Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A Book a Year

How about this article from Library Journal:

Is publish or perish as true for best-selling authors as it is for academics? In a Seattle Times article, best-seller machines like John Grisham and Patricia Cornwell claim they are pressured by their publishers (Doubleday and Putnam, respectively) to release a book each year or suffer loss of sales to a public with “an out of sight, out of mind” mentality. Releasing a book each year is “no problem, as long as you don’t have a life,” Cornwell told the Times. “If I don’t get the book turned in on time, they’ll be freaking out,” said Cornwell, whose next Kay Scarpetta novel is due to publish in October. “If I miss my deadline, I miss the entire year. Sometimes there’s an overwhelming feeling of panic. It’s like a rock ‘n’ roll concert, and what if I don’t show up?” Publishers assert that a new book a year is necessary to piggyback on the paperback release of the previous year’s work, which helps build anticipation for the new title.

While Cornwell and Grisham are complying with their publishers’ need for an annual manuscript, others are resisting. Thriller writer Brad Meltzer (Grand Central), who has rejected the book-a-year plan, asserts that “there’s pressure to treat authors like Coca-Cola. Every time you get a bunch of writers together, this is all they complain about. The trend is, ‘How many books can you put out?’” Dennis Lehane (HarperCollins) also refuses to be held to a schedule because earlier in his career when he did produce the 1999 book Prayers for Rain in a year he said he realized “the week it was published what would have made it a really good book. The anger of that realization haunted me. I said I would never go back on that hamster wheel.” [See In the Bookroom blog for additional thoughts on this story.]


My take: True, we all write at different paces, but one book a year for a full-time writer? Doesn't sound like a lot to complain about to me. What say you?


Nicole said...

My opinion, for what it's worth (and that ain't much),is it depends on the lengths of the stories. Now lately I've heard that ABA publishers are starting to prefer the 80-100,000 word novels whereas in the past one could find epics and/or sagas in almost all genres.

It also would depend on whether or not the novels were stand alones or in a series. Waiting beyond a year for a second or third in a series is too long. Stand alones, on the other hand, from an established author with a fan base could conceivably stretch that distance between novels to 18 months without an outcry or the risk of being forgotten or ignored. In fact, they might even be more appreciated.

If authors have given their publishers a faithful audience, I think they should be given some slack as to the timing of their book production.

(I know--from a self-published writer, these don't carry any weight.)

Richard Mabry said...

Excellent post and a thought-provoking one. Your recent comment on another blog about the pressure of writing under deadline resonated strongly with me, since I'd just recently told a group I was addressing that writing without a contract was much less stressful than having a recurring deadline hanging over my head.
Some writers write faster than others, obviously. One of my favorites, Robert B. Parker, turns out one or two excellent books per year--not literary gems, just extremely entertaining with excellent characterization, smooth writing, engaging plots. Others, like Crais, write with more depth and take a lot of time with it.
I'll be watching to see how your bloggees respond.

Kim Vogel Sawyer said...

If I only wrote one book a year, I'd be bored to tears. I need more than that to keep me motivated and focused.

I'm finding, now that my writing has slowed down (went from eight books in two years to two...), I'm wasting more writing time than I ought to. I guess it's like anything else--the more we have of something, the more we squander it.

I'm not sure one a year would be good option for me even it weren't about my penchant for wasting time--I'd never survive, financially, on one book. And I'm not sure readers would remember me, either--I'm no Grisham. :o)

Jenny B. Jones said...

What a privilege--to write one book a year AND to be able to live on it. I think I could definitely go with the book a year gig. I would have more time for the important things in eating more ice cream, watching some E!, actually reading my People magazines. ; )

No, seriously, it would be amazing to be able to write a book, put it away, then go back to it with fresh eyes some time later. It would also be nice not to have an ulcer because you DON'T have a year. : )

Anonymous said...

Writers might need to keep themselves busy with more than one book a year, but from the perspective of a reader who finds some best-selling authors aren't as good as they used to be: Take as long as you need to get that story right. Don't rest on your laurels and let your writing skill suffer. Please, write well. I don't care if I have to wait for your next book, just write well!

OK, I'll shut up now. ;) Except to say that I'm not addressing Brandilyn with the above opinion, since Brandilyn just keeps getting better with each novel. :D

Pam Halter said...

One book a year might be good for John Grisham, who doesn't have to market himself, but most of us have to speak, do book signings and teach at conferences or schools to make it happen. That all takes away from writing time.

If publishers want us to take a major role in marketing, then they need to give us a break in how long it takes to write the next book.

Cindy Thomson said...

When you subscribe to several blogs on writing, it's bound to happen. I came across this discussion on an agent's blog:
It's interesting that the comments differ so much on that blog. I haven't read them all (there were almost a 100!) but people over there, probably referring to the mainstream market, seem to think that if an author puts out more than one book a year the quality suffers.

I just thought I'd throw that out there!

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

I think the most obvious point here is that these general market writers are complaining because they have to turn in a book a year and the ECPA authors are saying how much better it would be to have a year.

I think without a doubt quality goes up with some time to set the work aside, then come back with fresh eyes. I think the writers who don't get that probably haven't had the time to actually experience this.

And if writing gets better with a year, how much might it improve with 18 months? And a fresh, renewed enjoyment of writing?

Here's where I don't understand things. J. K. Rowling took 2, even 3 years between books. Her fans were the generation with the oh-so-short attention span, and ... funny thing, they didn't forget her.

Just think. Publishers could have twice the number of authors. Authors could have twice the amount of time to write. Readers could have twice the number of favorite authors, and time to actually talk about the books they love and tell others about them.

This is no joke. When the Left Behind books came out, the primary reason I never read them was, when I finally had time to read, I was already 3 books behind and knew I could never catch up. Why start?

So, yes, in most cases, I think writers would benefit in taking longer, taking more than a year even.


Hal said...

I'll let you know when I get to that point career wise.

That said, I certainly think that quality can suffer when gasping on a treadmill.

And it would seem to me that in the long run, that would mean losing readers.

Sean said...

John and Patricia aren't going to find any sympathy here, but I do wish the quality of writing would get back to where it used to be.

Is it possible that some people's problems could actually be others' blessings?

wilsonwriter said...

I know writers who put out one or two books a year, on a pittance. If you're a bestselling author, get off your butt (or get on it) and earn your wages. At one page a day, you'd have a complete novel done; go to two a day, if you want to create a mammoth book.

To me, this is like a pro athlete complaining that he is expected to produce. Sorry. That's the name of the game, and you're making a lot of money doing it. Meanwhile, some of us low-listers are producing twice as much just to pay the light bill.

Okay, that's my rant, but when I saw this article I thought it was one of the most ridiculous, prima donna things I'd ever read.

wilsonwriter said...

Oh, and as for the quality of many current bestsellers...this is the problem with publishers (and sometimes readers) demanding the same pigeonholed, genre books. A formula becomes just that.

Rhonda McKnight said...

I'm with Wilson Writer. Give me a break. Can't write a book in a year when all they do is recycle the same story. I work fulltime and then some, have two kids, blog and serve as a president of an ACFW chapter. I don't want to hear an one who doesn't work complain about writing a book in a year, particularly someone that has 10 or more under there belt like these authors do.