Monday, June 16, 2008

How Many Books Can You Write in a Year?

It’s an oft-proven truism that times change. Very little stays the same. Sometimes people like the change, sometimes they don’t.

I think that’s true in writing. One thing that seems to be changing, whether you like it or not, is that authors are being expected to write multiple books per year. Some authors seem to have no problem with that. Others balk.

I don’t necessarily count James Patterson as one of those putting out multiple books per year. That’s because, despite his name being on many books, now he seems mostly to plot the book, writing what he has said is a 50-page outline, then turning that over to other writers. But there are writers who seem to thrive on many projects. I cite Diane Fanning as an example. She writes true crime, mystery, updates on her true crimes, and more, all within the same year, sometimes juggling multiple projects simultaneously.

And there are some writers who say, no way. Dennis Lehane has said that he not only won’t do more than one book a year, he’s not even going to be pressured into doing one a year.

Few authors can stand up to the pressure, though. Publishers are pressing for one a year. According to the Boston Globe, Matthew Shear, publisher of St. Martin’s Press, put the screws to Michael Palmer who had been writing a medical thriller every two or three years:
"I told him, 'I'm a big fan, but in this competitive market, I need a book a year. If you do that, I can increase your sales...'"

There’s also pressure from booksellers:
Retailers are also in a funk. First-quarter sales slumped by a combined 0.3 percent at Barnes & Noble, Borders, and Books-A-Million, the nation's biggest booksellers. One result is more pressure on authors to gin up bigger and more frequent blockbusters.

Some authors can keep up with the fast pace. Robert B. Parker (Spenser detective series) publishes four books a year in several different series. Allison Brennan has published eight suspense/romance novels in the past two and a half years.

On the other hand, thriller writer Brad Meltzer says:
"Every time you get a bunch of writers together, this is all they complain about. The trend is, 'How many books can you put out?' From building your reputation to get on the best-seller list, it's gone to trying to get to the tippy-top of the list. It's not worth it to me."

Will those who can’t produce multiple books per year get left behind in sales? What about you? How many books do you write each year?


  1. I read that article, too, and saw caving into that kind of pressure to be nothing short of lunacy.

    We write at our own speeds. James Joyce took years and years to write each book. Others can write a book every couple of months.

    But that decision doesn't belong with the publisher. Let's face it, most of those who are being pressured really do have the power to tell the publisher to jump in the lake because they won't have any problems finding another publisher.

    The tail doesn't need to be permitted to wag the dog on this question.


  2. Thanks Malcolm. I think sometimes authors "give in" not just because of pressure from the publisher but also pressure they apply on themselves. They're convinced that to become a bestselling author (and an author with a long tail) they must have books coming out at a fast pace so that readers won't forget about them.

    But if you're the kind of author who can't produce two books a year or work simultaneously on different projects, then pushing yourself to do so may hurt your writing and thus hurt your sales and thus ... you lose those readers you were aiming to keep on board.


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