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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Can You Write Too Much?

A week ago, I was at a luncheon when one of the readers present said she would not read a book from an author who wrote more than one book every year or two. Her reason: if they write books too quickly, how good can it really be?

I had never heard this theory before and it led to some thoughts on authors who have multiple books released in the same year:

Acceptance and Production Takes Time

Janet Evanovich says it took more than ten years for her first book to be accepted by a publisher. During that time, she continued to write. So when that first book was accepted, she had several more to submit - and since it was a series, it meant there were multiple books in the pipeline at the same time. If several were released in the same year, does it mean she wrote them all in the same timeframe? Absolutely not.

Practice Makes Perfect

To say that Robert B. Parker and Gore Vidal were prolific writers is an understatement. Both of them could write quickly - and well. If a person is working a full-time job and juggling family commitments, they might be able to write only an hour or two each week. But if a person is writing full-time with the same commitment as an "outside" job, they could easily work for 40 hours a week or more. I routinely work 60 hours a week; while it's not all writing (some time must be devoted to the other duties of an author, such as marketing and promotion and this blog) I do write for several hours every day, six days a week and often seven. The process of constantly writing makes writing easier and faster.

The Genre Matters

What an author writes also dictates how much time is required. Non-fiction requires fact-checking. Historical or biographical work could require interviews, trips to the exact locations where action took place, and a great deal of research. Each of my historical work (Songbirds are Free and River Passage) took two years to research and for each hour I wrote, it took an additional 3-4 hours (and often more) during the writing process.

A cozy might take place in a small town with a few fictional characters and a local crime - requiring very little if any research. I've read romances that take place in villages with three or four settings at most.

Word Count

Word count is often dictated by the genre. If an author is writing a mystery like Robert B. Parker's books or a western like Louis L'Amour's, the word count could be as low as 65,000 characters. Compare that to Gone With the Wind, War and Peace or a Stephen King novel - and the latter books could each equal 3 to 6 of the smaller ones.

The Team Behind the Author

I know of only one or two bestselling authors who can write their first draft and it's 99% ready to publish. The rest of us need an editorial team to make our work shine. Mine consists of a team: a content editor (whose function is to comment on the book in more general terms), technical editors (those who check for accuracy) and a micro-editor or line editor (who goes through each and every line and scene with a fine-toothed comb.) I am usually making changes to one book while writing the next one.

And Then There's Franchising...

For best-selling authors the public is clamoring for, there is a lot of pressure to produce, produce, produce. Some of these turn to other authors for help. Tom Clancy lists the co-author on his cover; James Patterson always acknowledges his co-authors. Other authors prefer to use ghost writers and never reveal that someone else actually wrote the book - although readers are often stumped by the dramatic change in style from one book to the next. I know of one best-selling author who uses a team to write each book; then she puts it together like pieces of a puzzle.

What do you think? Can a writer produce too many books, too quickly?