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Tuesday
Oct182011

Writing A Book A Year

Question of the day: I know you have a new book out next year, which, I think (correct me if I'm wrong), puts you on the one-book-a-year schedule that we often hear is so important. It feels like a hard pace to keep up with though. How important do you think the book-a-year pace is?

Interesting question because it's something that I've been evaluating and mulling over these past few months. You're sort of right: due to publishing changes and conflicts and a variety of factors, I've actually been on about a book-every-year-and-a-half schedule, but it's a schedule that I am very seriously considering opting out of.

For a few reasons - and I want to say, VERY CLEARLY, that this are my reasons alone. A lot of my friends and writers whom I respect are indeed on the book-a-year schedule, and seriously, it works for them. For me, however, after four books, I'm opting to shift to a book-every-two-years. Why? 

1) I am not interested in writing the same book over and over again. I need some time and space away from my previous book to really start fresh. I also feel (and again, this is for ME ONLY) that the only way that I can become a better writer is to take some time and absorb life. It's my utmost goal to improve upon each book, and honestly, I simply cannot do this if I dive into one thing after the next. I want to have the time to breathe, to become, well, wiser about life and my experience and those experiences around me. I then try to put those observations back into my work, and if I don't take the time to do that, I have nothing new to add to my words or characters.

2) I'm tired. There, I said it. 

3) I know that publishers love book-a-year authors. They do. And again, seriously, I APPLAUD anyone who can keep up that pace. I mean that with all sincerity. But I'm unconvinced that this pace really helps your brand. Editors will disagree with me, and they may very well be right. But I also wonder if there isn't some reader fatigue, even with the most strident of fans. I feel like people can't keep up and another year rolls around and they're like, "She has another book out already? I haven't even found the time to read her last one." And then they don't buy it and your sales may wane, and then your publisher wonders if what they paid you is worth it, and then they re-evaluate your next advance. (This is obviously the worst-case scenario, but it happens more often than you'd think.) I guess the point is that this hurry-up-and-rush mentality may NOT really be what readers need. (Again, I'm sure that plenty of people disagree with me!)

4) I'm interested in trying new things. Maybe this is the Gemini in me, but after a while, my eyes tend to sort of glaze over on any one project. So right now, I'm testing the waters of screenwriting, which feels new and exciting (if not daunting and tiring), and lights a spark in me the way that a novel may not. Which isn't to say that I don't have an idea for a book, and that when the time is right (probably in a few months), I won't get back into it. Only that if you eat the same thing for dinner for a few years and then discover that you really like something else too, you may want to indulge in that something else for a while.

5) I may be wrong about all of the above. Some of my favorite authors, like Elin Hilderbrand, write a book a year, and she totally kicks ass. (As do many of others.) I just think that you have to do what feels right for you, and writing a book for the sake of sticking on your publisher's (or your) schedule isn't smart: I think your fatigue will show in your writing, and thus to your readers, and then, you've shot yourself in the foot.

What do you guys think? How important is this schedule for you as writers AND as readers?

Reader Comments (12)

What a great post today, Allison, thanks! I have many thoughts. I read about two to three books a week, so as a reader, if I love an author, a book a year is wonderful. Two years feels too long... As a writer, I think producing a book a year is tough, and frankly, I think sometimes the quality can go down when the author is forced into that kind of schedule. But it's what publishers expect to build up brand, as you suggested, and until you've built up your brand, I sense few authors have the choice.

October 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJudy

Great post for me right now. I'm about 2/3 through a novel I started writing in January. I've never taken so long to write a first draft before, but it feels right for this book. I've got several agents who've already asked to see it when it's done, so I feel compelled to finish as quickly as possible. But I know, in the long run, that's not what's best for this particular project. Thanks for reminding me to determine "my own" pace and go with that. You, my friend, rock.

October 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDebra Lynn Lazar

My mother is a published author (53 books in print right now). She's been writing for 25 years and though in the beginning she was writing 1 -3 books a year (!!!) she has since slowed to about one every year and a half to two years. The pace is rough--I have seen her go through it. And I do agree with you that a writer needs to take a step back every once in a while and live life. It's those travels and life experiences and people you meet that give you your next big idea. Good luck!

October 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHeather Lambie

I think it's somewhat hilarious that I'm reading this as "Under Pressure" plays on my Pandora....

I wonder if the book-a-year schedule contributes to a perception of shoddy quality even if that's not reality. And in a subjective business, perception may become reality.

