First, I want to say that I was fortunate enough to meet Samuel Park in person when he read from his debut novel This Burns My Heart here in San Francisco tonight. I was so drawn in by the story and his dialogue that I bought THREE copies–all at full hardcover price. So if you’re looking for a great summer read, buy his book!
Next, I want to share a discussion I had with Roni Loren last week on her blog. Roni’s post “How Fast Do You Have To Write To Build a Successful Literary Career” struck a nerve with me. She stated that although the standard expectation of writers for decades has been to write one book a year, today writers are expected to write faster. In order to create her backlist and quit her day job, she said, “I KNOW I have got to be able to write more than 1-2 books a year.” She mentioned that romance author Maya Banks writes 8-10 books a year and that proof that her quality hasn’t suffered is that she hit the New York Times bestseller list last year.
In May, I wrote a post about social media books in which I quoted a story told by Robert Kiyosaki in Rich Dad, Poor Dad, a personal finance book I’m sure you’ve heard of. Kiyosaki told a reporter who had had trouble getting her novel published that she should take a marketing class. When the reporter appeared taken aback, Kiyosaki pointed out that the cover of his book read “bestselling author,” not “bestwriting author.” I used that anecdote to illustrate the importance of social media marketing. What I didn’t mention is that the best-writing part is equally as important. ONCE you’ve written your book as best you can, THEN you should worry about selling it and marketing it, but not at the expense of the quality of the writing. And just because a book hits a bestseller list, does not mean it is well written. It means that it has sold a lot of copies, for whatever reason. (Think of all the blockbuster movies that make gazillions of dollars but get terrible reviews.)
IF you are lucky enough to be one of those authors who can truly crank out two great books a year without letting the quality of your writing suffer, go for it. I am not one of those people. The first draft of my memoir was 520 pages, and I’ve spent the past four years revising it and editing it down. I’ve never heard that there is any expectation for writers to write more than a book a year. Most published authors I know spend 3-4 years on a book. (Samuel Park spent 3 years 9 mos on his). Roni’s rationale behind writing 2+ books per year is that she needs to create a backlist in order to make enough money from her writing to quit her day job.
The argument for a backlist is a good one. (The point being that if someone reads and likes one of your books, he can go out and buy the others.) It’s an argument to stop being so anal about your first book being a super-mega-bestseller and just GET IT OUT THERE because if people like your second book, they’ll go back and buy your first. That happened to Alice Siebold. After the runaway success of The Lovely Bones, people went out and bought her earlier memoir, Lucky, which hadn’t met great success when it was first published.
But why does a backlist have to be developed in six months? What’s wrong with publishing a book every two or three years? You’ll still create a backlist, just a little slower. Like slow blogging. If you blog once a week, you’ll still build a following, just a little slower. My argument that I’d rather see authors take time to write a really good book than to rush them to publication was countered with many comments by people arguing that more time writing does not necessarily equal a better book. Of course it doesn’t in all cases. But I bet if you piled all the books that took less than one year to write on the left side of a table and all the books that took more than one year to write on the right side, well, first the table would tip over. But I bet you’d see a greater number of high quality books—regardless of genre—on the right side. Now, there will be some great books on the left side. Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 in nine days. There will be YA books and novellas that took little time because they are short. There will be books by experienced writers who have so much practice writing that they truly can crank out a good book in less than a year.
But I hope everyone doesn’t get into a two+ books a year frenzy. There are many ways to make a living as a writer. You can publish your books and earn money from your backlist, but you can also teach, edit, consult, speak, and publish shorter pieces like book reviews and magazine articles.
I think it’s wonderful that Roni is so motivated and that she has a clear goal for herself in mind. I think it’s wonderful that writers are mastering social media and how to market their work. But I think it’s even more wonderful when someone spends four years—or three years and nine months—on a book to create a truly wonderful book that will enlighten and entertain his or her readers.