October 24th, 2006
Success or Failure

I’ve been reading a lot of blogs lately where authors are burning out because they’re trying to keep pace (ie writing several manuscripts a year) with the ‘new’ publishing clip. I’ve experienced this myself–in 2003 to be exact. It was not pretty. I was writing a book every other month and then suddenly, I couldn’t write a thing. The burnout lasted for months. For a while, I was worried that I’d never write again. 🙁

Why am I bringing this up now? Because a dear friend and I were discussing the different ways you can achieve success in publishing. (For the purpose of this entry I’m using the word ‘success’ in general terms. I know that everyone’s definition of success is different.) In our minds, there are only two ways to build a career in this business. Either you have to turn on the speed and produce several manuscripts a year for several years in a row OR you have to write one outstanding book that could launch you into space. Now the latter doesn’t ensure that your next book will be as well received, but it does give you time to write the kinds of books that you want to write. (ie ‘one outstanding’ book a year vs several ‘good’ books)

I suppose it’s the typical tortoise and the hare syndrome with a catch. There’s no guarantee that if you shoot out of the gates that your work will connect with readers anymore than if you took your time to polish your one masterpiece. So the question is, if you had a choice between the two methods of publication, which one would you choose and why?

24 comments to “Success or Failure”

  1. I’m a write as much as I can girl. I can’t help it. I couldn’t slow down even if I wanted to. And I think an author can write quick and still write a great outstanding book. IMHO how long it takes you to write a book does not determine how good a book it is. I had this argument with a few readers on the RT forum.

  2. I think finding a balance is important. Speaking as a reader, if a writer takes for-ev-er to write and release new books, I may not be as keen on reading the new stuff. This is especially true with long fantasy sagas. (And why I refuse to read Robert Jordan, no matter how many people rave over him, until the series is finished.) At the same point, I’ve read some prolific authors who, IMO, sacrifice quality for quantity. Sure, having a lot of releases may keep you in the public eye more, but it’s not going to do you much good if each release is suckier than the last. I think writers need to find what works best for them. Certainly, there will be some writers who are incredibly prolific and write stellar work despite speed (accounting for the occasional “dud,” because it’s going to happen). There will also be some authors who really work best at slow speeds and release books every few years, and it’s worth the wait. (George R. R. Martin being a case in point, in my opinion.) Most writers, though, IMO, will fall somewhere in between the two, and it would be pointless to try to be something they’re not… like trying to force a plotter to become a pantser, and vice versa. 🙂

  3. I’m the latter – one book a year, tops – but not because I’m polishing my masterpiece (though I do go over it until I’m crosseyed before anyone else sees it) but because I write slowly. I just do. I couldn’t write a book in six weeks if you paid me. I need the balance of writing and living. Each inspires the other, and I can’t craft 3-5K a day, in and out, and accomplish both. In fact, if I tried I think each would suffer.

    So I’m a tortoise, and I’ve finally stopped asking myself what’s wrong with me that I can’t write multiple books in a year.*

    *Okay, I just thought about it: I’ve done post-production work on two full books, written a novella, and will have a first draft of a third before the end of this year. So maybe I am getting faster. Or maybe I’m just working steadily. {shrug} (What a non-answer!)

  4. I’ve only ever completed two books. Book one took a year, was a good rite of passage, and didn’t get published. Book two I figured out a system that worked better for me, had me writing a scene a day, came fast, got accepted over at Samhain. So, I’m thinking for me, fast might work better. But I think it’s more that it was shorter, only 72K, not a very complex plot. I think the more complex the plot, probably, the more extended the time to write. I think the burn out factor is very high. After the last book, I took off August so I could do nothing but read, read, read. If I jumped right into the next one in the series, I’d be fried. No doubt about it. I had to let the next one stew, feed my head a little, get it just right, before I was ready to get going again. It has to be very hard to be on a massive production schedule, though I hear John Ringo swears by marathon push writing, on his back porch, in the cold, with a cigar. David Weber is another member of team extreme. I don’t know how they manage to do it without going mad.

  5. Aside from the problems I’ve had this past year or so, normally I’m not that speedy. If I were working at normal speed, one book per year (8 months tops), works for me perfectly. Nothing to do with producing a masterpiece, etc,. Things like book-in-a-week or Nanowrite don’t work for me At. All. 😛

  6. I need processing time. I just can’t produce a novel in, say, six weeks. I need to spin my wheels and think about the characters and think about the plot and figure out what makes the whole thing work. I need to stop moving forward and think about what I’ve written and revise from the beginning. Otherwise the story just turns to #&*#%.

    So I’ll never be a superspeedy writer. I’m not sure how fast I can get. I’m hoping 6-8 months/book. We’ll see. Probably will depend on the book, too.

