Speed Writing: E-Publishing Demands Prolific Writers

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As some of you may have heard by now, Carlos Fuentes (pictured above), Latin American literary giant, passed away yesterday of an apparent heart attack.  If there is one legacy that Fuentes leaves behind is his prolific writing career.  The man was a machine.  He would finish a novel and then start on another writing project immediately.

I read an article today in the Christian Science Monitor which posited that the e-reader market has caused writers to basically pull a double shift because of demand.  James Patterson published 12 novels this year alone and is churning out even more short stories and Kindle Singles for the growing e-reader market. “[T]he e-book age has accelerated the metabolism of book publishing,” Julie Bosman writes for the New York Times. “Authors are now pulling the literary equivalent of a double shift, churning out short stories, novellas or even an extra full-length book each year.”

What does this mean for we self-publishing novelists?  It means that in order to say ahead of the roar of other writers who may publish one book per year, we should probably be writing little short stories, poetry collections, or serialized novels in order to get more of our writing in front of readers.

I have a few thoughts on this subject that merit discussion:

1.  The Day Job – People who have to work to make ends meet (in my case, sometimes the ends don’t meet) must sacrifice evenings and weekends to write a novel and often shun family and friends to produce good work.  Will the e-publishing industry be led by those who are either independently wealthy or are supported by a spouse?  If I had all day to sit around and blog, promote my book and write my novel, I could probably turn out more than one novel a year.

2.  Quality over Quantity – Even if I were independently wealthy and sat around all day writing, not all the prose I write is the best I am capable of writing.  Sometimes my ideas are not good ideas.  Sometimes I write 1000 words of garbage.  Even if people like James Patterson can turn out best selling work it doesn’t mean it is any good (Stephanie Meyer comes to mind). I have to admit I haven’t read any of Patterson’s work, but apparently its popular enough to merit 12 books.  I know people who read Patterson and love his work. Patterson will release 7 books in the next five months and doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon.  Read this interview with him where he shares how he pulls off being the most prolific writer of our time.

3.  Stress – I like having my own deadlines as a self-publisher.  I do not set them so that I can laze around and give myself extra time like some high school student too busy texting to do his work.  I stick to my deadlines so that I can set and reach personal goals.  I also have friends who keep me accountable.  I have enough drive to get novels finished, but I would be stressed out trying to get 12 novels done in a year.  I know that some people are taking the 12 novels challenge this year, and I applaud you, but I know too that this is not for me.  I would rather focus on one novel at a time and produce my best work by carefully crafting the prose…then revising those carefully crafted prose…and revising again.

How about you, dear novelist reader?  Could you churn out 12 novels in a year and be proud of what you wrote?  Do you think that all of this e-book nonsense will calm down and the good work will rise to the top?  Are you a reader of James Patterson and want to sound off about his work? Does writing like a Victorian produce good writing?  Post here if you have comments.  I always love to hear from you.

Published by Roger Colby, Novelist, Editor

Roger Colby is a novelist and teacher who has taught English for nearly two decades. He is also an avid reader of science fiction who feels, like many other sci-fi readers, that he has read everything. He writes science fiction for the reader who is looking for the next best thing, something to excite them into reading again. This blog is his journey as a writer and his musings about writing. He also edits manuscripts for a fee and is an expert at helping you reach your full potential as a writer.

16 thoughts on “Speed Writing: E-Publishing Demands Prolific Writers

  1. 12 novels a year is just nuts. People do it but I have difficulty believing that those novels are if the quality they should be for publication.
    Probably because I know I can’t write that fast and produce my best work (this from the woman who can clock 8k words in a half day if she needs to).
    Main problem for me is finding the time to di that much writing. New babies and fatigue are getting in the way of even my 800 words a day right now. There’s no way I could do what equates to NaNoWriMo every month.

  2. I know I’m capable of 1 a year (as I’ve done it) a d could possibly do 2, but 12!!!!! LMAO

    No way!

    The thing that gets me about Patterson is that he has a team of writers…oh, if only we all had that! Lol


  3. No way could I produce 12 in one year! I’m pretty sure JP had help on that! I can understand what Renee says because I’ve found that myself too often with self published books. I learned A LOT from Indy-publishing my first novel. For the second printing I paid a qualified editor to go over the book and I learned more from that than I have from any class I ever took. If I’m not progressing in my craft I’ll never make my goals.

  4. I wonder, though, is Patterson writing all of each and every book, or is it like some of the old pulp factories, outline and characters and the ideas are his, someone else puts the meat of the bones as it were. I will admit, I haven’t read any of his works, so maybe I don’t what I’m talking about. (Wouldn’t be the first, probably won’t time). I think sometimes a writer stays a best selling writer just because at one time he/she/they were good enough at one time their work merited being a best selling writer. People buy their books because “everyone buys (but maybe not always reads)his/her/their books.” Then, of course, there are one person word factories, but there is an almost drop off in quality as the tomes pile up. But maybe being a best selling novelist with gobs of money and whose every work is adapted into multimillion dollar movies is enough….I guess I can’t knock it if I havent tried it. But I do wonder, how the hell does someone write that much…my fulltime job, as much as I like it, does interfer with my writing time (so doesn’t being lazy for part of every night, but still…)

  5. I couldn’t produce 12 novels in one year, even if I wanted to try. And, in my opinion, the quality of Patterson’s body of work ha declined over time. I certainly believe an aspiring author needs to produce high quality work at least until they develop the type of following that can support quantity over quality.