October 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKristina Riggle

I'm worried to death about the "book a year" because I write historical fiction. I need at least AT LEAST six months to research a time period/event/characters before I start writing. I will seriously cheat my readers if I skimp on that piece. Also, my novel, HEMINGWAY'S GIRL, took three years to write and went through five major overhauls before it was ready, and it is a much better book for it. One year doesn't give enough time for those overhauls.

This is a great post and as always, I admire and thank you for your honesty. I wish you all the best in whatever comes next. :)

October 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterErika Robuck

So funny to read this post after just blogging today about the daily word count required to churn out a book in a year! I got the count from a time-management book, and it's inspiring if you're a by-the-numbers person. Which I'm not :) I was on the memoir-every-2-years track, and stepped off it for similar reasons. There has to be time for life to happen, for the right book to ripen, and a whole host of other reasons you list here.

And yet, do I secretly envy the writers who can take the "It's a job, so I get it done" approach? A little :)

October 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTrish Ryan

This is a wonderful post, and what you say makes SO MUCH sense, Allison. I was thinking about the time it's taking me to write my current novel in progress and lamenting the fact that 14 months later, it's still not written. HOWEVER, I will say that being able to take my time has resulted in some pretty amazing discoveries that I know I would not have made otherwise. The time has absolutely allowed me to become "wiser about life and my experience and those experiences around me." I love the comment above about letting a book "ripen." That's the perfect way to describe it!

October 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa Crytzer Fry

First, to one of your point, I really don't think reader fatigue is an issue. Every avid reader I know wants to read more by their favorite authors. And if you're not among their favorites, I don't think having more books out could do anything but increase your chances of becoming one of their favorites.

Overall, it's a tough dilemma. My take is this. If you don't need to make a living from your books, then I think the two year plan will work fine. Especially if doing so enables you to create truly special books, you'll be able to find a publisher (in whatever form publishers wind up taking as things shake up more over the next decade). And I think readers who love your work will be willing to wait. Potentially you could even put out a short story or two in ebook form in the interim.

If, however, you need to make a living from your books, I'm not sure even the one-year plan is going to cut it for more than the next 2-3 years. Advances have been going down for several years now and that will continue. The number of authors who can make a living off one book a year, let alone one book every two years, will keep getting smaller than it already is. Ebooks are changing buying habits and the way readers find books. Word of mouth is still king as it always has been, but Amazon, Barnes&Noble and Apple all have algorithms to put books in front of potential readers, and more titles improves your chances.

So there's no one right answer. It depends on your goals and which sort of risks you want to take. If you can afford to write only one book every two years and if you feel that such an approach will result in the best work (not to mention keep you sane), then it is surely the correct choice.

October 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEdward G. Talbot

Bottom line: I agree with you that each writer has to find what works for them. Some writers can write MORE than 1 book a year, and that astonishes me. Some write 1 every five to ten years, and that works for them. {shrug}

What I find interesting is that I heard from a bestselling author that writing/selling MORE than 1 book a year is becoming difficult. That publishers are a bit nervous about long-term planning, with all the currently upheaval (ebooks, ereaders, the economy in genearl, etc.).

October 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKristan

Such a wonderful post! As always, thank you for your candid, up-front honesty :)

As an aspiring writer, I notice that my creative energy supplies are starting to run low 2 1/2 years in. I know that I need time and space before I can even think about creating something new. Churning endlessly can only lead to one thing: burnout.

I think that creativity is a spark that needs to be conscientiously fanned into a flame. If you don't nourish and replenish the spark, I think (and also fear) that the spark will die out. Creativity is really a form of energy and no energy supply is endless. So as a writer I think it's incredibly important that you take time and allow yourself to "breathe...and grow wiser" and observe what's around you--both for inspiration and also because you don't want to miss out on life! Your work (and you in your personal life) will benefit richly from that. And as a reader, I am more than happy to wait however long it take for the next book to come out.

October 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSara

Allison,
Thanks for your honesty and integrity. Writing a book a year is a good goal, but writers should not rush when it comes to quality or inspiration. In addition, writers who have a fulltime job and a family have other priorities to balance. Thanks again.

October 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCG Blake

Wow, now I feel REALLY bad about taking ten years on my first book, and dawdling on this one. Haha. I write mostly nonfiction, which is very different, but I can't even imagine getting one done in 2-3 years. Even a novel. Maybe I should try it and see. I was going to write this next one as a novel, but my agent begged me not to, and I came around to her thinking. Still though, it takes me a long, long time for ideas to germinate. And then I want to rework every sentence. I guess I'm just slow.

October 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDave Cullen
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