Get your stuff and come with me. Today, I want your input on something.
Entrepreneurial authors are being driven to write more books and write them faster. Is this good?
That premise and question seem obvious to me. But when I went looking for what I thought I’d seen, I discovered that it’s all around us—but rarely right in front of us.
I tweeted this colleague and that blogger, asking, “Can you help me find such-and-such piece you had on this?” and “Don’t you recall seeing a post about this?” and “Can you remember where you read somebody writing this?”
— KristineKathrynRusch (@KristineRusch) March 9, 2013
Of course, in tweeting them, I revealed myself to be a big fat narcissist. Did you see this story at Science Daily this week? You’re So Vain: Study Links Social Media Use and Narcissism.
Facebook is a mirror and Twitter is a megaphone, according to a new University of Michigan study exploring how social media reflect and amplify the culture’s growing levels of narcissism.
Pay this no mind. With the kind of winters they have in Ann Arbor, these people barely know a narcissist from a snowman or -woman’s elbow. I’m going to send back my MA in protest to that ice castle of a university, just as soon as I put down this megaphone.
Where were we? Ah. The pressure to write faster, write more. So here I was messaging my fellow narcissists and snowpeople, asking about the mounting pressure on authors to speed up. What came back to me tends to support my point about the dodgy way with which this idea is working its way through the community. It’s the mosquito in the shower. You catch a glimpse of it out of the corner of your eye. But you can’t stare at it head-on. You’ve got soap to think about. And yet, write more books and write them faster is buzzing around your ears.
Being an Angelino means any random movie might wind up with Ice Cube and Woody Harrelson arguing at the top of your street. — Carolyn Kellogg (@paperhaus) June 11, 2013
Here is Roz Morris in May 2012, in Writing fast, writing slow – and why one book a year suits hardly anyone:
I’ve been blogging about slow writing quite a lot. But slow isn’t the only way to write decent books. There are a lot of authors who turn in perhaps two or more a year (I once did four). If you’re writing in a well defined genre, your craft is well established and you know what you’re going to do with the ideas, it’s perfectly possible to whip your novel out in six months or faster. Especially if you’re writing a series.
Morris was just here at JaneFriedman.com yesterday with an excerpt from her new instructional book, Nail Your Novel: Bring Characters to Life. Friedman presented an excerpt, How to Identify and Remove Trivial Detail From Your Stories. Not that Ether readers would ever have a trivial detail in a story. In her earlier 2012 article, Morris had gone on to pick up something that’s now revving that buzzy concept around us. While the traditional, stately progress of an author in Old Publishing might have been something on the order of a book a year, our digital disruption (an energy of distribution, remember) has brought us binge entertainment. Which, for authors, Morris writes, means:
Readers don’t want to wait. They are used to gobbling their entertainment in the grip of a craze – they want all of Lost, right now. And these kinds of writers get more leverage the more titles they can offer. Publishers may be losing something if they can’t feed those fans right now. I know plenty of writers who find themselves hamstrung by this and turn to indie publishing in order to satisfy their fans and make the most of their productivity.
I’ve heard this recently from best-selling entrepreneurial authors including CJ Lyons and Hugh Howey of the Amazon Roundtable covered in this Ether installment. In an era of direct author-reader communication, the impatience of valued readers is in authors’ faces. Granted, having a big readership demanding more of your work isn’t the worst problem an author could have. But it can create a lot of market pressure on a creative routine. Outside self-publishing, much of the industry! the industry! isn’t yet accustomed to moving fast enough, such authors say, to satisfy an avid, well-cultivated community of fans.
Handling popular series, however, comes with a lot of questions. Elizabeth Spann Craig, cozy mystery series ace, has written Good Points and Downsides to Rapid Series Releasing and Studying Algorithms. Craig, whose mysteries are read in both traditionally published and self-published series, starts with some advantages of a “rapid release.” Think of the Netflix House of Cards all-episodes-at-once release as the model. Advantages, she lists:
(1) “New life for old series.” (2) “Writers can integrate a more natural storyline.” [Meaning that if readers don’t have to wait, then a cliffhanger may not be necessary at the end of each installment.] (3) “In some ways, books are better-suited to marathon consumption than television is…because of the manner in which books are shared with friends.” [Binge-viewing of TV series doesn’t do much for last-night’s-episode chatter at the water fountain, Craig is saying. But binge-reading can be done by book clubs or other groups simultaneously.]
