The Punishing Publishing Schedule
I’ve heard some lamenting by readers of late that they wished authors would take more time crafting their works. I’ve actually heard the same lament from some industry folks as well. I’m not sure who first started the two books a year release schedule. I think in the 80s a reader waited a year in between releases. While anxious for more from our favorite authors, we didn’t begin to expect more production until the more recently.
Authors like Nora Roberts and Suzanne Brockmann were actually the only authors I can recall who had more than one book released a year and it seemed to me that didn’t start until sometime in late 90s, early 2000. Authors like Jane Feather, Julie Garwood, Judith McNaught had one year between releases. Some authors, like McNaught, had trouble keeping up with that schedule.
There was an article in the Boston Globe (thanks Jill F and Rebecca for the link) in which big name writers felt the pressure of producing even one book a year. Authors like Dennis Lehane and Brad Meltzer refused to do so because it takes more time for them to craft their novels. The norm now, it seems, is for authors to produce at least two books a year. It is uncertain the genesis of the pressure to produce because the publisher and agent would say it is from the readers and while the reader always wants more, it doesn’t mean she isn’t willing to wait either.
At the Nathan Bransford Literary Agent site, he put forth the question to his readership. (I found this link via Google so I wonder if we were both inspired by the Boston.com article or whether there is some correlation readers of all ilks are seeing in the increased releases and possible decline in quality). Many reader professed that they were willing to wait for a good book.
The pressure to publish rapidly is sometimes self inflicted. An author wants to write for a living but because the average book advance is only $5,000 (or let’s be generous and say $10,000), one book a year will not cut it. Even two books a year barely provides an income that is above the poverty level (assuming that the advance is some amount greater than $5,000 per book). Thus in order to quit one’s job and “write for a living”, today’s new writers and those in the midlist, likely have to write two books a year. When a contract is sold to an author, it is usually done for a two or three book deal, but it is also generally the case that the author sets her deadlines or how far apart she believes her deadlines should be.
The closer the deadlines are to each other, obviously, the less time there will be for editing and revisions. Most authors suffer the sophomore slump in which the second book doesn’t live up to the first book release. Part of this, I attribute to the fact that authors often spend years polishing that first sold manuscript and then have to whip up another one in three to six months.
Yet, a contrary view was provided by a commenter at the Bradford site who said that waiting too long might have detrimental consequences for both a reader and a writer because “if you wait to long you loose something, a feeling, an idea, emotions, or even parts of the plot.”
I’ve heard tell that authors sometimes write their books in under two months. One author, Shirley Jump, blogged a year or so ago that she wrote 12 books in one year. I thought that was a terrifying statistic and the post didn’t inspire me to pick up even one book of Jump’s. Rightly or wrongly, I questioned how great a book could be written in one month.
This isn’t to say that some people aren’t naturally prolific. As one anonymous commenter at the Bradford site said “Some people can run a mile in 4 minutes. Some can do it in 12. Others can’t run a mile at all. ”
Personally, I would rather have a book a year with each book being the best that the writer can produce after having a year to contemplate the work than having a new book every six months and having quality suffer. But selfishly, I recognize that if more than a year passes, my desire or hunger to read more might wane. Lengthy absences can hurt word of mouth buzz, particularly for a new author. And, frankly, I love the back to back releases. It has certainly worked for Ballantine and Bantam.
So, how long would you be willing to wait as a reader between releases? Would you rather wait a longer period of time if it meant you’d get a better book? Do you have positive or negative associations with authors who release many books in one publishing year? Do you like the back to back releases? Do they inhibit the build of publicity buzz?