Thursday, May 03, 2007

Is Writing Fast Simply Not Fast Enough?

At the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention last week, I met a successful New York Times bestselling author of supernatural romance. I mentioned that my first novel was coming out this summer with the next two in the series scheduled to come out in 2008. My jaw dropped when she told me that she was contracted to write four full novels by the end of 2007. As far as I know none of these are co-authored, and she actually didn't seem daunted by the task.

When my agent and publisher proposed the notion of publishing two books a year, I was intrigued but nervous. Nobody wants to sacrifice quality for quantity, but at the same time publishing my first three books in fairly quick succession would enable me to build a readership and get decent shelf space pretty fast. Currently THE MARK, THE GUILTY and THE STOLEN are scheduled to come out within a span of 14 months.

Yet when I look at the publishing landscape as it pertains to "genre fiction," specficially the paperback marketplace, I fear that starting your career publishing two books a year simply isn't enough.

After some early, understandable trepidation, I've grown to not only accept but prefer that my book is coming out in paperback. My publisher will be printing a quantity that would be extremely difficult to do in hardcover (barring a HISTORIAN-size push), and as authors like
Harlan Coben, Lisa Scottoline, Kim Harrison, Laura Lippman, and Sherrilyn Kenyon have shown, eventual hardcover success is easier when you've published several paperbacks and have an established readership. Whereas for a debut hardcover, the promotion might entice people to buy the first book, but after that the curiosity factor wears off and the next books need to stand tall on their own. The more books you have in print and the larger your readership, the sturdier your legs will be when the time comes to stand.

One publishing method that's becoming incresingly popular is that of the back-to-back-to-back (or more!) release. This tactic has been recently used to great success by Allison Brennan, Jim Butcher, Naomi Novik and Keri Arthur (among others), with even more such releases on the horizon. These authors have been able to garner shelf space and readers within matters of months, not years, and many will have a backlist of three or more books by the time they're barely into the second year of their authorial career.

Readers have short attention spans. Nothing new, but it's daunting to authors looking to make waves. Major bestselling authors have seen sales drop off considerably, a large part of which, in my opinion, has to do with a long hiatus between novels. My second book comes out eight months after my first, hardly a long hiatus, but there are some authors who will likely publish up to six books in that time, gobbling up readers' attention as well as precious shelf space.

Granted this is a model that, so far, has only been used for paperbacks. I don't believe anyone would be willing to plunk down $24.95 in three successive months for a first-time author. So far writing the books has not been a problem. I am very happy with how THE GUILTY turned out, and the outline for THE STOLEN has gotten a great reaction. My fear is not writing books I can be proud of in a relatively short time frame. It's having to swim amongst the sea of paperback editions from major bestselling authors as well as second or third books in a series of original releases.

Authors need to work their butts off to write good books, but also to stay relevant, stay in their readers' consciousness. More and more authors are putting out two or more books a year, which gets their name out there more, builds a healthy backlist, and keeps the reels spinning in Short Attention Span Theater. An author's readership needs constant watering, and we only hope the roots don't dry up between books.


Blogger Allison Brennan said...

I'm very comfortable writing three books a year. I know me. If I had one book a year to write, I'd screw around for months and months, "research" which is really just fun procrastination, and still start the book only two months before the deadline.

After I turned in the page proofs for FEAR in mid-January, because I was on a tight schedule, I rewarded myself with a month "off" where I caught up on things like taking down Christmas decorations, shopping, and we went to Disneyland. I promised myself when I got back from Disneyland that I would put my butt in the chair. It didn't happen. It took me 12 weeks to write a 39,000 word novella when my last 100,000 book only took six.

Now I'm back in the groove, but time off is worse that procrastination. I could have written an entire book in all the time I wasted. (But I did catch up on all the television shows I missed while on deadline!)

2:47 PM  
Blogger Sarah Weinman said...