  6. I’m finding myself grateful for the years I was looking for a publisher. It gave me time to get a body of work together that just needs polishing and marketing. (Of course I also have a lot of half finished – and never will be finished – stories too.)

  7. The reader has also changed, and they demand books quicker than once a year… that is why cries of ‘book factories’ are always talked about, with ‘prolific’ writers being accused of having a staff of ghostwriters for their books and they are able to churn out 12 a year.

    Anytime I release a new product there’s always that impatient reader who will say, ‘read it, liked it, next’… the positive to that is more people seem to be reading and you can’t argue eBook and e-reader sales.

    I do this for a living, but think I’m writing my best work now because I get into my daily groove of writing and don’t worry about when I can get back to a story… but if I were still working 60 hours a week? No idea how I’d keep up…

    Armand Rosamilia

  8. I’ve only read a few James Patterson novels, but I found them disappointing, with tacked on dramatic endings and suspense that is usually dismissed by the main characters having had a plan that the reader was never told about. If he can publish that much and have people love it, then awesome for him. I think one book a year is a good pace, with a few short stories thrown in. It keeps your name out there, keeps you working (and shows your dedication), and keeps some money flowing in (although it may still not be enough to live off of). Great post!

  9. Roger,
    I think at different times of my life I have the opportunity to write more. I think a lot of people who do write could turn out twelve novels a year, but I think there is a reason Stephanie Meyer and James Patterson may be forgotten one day. There is a reason a single book rises above the stream of other literature after time passes and rests in the annals of the classics.

    For me, I think it comes down to motivation. Do I want to take the time to speak to a generation through a novel or do I want to try to throw a ton of books out there in hopes of making a lot of money? Any writer would like to write for a living if not they are kidding themselves. But, there is also something else that lies within us – the desire for our book to sit next to Dickens or Tolstoy and gather dust with the greats.

    Great post. Thanks!

  10. The media exaggerate anything that will get people talking. There have always been hacks. There will always be hacks. The appetite for trash is endless, but nobody is compelled to write trash. There’s always room for good writing. On the other hand, writing one book every year or two, has never worked for anyone, unless they happened to hit gold and become a “name.”

  11. So far, I’m unimpressed with the ebook market. Unless a book is from a reputable publisher, and Patterson’s are, then I have found the quality of writing dreadful. Them multiple typeOs, not to mention grammar mistakes, are frankly insulting. A friend recently got her first book published by a ebook publisher and I fear she was taken for a ride. Sadly, there were 12 typeOs in the first release. The first word of the first sentence of the beginning of chapter 4 was wrong. The e-publisher also left out an integral word in the last sentence of the book. To make matters worse, though the book was a great first attempt, it was terrible. The voice was flat, the tension was lacking and the characters annoying. If she had an agent and a decent publisher, they could have helped her whip the book into shape. And never released it with 12 typeOs.
    Patterson is a prolific writer because an agent and publisher saw his potential and helped him hone his skills. (I personally think his writing is awful – but obviously others don’t. He sells).
    I have learned from my friends unfortunate experience, there is a benefit to the traditional publishing route. I am happy to pay more for an ebook that I know has been vetted and a decent editor has gone over the work to give me a relatively decent read.

    1. Renee–

      To be fair, I’d say the quality of copy editing has declined in traditional publishing as well, and some of the issues you cite with epub formats are the fault of bad file type conversions…but yes, where are the eyes on the final product? Is there now an expectation of this sort of sloppy production value? I know I wince when I see it happen, or sometimes snicker…reading some of Christopher Moore’s vampire humor stuff on an e-reader, the number of times I ran into a woman’s “pan ties” was amusing. To a point.

      1. Gosh, Jeff, I have yet to find even 1/4 of the mistakes in traditional published books that I find in self pubbed books. Yeah, the industry is in a flux and there isn’t the same diligence as in the past, but heck, the 1st word of the 1st sentence of a chapter? I’d say that’s beyond an oversight and simply sloppy, shoddy work, not a bad file conversion. It makes me sad, because I’m finding some good reads out there and I feel sad for these authors. All it takes is one reviewer to point out the number of typeOs and the sales dive. It might be worth paying a fee to the big ebook retailers to have a bank of copy editors to review self pubbed ebooks. Or, out of work copy editors could form a cooperative and advertise their services. I would envision a sort of stamp of approval banner or something similar that would be prominent on ebook pages. Then, the reader could concentrate on the story and not the typeOs. I know I would pay more for an ebook that I knew met some sort of editing standard.

      2. If we’re talking self-pubbed ebooks only, that changes the equation. I was thinking mostly of the small press ebook market, since that’s the segment I’ve had a little experience with (Untreed Reads).

        Straight-out self-pubbing is the Wild, Wild West for buyer and seller alike. Having some sort of Editorial Stamp of Approval would be a step away from that, and it would make a difference to some people…so long as it didn’t cost any more at the point of sale. Sad as it is to say, I think a lot of readers accept subpar product so long as it’s cheap or free.

      3. You’re right! Some readers are going for cheap or free and therefore accepting substandard. It is a shame. There is an expectation that if something is on the internet it should be ‘free.’ The result will be ‘dumbed down readers’ and a divide between the educated and not-so-educated will widen.

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