Some disadvantages to rapid-release, Craig writes, include:
(1) What if your quickly-released series is a dud?…What if you write four or five books, release them in rapid fire or even simultaneously, and the books don’t resonate with readers?
(2) Quality control. If you turn off readers with one book, they’re unlikely to buy the next in the series.
(3) Stress and working with tough self-imposed deadlines. The need for real discipline…tough enough when we get them from a publisher. We have to really have some discipline and focus when we’re meeting our own deadlines and trying to write a string of books…whether we’re releasing them in rapid succession or not.
(4) How calculating and how completely bottom-line-focused can we be and retain a creative edge (and enjoyment in our process and writing)?…at what point are we sacrificing our own need for creative originality if we’re studying algorithms/data/sales, and writing/producing for a demanding consumer market?
We have more than one mosquito in the shower.
(1) Write fast to build inventory, whether in series or not.
(2) Write fast for fast-release, usually in series (as Craig is evaluating).
(3) Write fast because your best sales angle is having ever more books available.
One of the best proponents of that third point is James Scott Bell. And sure enough, when I made my tour-de-Twitter, looking for some of the back-issue blog postings I’d seen on the matter, he turned out to have an excellent catalog of helpful guidance on various points of writing fast and writing a lot: Cool Papa Writing: “Whether you’re an outliner, a seat-of-the-pantser, or anything in between, when you’re getting those first pages down, burn rubber.” Type Hard, Type Fast: “Fast does not mean hack work (it can, of course, but not necessarily). I’m not discussing the editing process, either. Concentrated effort is what I’m talking about.” How To Write a Novel in a Month (for NaNoWriMo 2012): “Make the very first day the most productive day of your writing life.” How To Work on More than One Book at a Time: “This is especially important in the new era of self-publishing. The winning indie formula is quality production over time. Upward direction is a function of producing new work, the best you can do, in various forms (short stories, novellas, novels, non-fiction). So work on more than one project at a time.” How to Make Money Self-Publishing Fiction: “Figure out what you can comfortably write per week, given your particular circumstances. It doesn’t matter the number, just find it. Then up that by 10% and divide into six days.” Bell’s latest instructional book has the brief title Fiction Attack! Insider Secrets for Writing and Selling Your Novels & Stories — For Self-Published and Traditional Authors. And when I check his author page at Amazon, I’m seeing 40 hits. This guy’s bench is deep. It’s so deep, and Bell is such a chipper soul—a real favorite of mine among colleagues—that I think it may not be in his character to dwell as much as some others might on the potentially darker sides of high-and-fast production. Bell never advocates quantity over quality. But he also knows a lot more about keeping the plates spinning than most of us. Back to Table of Contents
Recently Jane Friedman reminded me of The Self-Publishing Podcast that’s been riffing along for more than a year now (close to 60 shows, congratulations, guys). It features a trio of cheerfully unguarded speakers, good company for an hour. They always have that 4 p.m. sound, when everybody’s too tired to mind what he says or how he says it. Punchy and informative.
There’s Sean Platt and his serial co-writer of “dark, character-driven, edge-of-your-seat serialized thrillers with WTF cliffhanger endings” David Wright. They’re joined by author Johnny B. Truant. The trio of Platt, Wright, and Truant hosted a typically free-wheeling breeze-shooting edition of the show last month about work process and strategies.
Posted on May 9, this edition is No. SPP 054, titled Exploding Your Growth with Bestselling Author CJ Lyons. (She’s everywhere, is she not? Let that be a lesson to us.) At around 26 minutes in, these four good folks start talking about the speed at which they’re producing. I’m going to merge a few comments here for you for brevity:
(Lyons) Lately, with my New York City deadlines [for one of her traditional publishers], I’ve been given about three to four months to write a full-length thriller, which is about 90,000 to 100,000 words…I like to do what Stephen King calls a “fermenting draft”…stick it in a drawer for a good month or two and you come back to it as a reader with fresh eyes…but that takes so long and I just don’t have time anymore with my deadlines…(Truant) I would have loved to do that for Unicorn Western. I felt like I read it to close to it…(Platt) I totally agree. I think all of us would love to slow down enough to be able to ferment all of our stuff.
