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Blast from the Past: Ooh, Look, More Advice

The clipper Thermopylae

Amanda is all tied up this morning. Er, not literally. At least, I hope not! This post from 2015 still rings true, so I’m bringing it forward in time to share again until she escapes her current predicament.

Yesterday, on one of my few forays onto Facebook, I saw several authors debating the so-called wisdom of an article posted in the Huffington Post. The article is basically a warning for self-published authors not to write four books a year.

Yep, you read that correctly. The headline for the article implores indie authors not to write — not publish — but write four books a year.

Oh, there is a qualifier. The author of the article says, “Unless they’re four gorgeously written, painstakingly molded, amazingly rendered and undeniably memorable books.” Hmm, could the author be talking about literature? Then I found myself wondering if she had read many traditionally published books recently. I have and most of them, the vast majority of them, do not come anywhere close to meeting this standard and these authors aren’t writing four books a year. Could it be that they need to slow down as well?

But let’s continue and see what else the author has to say.

If you can pull off four of those a year, more power to you. But most can’t. I’d go so far as to say no one can, the qualifier being good books.

So, according to the author, no one can write four good books in a year. Note here, she does not qualify it as an indie author can’t write four good books in a year but a traditionally published author can. So, by this comment, it is probably safe to say that the article’s author doesn’t think Nora Roberts or James Patterson or any number of other traditionally published authors are good authors because they write at least four books a year.

Let’s see, she thinks there is a glut of books in the marketplace already — gee, then why are indie and small press books taking more and more of the market if it is in a glut — and many of those books are dreck. Wow, let’s insult not only the authors but the readers as well. Why am I starting to feel like there is college literature lecture about to begin.

It involves learned skills, unhurried imagination, fastidious drafting, diligent editing, even the time to step away, then step back, to go over it all again. And, unless you’re a hack (and we know there are plenty of those out there), isn’t the whole point of this exercise to write good books?

Okay, I agree writing involves learned skills. But unhurried imagination? Someone tell my imagination that. As for the fastidious drafting, I have visions of someone sitting at their desk, the Oxford Unabridged Dictionary at hand, pondering over every word they write instead of worrying about the flow of the prose. Yes, you need to use the right word in the right context (oops, that should be correct. Bad me) but you also have to worry about the flow. If your prose is so stuffy that you bore your reader, you aren’t doing your job.

Oooh, reading the next paragraph proves I was correct above when I wondered if the author of the post was talking literature. She is. She praises the work of Donna Tarrt who took 11 years to deliver her Pulitzer Prize winning work, The Goldfinch. There is mention of Anthony Doerr and Harper Lee.

Now, the author tries to turn it around and make the working author seem less of a real “author” or “artist” than the literary giants of our time. She asks such questions as Why are you here, what is your purpose, your goal as a writer? What do you hope to achieve? Is it fame and fortune at any cost, quality be damned? Or is it about finely crafted work?

And therein lies my issue with this article and the author. She assumes that quality only comes with the length of time it takes to write a book. There is a very definite snob factor in her article. You can almost see her sneering down her nose at the working author. Also note that, up to this point, the only time she has mentioned self-published authors is in the headline. Now, she does get back to them later. However, everything she has said so far could be applied to traditionally published authors as well.

If you want nothing but literary works.

Her issue comes from something she read from — gasp — a self-published author. This interloper dared say that you should write and publish a lot. Our article’s author hates that advice. She hates the publishing a lot and she hates that it was the first piece of advice given. Sorry, but it is good advice. Maybe not the four books a year — not everyone can do that. But the more work you have out there, the more likely it is that you will find someone to read it and they will, in turn, tell someone else about it and your sales will begin to grown.

So here we start getting to the nitty gritty of the article. It seems our author has self-published a book that took her years and years to write. In her own words, she wanted it to be “a work of art, a book of depth and merit, one that would not only tell a compelling story but would meet standards of publishing that authors of the highest regard are held to.” Okay. That’s a great goal. Now here’s the catch, she chose to self-publish when the book had been finished and not picked up by a traditional publisher. Hmm, so she disses indie authors even though she is one.

Let’s keep reading.

According to her, by self-publishing, we are in the “second-tier club”. You see, in her wisdom, she views traditional publishing as the first tier, the better tier, and indie publishing as the snake oil salesmen of the publishing world. We write too fast, we don’t care about quality, we sell too cheaply. I could go on but I’ll let you read the post for yourself. Oh, one last thing, unless we do it her way, any awards, sales rankings, monies made aren’t done the right way because we didn’t sell our creative soul in the process.

Well, that’s all well and good but I’m a working novelist. I write fast — usually — and I write for my reader. My reward is seeing them read and enjoy my work. I don’t sip from the cup of traditional publishing (Baen excluded) that would have us believe that publishing lives and dies only with the traditional houses. I see what makes the best seller lists and I know what the profit statements say. So, for me, I’ll continue to be a hack. I will write and continue to work on my craft but, if that means I write four or more books a year, I will.

As long as they continue to live up to the standard my readers have set for me.

15 Comments
  1. Reziac #

    I see the problem. If you have to deal with trad publishers and their pet agents, you too will come to hate writing so much that it takes you 11 years to deliver a book.