But Alison, would you have been able to assert that conclusion had you not taken that month off? Now you know and that will make you a more productive and intuitive writer, so it seems like a good lesson learned.

But I think Jason's hit on a great point: the "market saturation" idea of having more than one book out in a year is bullshit, especially early on in a genre writer's career. I could list example after example, but Jason's done that already.

3:16 PM  
Blogger Spy Scribbler said...

It's not so much short attention span, it's that I forget the authors I love. When you read a lot of books, you just can't keep all those authors' names in the forefront of your head.

An author has to come out with a new book often for me to get in the habit of checking every time I go to Borders. Unless I'm on their mailing list or read their blog, that is. :-)

10:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to admit that scares me. It took me four months to write a 43k first draft. Now if I keep up my current pace I'll have another 30k added to it between April 1st and May 30th. I thought that was good.

Oh well, by the time anything is even coming from this it'll be another two years or so. By then both the kids will be in school which should increase my output. But scary stuff none the less. Don't authors need a break too? Recharging days are essential to me.

10:40 PM  
Blogger Eric Christopherson said...

Anyone who can write 3 books a year that I would want to read has to be freakishly gifted. For mere mortals, there is always a speed/quality trade-off. I'm glad there are writers such as Martin Cruz Smith, for example, who take years between projects, because all that devotion is there on the page.

11:28 PM  
Blogger Kimber Li said...

The thing to remember is that some of these authors have had tons of stories already written in their heads for years. In their case, it's only a matter of whipping each one into shape. And they get faster with each one because they learn as they go how to put out the goods more efficiently.

I think every reader is different too. Having a favorite author release two books a year is just right for me. Gives me time to digest and re-read each one several times before moving on.

10:30 PM  
Blogger Kitty said...

As a reader, I'm nervous when a good author quickly cranks out books. I loved the first 10 Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich, but I've yet to read #11 or #12. I'm worried that they won't be as satisfying as the others, and I reallyreally don't want to not like them. Dunno why I feel that way, but I do.


6:38 PM  
Blogger Trish Ryan said...

I'll admit that I LOVE it when a favorite author is quick with new releases, a truth that seems both daunting and inspiring to me as an author. I'm like Allison - give me too much time between deadlines and I'm doing "research" by looking up celebs on wikipedia...but still, it's hard to figure out how to settle down into book #2 (and #3 and #4) after #1 took so long to come to fruition!!!

10:23 PM  
Blogger Allison Brennan said...

Good point, Sarah. I learned a valuable lesson.

BTW, as a side note, I don't think it's really a quality/quantity issue. Nora Roberts is writing better books today than she was 10 years ago and still putting out 3 hardcovers a year and a PBO trilogy every 18 months or so. People might not like her books, but the truth is they are tight, well-written, fun (and I have read every JD Robb book and they continue to get better.)

I was lurking on a message board and a reader made a comment that I was hit or miss (or them). They thought my production schedule was the problem and my publisher should give me "more time." They went on to say that THE HUNT and FEAR NO EVIL were their favorites, and THE KILL and SPEAK NO EVIL they didn't like at all.

Ironically, I rewrote THE HUNT completely in three weeks after painstakingly writing an awful first draft, and I wrote FEAR in six weeks. Both THE KILL and SPEAK took me five months.

12:43 PM  
Blogger Rachel Vincent said...

So far, I really like the back-to-back-to-back release trend. At least, when an author can keep up without sacrificing quality. When I signed my first (so far, only) contract, I had the first two books already written. The third is now finished too, though it isn't due until October. And I've written another, uncontracted book between books 2 & 3 of my contracted series, which are both supposed to come out in '08.

I don't write as fast as Allison, but I've noticed something similar to what she wrote here. My time off seems to stretch, especially if I'm not sure what I should be doing next. Somehow, the last five weeks of my life have simply slipped by with nothing to show for the time spent other than a dwindling to-be-read pile. That doesn't happen when I'm working. Time feels valuable when I'm writing.

3:33 PM  

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