This podcast edition also has Platt’s interesting explanation of how he and Wright came to find their fast-turn work focused on “dark horror” and their plan to create a different “channel”—”because,” says Platt, “it would be better to be known as a storyteller than as a dark horror author.” It’s an interesting look at the kind of enforced niche experience that high-volume serialists can experience, never mind the pace.
In asking for your input on our topic today about the impact of mounting pressure for speed and output on authors, I want to return to a post I’ve mentioned before. It’s one of the most plaintive and probably predictive comments along these lines I’ve found so far.
I’m astonished by the schedule some of us are setting up for ourselves—doubling the word counts every day, adding to the number of books published each year. I get it—I am doing the same thing—but in the back of my brain, I keep hearing the foghorn warning of — Burnout. Working writers are under a lot of pressure these days to produce, keep producing, produce more—and also keep up with their blogs(s), Tweet, post to Facebook, maintain a mailing list and newsletter, and show up at any writer’s conference that asks, because you can’t miss a single sale. It’s exhausting to even write it all down. It’s exhausting for the girls in the basement, or the muses, who cannot be whipped into producing and producing and producing without some consequences.
And what finally brought me to this whole issue this week was author Nathan Bransford’s short post on Monday, When It Feels Like You’re Never Doing Enough. In my usual way (snowy narcisissm to the Michiganders), I tweeted just his first line:
I very rarely go to bed feeling like I’ve done enough in a day.
I’m still getting retweets of that line with a “yup” or “yes” or “me, too” attached. I get them from folks I don’t know. Sometimes I get them from folks I do know, including our good colleague and author Chris Guillebeau. Yes, Guillebeau, known for making it all work, is feeling this. That’s significant. To quote the old bomb squad T-shirt, if you see this guy running? Try to keep up.
In the train restaurant, 90 min. delay: Couple of Russians drunk, Germans showing pics of their cars to irritated Brasillians. Dark outside. — Sebastian Posth (@sposth) June 10, 2013
So as I hand off to you, I want to give Bransford a little length here. Cameo Tweeting abatement time. (“Clear!”)
Slow down and really read this. Watch him parse the emotional and spiritual exhaustion many are battling in this new shakeout, the struggle for hyper-performance both in creativity and productivity:
I feel guilty after a weekend where I didn’t get enough done. It frustrates me how long it takes to write a novel. (Or, ahem, a guide to writing a novel. Almost done, swear!).
It never feels like there are enough hours in the day, or days in the weeks, or weeks in the months, or months in the year. Time slips away, and with it a chance to accomplish something or edge closer to your dream.
Social media only adds to the pressure. People are completing novels and making New York Times bestseller lists and curing cancer while juggling on a unicycle and it all looks so effortless and who needs sleep anyway??
…When you try to do too much, you risk your enjoyment of what you’re doing. Burn yourself out trying to write your novel and you may never finish.
Look, the business exigencies are simply there: more books, more sales. None of us can argue with that. But sprung from the restraints of Old Publishing’s bovine pace, is the mad dash into burnout all we have to offer entrepreneurial authors?
Lyons, Howey, their #Indie6 colleagues and cohorts—I love what these guys are teaching us as their careers catch fire and throw off new light for everybody else. But these may be personalities particularly suited to multi-channeled creativity and luge-track speeds in Michigan.
Meanwhile, in the homes of the brave, Bransford’s post may be the mosquito finally at the center of the target. Put down the soap for a minute and help us suss out a practical response here.
Remember the early XM Radio slogan? “Everything. All The Time.” Are we really going to be able to sustain this?
— DonLinn (@DonLinn) June 12, 2013
Most men (apparently) don't read books by women, so if you really want to annoy your Father, buy him a novel by a woman this Father's Day.
— jonny geller (@jonnygeller) June 12, 2013
Main image: iStockphoto – GrafficX
Porter Anderson (@Porter_Anderson) is a journalist and consultant in publishing. He’s The Bookseller’s (London) Associate Editor in charge of The FutureBook. He’s a featured writer with Thought Catalog (New York), which carries his reports, commentary, and frequent Music for Writers interviews with composers and musicians. And he’s a regular contributor of “Provocations in Publishing” with Writer Unboxed. Through his consultancy, Porter Anderson Media, Porter covers, programs, and speaks at publishing conferences and other events in Europe and the US, and works with various players in publishing, such as Library Journal’s SELF-e, Frankfurt Book Fair’s Business Club, and authors. You can follow his editorial output at Porter Anderson Media, and via this RSS link.