    July 23, 2019
  2. How many of the “classics” of English literature were the hacks of their day? Charles Dickens leaps to mind. Jane Austin and the Bronte sisters didn’t sit down and spend days agonizing over word choice and perfect English artistry. That playwright guy in Elizabethan times didn’t seem too bothered by releasing works too quickly.

    July 23, 2019
    • TonyT #

      Exactly – I was going to say the same thing.

      If Dickens had a time machine and came back to today, he’d be an indie.

      July 23, 2019
      • He so would … he’d be putting out his novel there, a chapter at a time on a website … (hey, just like I’ve done with at least one of mine!!) and covering the costs for a print and distributions run.
        Oh, yeah – Dickens would be so much an indy writer!

        July 23, 2019
  3. Synova #

    I’m not going to remember the guy but famous British funny fellow gave a speech about creativeness and suggested that during the creative part one should come up with at least three ideas and not simply go with your first idea, but then put a strict limit on the amount of time spent in “unhurried imagination”, make up your mind and do the producing part of it.

    I know that I often come up with better ideas later but the key doesn’t seem to be *time* but seems to be mostly *time engaged*. But sometimes I know I’m stuck and the answer comes later… and then do you know what happens? Nothing.

    Because I’ve got no momentum, because I’m stuck in the endlessly thinking about it all part. I’ve become better at taking notes but most often my great idea seems so awesome that I couldn’t possibly forget what it was… until I do.

    I can see no practical way at all that producing four novels in a year would inhibit the creative process or the craft. Practice means knowing what you’re doing and finding the right answers, the right turns of phrase, more easily. And not forgetting between writing, what your amazing idea was!

    Maybe if someone were truly achieving pulp velocities they’d be working almost entirely from a mental template (and probably plot notes), but all even that does is free people who can do that from having to spend mental time on those routine processes. So even then, I’m not sure the argument could be made that the writer has to be stingy about the art if they don’t slow down.

    July 23, 2019
  4. Margaret Ball #

    Anthony Trollope claimed that he worked every morning from 5:30 to 8:30, aiming for an average of 250 words an hour. If he finished one novel, he started a new one. (Evidently a pantser, not a plotter.)

    Then he went to his day job.

    July 23, 2019
  5. Celia Hayes #

    I think that the short story-with-a-twist master, Saki (HH Munro) maintained a very focused writing schedule as well as maintaining a lively social life. He wrote steadily every morning for three or four hours (IIRC) allowing no interruptions or deviations.

    July 23, 2019
    • TRX #

      For programming, either early morning or late at night were my most productive times. Early, before my brain got tangled in the events of the day, late, because by then I was too tired to be distracted.

      July 23, 2019
  6. Uncle Lar #

    My question to this opinionated self important snob would be “who died and made you queen?”
    Is she a noted publisher with the resources to reward writers who do it her oh so important and precious way?
    Or is she simply another progressive who has formed her own opinion and is so full of herself that she really does think she can persuade everyone else to follow lockstep to her direction?
    Personally, my opinion is that she’s a twit and that’s only because I seem to have misplaced my other vowels this morning.

    July 23, 2019
  7. Obviously Ms. Huffington Post Article Author and my definition of a “good book” are wildly different.

    My definition of a good book is one I’ll read from cover to cover and enjoy doing so. An excellent book is one that I do the same, and recommend it, or the author, to others. An outstanding book is one where all of the above, and I like it enough to want to read it again, and get it in hardcopy.

    Now a marginal book it one that takes me forever to read because I keep putting it down, forgetting about the story, get bored, etc. It’s just too unremarkable to even remember who wrote the damn thing.

    A bad book is one that fails so miserably that you actually remember the author for how bad hey are, and either walled the book, or burned it. Theoretically, it’s one that in a free market economy that valued customers and took their complaints seriously, that you should take back to the store to demand your money back; and would willingly bleach it out of your brain.

    July 23, 2019
    • Draven #

      you can still buy books from stores?

      July 23, 2019
      • Mary #

        Bought two today.

        July 23, 2019
  8. https://variety.com/2019/film/features/sylvester-stallone-rocky-ownership-stake-1203275639/

    I read this thing about Stalone today, and how he does not have any ownership of “Rocky”. At all. Here’s what he said:

    “I think there was a certain code of business conduct, maybe not as much now, but back then, that you don’t ruffle the feathers of the golden goose. The studio is the power, the agency relies upon them, and the attorneys are the go-betweens. When I finally confronted them [just before “Rocky IV” in 1985], I said, “Does it bother you guys that I’ve written every word, I’ve choreographed it, I’ve been loyal to you, I’ve promoted it, directed it and I don’t have 1% that I could leave for my children?” And the quote was, “You got paid.” And that was the end of the conversation.”

    “You got paid.” Sounds a lot like tradpub and their agents. We should all thank Jeff Besos for our chance to write without having to bow to guys like that.

    I’m not big on hero worship, and Besos as an icon leaves a lot to be desired. But by ghod, he put a stake in that vampire that is not going to come loose.

    July 23, 2019

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