the answer to that. For the first two years of my publishing journey I put out two books a year at irregular intervals. I was still getting my feet wet and figuring out what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it. I was still on the traditional/indie fence and spent a tiny bit of half-hearted time submitting to agents and publishers. Earlier this year I received the divine signs and committed to self-publishing, and by the end of this year I will have published 4 books (2 novels, 2 novellas) in 2013. I have at least 3 full-length novels and 1 novella slated for 2014, very likely a fourth full-length novel, and likely a fifth as part of a boxed set with some fellow writers. However, three of those books are already written and just need editing. I won’t be starting from scratch. And as for 2015? We’ll see.
In my heart of hearts, I would love to publish four full-length novels per year. I will never forget the conversation I had at the very first RWA conference I attended in New Jersey several years ago in which a long, long-time writer recounted the way things had been back in the 80s. Back then, she said, the average romance novelist could expect to sell four novels a year (and to receive a $50,000 advance for each one!). I don’t know if her experience was the norm, although she made out like it was, but from that moment on, that has become the standard I hope to meet.
Four novels a year isn’t too much, is it? I mean, I can write pretty fast and still call it good writing. Once I hit the point where writing is my one and only job, I think I’ll be able to write faster because I’ll have more time to do it. I’d love to work on one genre in the morning and another in the afternoon. I could make that work. At least I think I could.
Could you? The thing is, there are wonderful authors out there who just write and revise at a different pace. Maybe they top out at two books a year. Should they be made to feel the pressure to get more done if it isn’t going to be as good as something they were at leisure to write with more time?
I don’t think so. I think each writer should be free to create at their own pace. But I’m not the one investing money in them or determining their schedule. On top of that, the world has changed and people have grown more impatient. Can a writer hold the focus and attention of readers if they aren’t constantly coming out with something new? What do readers want?
And that’s the question we would all like to know, isn’t it. The problem is, there isn’t just one answer. What works for one author might not work for another. A slow-writer who is invested in building a career over the long-term might be fine with taking their time. Someone less patient (like me) might feel the urgency to publish more acutely. But I have the feeling that it might just be necessary to publish a lot in the early days to build enough traction to “hit”.
So what do you think? Can a writer make it if they publish more slowly in this new publishing world? Is publishing fast and often the only way to stay in the sights of fickle readers? What should we new world authors be doing?