I thought I wrote fast. I tell people I can write a 100,000 word novel – a first draft – in four months, writing for an hour before work, an hour or two later in the day, and a few solid hours on the weekend. I only thought this was fast because people told me so. Other writers spent a year, two or more, to get similar output.
So I was a little surprised when I started to follow a podcast by three authors, all in the sci-fi and fantasy world. These three, along with the different guests they interview each week, publish 4-6 books a year, often keeping different series’ and even different genres going.
So I did some digging. There are many writers out there who are churning out a 50-80K novel each month … and I mean from Chapter 1 through The End and into editing (I assume), book cover design, and placements.
I am emotionally exhausted when I finish a novel and only once (between Books 5 and 6) did I have any desire to continue straight into writing the next of the series. Editing, sure. Marketing, okay. But the idea of churning out another 100K?
I am trying to work out what it takes to do this and, as I listened more to these authors, and even got to question a couple, I think I get it.
1. Outsourcing – these people do nothing for the production process. Everything is outsourced and they do not play a part in the process. This makes total sense except when there is no investment in the process, when the author really doesn’t care about the end product. As one author said: “My book covers are more or less the same. Only the title and book number changes. The cover artist knows what to do.”
2. Editing – when my editor returns a manuscript, there are changes suggested in almost every paragraph. I am expected to go through these comments and decide what to do. True, I accept 95% of the suggestions, but sometimes the editor writes that a scene is not clear, a conversation does not make sense, or a description is repetitive. In this case, I need to rewrite. Sometimes, the editor suggests I delete something. If I am attached to what is written, I might rewrite it much shorter or insert elsewhere (oops – don’t tell my editor!).
3. Strict genre adherence – in order that some writers can keep pace with production, they keep the plot tight and similar – the same highs and lows. The protagonist acts as he (usually a he) is expected, the bad guy too, and often the women are…well, behaving in what is expected of women in that genre. Now there is nothing wrong here. If it ain’t broke, why fix? Who needs a bad guy you sympathize with, a woman who kicks the crap out of someone or simply falls in love with the bad guy and not the hero? Real life is already too complicated. There are no twists in the plot and I expect that somewhere there is a story arc written that is faithfully adhered to. No time to spend experimenting. Take no risks with the loyal readership.
4. Investment in the characters – this is something I find hard to understand. I have never understood how people can write a stand-alone novel, and walk away. I feel so close to all my characters – I worry about them, fear for them, get angry when they screw up (and especially when they have the audacity to blame me). Long after the novel is finished, I think about them, and yes, I mourn the ones I kill off.
Now there is nothing wrong with any of this. There are people who write for the art and people who write for the royalty check and that is just fine. Most of us are somewhere in between. If the quality of the book is enough for the reader to enjoy, to read effortlessly and then crave the author’s next book, then what’s wrong with that? If the genre is popular just the way it is, then this is what the reader wants. And if it sells and so do the rest of the author’s work, then that is a clear sign that what they do is right and recognized by the most important views – the readership.
But sometimes it is tough to accept. In seeking the highest standard of writing, I agonize over a scene, word choice, how a character develops. Sure I can write a first draft in four months, but it takes longer to edit, rewrite, consider feedback, and feel once the book is published, that I have done my absolute best.
I’m trying not to be critical, but the book churn must have its limitations. And, in the end, a book exists forever. If the market is swamped by mediocrity, how will the special books get noticed? Will a generation get turned off novels because they just aren’t as gripping as a video game, a You Tube clip, or an on-demand TV binge?
And I can’t help but wonder: what does George R.R. Martin think about this?
EXCITING NEWS: Tourmaline Books are offering At The Walls of Galbrieth for FREE during the month of March though Smashwords (good for all ebook platforms). Feel free to gift it to a young person (or not so young) who might benefit from a story of hope and friendship.
Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books. The link above takes you to the Kindle versions. For all other eReaders, please click here. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).
It certainly doesn’t sound like they have much love for their stories. It is discouraging to hear people do this, but I couldn’t ever find a sense of accomplishment in doing that. I coudn’t do that. I would get bored by the second book. It sounds like you are that way too. You are doing it the right/write way and readers will find you and stick with you. The other guys won’t have dedicated readers if every book is the same.
Great post, Alon. I have wondered myself how such authors manage to churn out multiple novels a year. Like you, I become so invested in my characters that I’m not sure I could pull off any form of churn-out. It’s like NaNoWriMo on repeat. Exhausting! Thanks for taking the time to analyse this. Georgina
What you describe sounds like a literary assembly line. It sounds like work. It doesn’t sound fun. They might find it fun or they don’t care. Whatever floats their boat. As for me I’m in the Doing It For the Art camp (although the royalty check is nice and helpful). I’d like to find a middle ground where I can do my art thing quickly. My goal is 2-3 books annually.
I have only ever written one book that fast—SirenSong, during NaNoWriMo 2016. I managed to write 55,000 words in one month, and by the end of it I was so emotionally exhausted I could not start proofreading until the start of January. Then, it took me at least two months to go through four different drafts, including those I corrected by going through my proofreaders’ suggestions.
To be absolutely sincere, I think it is the best book I have ever produced, maybe because everything happened so fast that the characters and their feelings and motivations were still fresh in my mind. On the other hand, I managed to pull off that feat just once, and I’m still struggling to begin its sequel. So it’s all swings and roundabouts, I guess.
Interesting, Miguel. There are certainly people who can produce a novel quickly, but like you share, I wonder about those who are producing 3-5 books a year. Thank you for sharing.