  7. Vivi, I didn’t mean speed made you a bad writer. I just know that personally a few of my books could’ve done with sitting for a while before I turned them in. 🙂

  8. Nonny, Very good points. I don’t think most writers have a choice about how they end up writing.

  9. Vicki, LOL! My guess is both. You’re probably working steadily and writing faster. 😀 I know a lot of people who are naturally slow writers. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as you finish projects each time, which you obviously do. 🙂

  10. Ursula, Like Stephen King said, you have to get into the habit of writing. I think that’s what these men have done. I know that once I get into the habit the writing gets much easier or at least seems to.

  11. Jaq, Like I said to Vicki, there’s nothing wrong with a naturally slow writer. I think many of us have been ‘programed’ to believe we have to write fast or else. :0/

  12. Jorrie, That’s actually the speed I hope to get to, a single title every six months. I can write faster, but I don’t think I want to in this format.

  13. I think part of my timing has to do with the story and how fast (and how cohesive) it flows into the keyboard. Some stories come faster than others. I think an author has to pace themselves because burnout can happen.

  14. I like to write fast, and unfortunately given all the time in the world I can’t guarantee the end result would be much better. It’d be nice if writing one book a year meant it’d be the best work I’d ever done…but somehow I don’t think it’d work out that way. I am actually trying to figure out how many titles per year I want to keep writing. I don’t want to overwork, but if I have too much time on my hands I’ll just be more neurotic. *g*

  15. Patrice, I think it takes a while for each writer to discover their pace. I’m still working on mine.

  16. Charli, I’d like to think my books would be better if I could write the first draft, then left them stew for awhile. I know I catch things in my EC books all the time that I’d like to change to better the stories. Sigh. I hear you about having too much time on your hands though.

  17. Good question.

    I’m a naturally slow writer. In addition to that, I find my work is really at its best after I let it sit for a few weeks, then have at it with a fresh eye. A full-length book every six months would be ideal for me, I think.

    Oddly enough, though, with short stories and short novellas, it seems that faster is better. Maybe because I only write them when I’m feeling inspired, and just sit down and bang them out, but the longer books need more attention.

  18. I’m naturally a slow writer. 2 thousand words in one day is a Very Good Day and they don’t come too often. I simply can’t churn out 4 books a year. And I’ve tried keeping up a 2k a day pace before. I nearly gave up on writing after 3 months. So it’s not going to happen, even if I didn’t have school or a day job. That is the reason why I’m one of the rare writers who does not want to be a full-timer.

  19. Also, Jordan, you should bump Mortal Danger up your TBR pile, eh? 😉

  20. Raine, Great points. I think I’m in the same boat. If you want a novella, I can give it to you in two weeks. If you want a single title, I feel more comfortable in the six months zone. Now when I say six months, I don’t mean that’s how long it’ll take me to write it. I can write a single title ROUGH draft in two and a half/three months. I just wouldn’t want to turn it in for a while. *ggg*

  21. May, I think it’s smart of you to know what kind of writer you want to be (ie full-time vs part-time). I think there are a lot of authors out there that haven’t realized they’re in the part-time boat yet. Once they do, their lives will become a lot less stressful on the writing front. 😀

    I will move Eileen’s book up. Thanks for the tip. 🙂

  22. I find I write much slower now than before but tighter. The first draft is much closer to the final draft. I know I write fast because I write a lot of books but often I don’t know how! I have days when I think a lot and get very little word count. But then one day I look up and huge page count is done. I think it just depends on where I am in the book. The end is usually very clear in my head so I tend to write the last 10,000 words very fast.

    Still, I get scared when I think of deadlines and see my daily word count. And its hard not to take on a lot. Getting your name out there in a such a competitive business is hard. It is a lot of pressure though.

  23. Lisa, I do the same thing. I write really fast toward the end…mainly because I want to finish the book. *ggg* I do think it’s a scramble to figure out what’s going to work best. My thoughts are more in line with what I can do continuously. I know that as much as I’d like to duplicate Nora, there is no way I could keep up that pace for years and years and years. Katie MacCalister (sp) once said that she wrote really fast to impress the editors, thinking that later she’d be able to slow down. Trouble is the editors came to expect that speed from there on out. She says she hasn’t slowed down since. I do not want to find myself in that same position.

  24. One of the reasons I work on several novel projects at the same time is that I can have 3 or 4 finished within a rather close timespan. That should give me a kickstart into establishing a name as writer of historical fiction, and then I maybe can come up with a new book every 2-3 years only. Especially since my books are of the doorstopper variety.

    The downside is that it will still take me some time to get there, and I can only hope historical fiction has not lost its popularity then.