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.

Friday, May 11, 2012


The township where I live just passed an ordinance against the raising of chickens in residential areas. This is in a community of about 8,000 people, of whom perhaps a dozen still have chickens. When I was a boy (and, no, that wasn’t in the dark ages) nearly every household in this village and throughout the township had a vegetable garden and many, many had chickens. At various times, my father had chickens and ducks and, at one time, turkeys. Nearly every family had at least one dog or cat. One neighbor raised goats. The son of the family next to us had a penchant for wild animals and was always bringing home raccoon, opossum, turtles, snakes and assorted other critters. There was a slaughterhouse up the road and we’d often hear the squeal or bellow of a hapless animal being led to its fate. Occasionally, a hog or a steer would break out and make a dash for freedom. There may have been, but I don’t remember complaints about sounds or odors. If you raise animals—no matter how careful or clean you may be—there are going to be associated noises and scents to deal with. It’s a natural derivative and cost for the rewards. That’s why it always amused me when people started building houses in the country and complained because they smelled manure. I’m not writing this because I approve or disapprove of raising chickens in a residential area. I’m simply stating a fact—things change. As my character Flora Vastine put it in Being Someone Else, “Nothing ever stays the same. For good or bad, life deals us changes and it’s up to us to accept the challenge or consequences.” So what does this have to do with writing, you might ask? We’re witnessing a revolution right now in the world of publishing. Those changes in the way things are done, in how writing is produced and distributed are going to impact all of us, whether we like it or not. So what do we do? We’ve got to study how we can make those changes work for us rather than against us. We’ve got to stop complaining about the odor and seek out the rewards. Instead of fighting just for a place in the market we should be looking to exploit it by creating new markets. I’m not sure exactly how to accomplish this. But I think we begin by studying, being open to new ideas, working with other people and not fearing change. Let’s raise some new chickens.