Saturday, May 19, 2012

Who's Afraid of the Prolific Writer?

I was amused by a recent New York Times article about mainline publishers urging genre writers to produce more than one book a year. The article told how publishers were desperately seeking to hold onto readers beguiled by other forms of entertainment and how the Internet was making readers demand faster output. Way down in the article it noted some authors are so productive they're difficult to match, giving as an example James Patterson who last year published 12 novels. (They failed to mention he rarely produces anything more than an outline these days, relying on a stable of co-writers to do the actual writing.) For God's sake, have these people forgotten about John Creasey, George Simenon, Isaac Asimov, Alexandre Dumas pere, and a dozen more I could name off the top of my head who were never content with a one book a year limit? Simenon created more than 300 novels in 20 years, churning out 60-80 pages a day. Creasey produced more than 600 under a dozen pseudonyms. Naturally, not all of these were destined to be Nobel Prize contenders--though Simenon was capable of being what is termed a literary writer. And consider Joyce Carol Oates, whose production stands at 100 books in a mere 45 years. The woman is definitely not to be considered a hack. Any writer is capable of being prolific, given opportunity, time and incentive. Many of those who made it to the top tier of fame and fortune in the past either didn't need the money or additional reward and/or were constrained by their publishers who expressed ill-founded fears of saturating the market. In my prejudiced opinion the market for MORE, not less books by popular writers always has been hot. Can you imagine any fan of Dickens shying from reading more than one of his books in a year? We needn't go that far back. Take, as an example, Stephen King. Despite a hefty bibliography, his fans clamor for more. No, it isn't lack of product has big publishers afraid. It's the new breed of small publishers who are willing to work and share the profits with their writers. It's the legion of writers now capable of publishing on their own without having to kowtow to a middleman who hogs the bulk of the profit. And it's new markets like Amazon which allow both the small publisher and the individual writer to take a chance on books which never got past the first reader (usually a smart-ass kid just out of college)in the old system.

15 comments:

  1. Good list of the prolific.
    I pretty much agree with you.
    I also think the NYT produces articles like this for the controversy...Newspapers are in trouble, too, and, like the TV news, need to spark some pro/con copy to keep the audience engaged.

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    1. Could be, Kae. Newspapers have to do whatever they can to draw readers these days.

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  2. Much food for thought John. Thank you for that.

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  3. Interesting points, John. I still don't see how most writers can find the time to be super-prolific. A writer who publishes independently (and writers published by the major leagues, too), has to spend a lot of time, energy, and money selling and promoting his or her books, and that eats into the writing time. Then there's the problem of making a living. Unless your books are selling like gangbusters, you need another source of income. I wish I could write full time, but it's not working out that way.

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    1. Can you imagine the strain of writing 60 to 80 pages a day--and having them be good ones? Simenon and Asimov had to have been machines.

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  4. I agree with Kae. Articles like the one you mentioned are just a newspaper's way of creating their own buzz, much the same as we small press writers seek to create interest in our books.
    I've been told that, when writing a series, an author should strive to produce a new book every 6-9 months, especially early on in the series. Not an easy task - as John wrote - but it makes perfect sense to me.

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  5. Good comment. The problem is not prolific writers or the quality of their work; it is that modern technology has enabled Everyman to write novels, so there are a million titles on Kindle, and most of them of dubious quality. Content buyers grow wary.

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    1. Right. Many are of dubious quality. But at least they put the effort into it and it's up to the readers to sort them out.

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  6. This is a great point you're making, John. Without the middleman, writers can both take more chances and produce more work. I don't know if I could take the stress of writing that much. Sooner or later, ramping up production would turn something fun into something like work. I want to stay shy of that point.

    William Doonan
    www.themummiesofblogspace9.com

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    1. I agree about wanting it to stay fun.

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  7. When I read a book and know I want to read more by that author, I go right out and look for more books. If there aren't any, sometimes I forget who the author was. Multiple books a year keeps your name in front of the public and doesn't give them a chance to forget you.

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    1. Exactly, Marja. Thank you all for commenting.

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  8. I love your thoughts on this topic, John, and the examples you cite. James Patterson, of course, with his team of prolific writing elves.

    Then Simenon who, as I know it, would check into a hotel and not leave until the book was written (a week? a weekend?) He is known to have had bedded 10,000 women in his lifetime, a self-proclaimed sex addict. Where did he find the time to write? Of course, he didn't have a cell phone or the Internet -- but jeez!

    We do have the small publishers and Amazon today, and I'm thankful for that. Great blog.

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