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What Is Now Asked of a Writer

Did you guys see this piece in the New York Times this weekend? Jennifer Weiner tweeted it out, and I'm so glad that it caught my eye. (I subscribe to the Times, but I'll be honest in saying that I don't always have time to read it until a few days later!)

Anyway, it's about exactly what we've been discussing here on this blog: how much times have changed in the publishing world, in terms of what is asked of authors. Publishers used to want one book a year. Now they want TWO. And in between that, they want social media, short stories and a variety of other things. It's no wonder a lot of us are tired. (And I'm not slamming the publishers. They're doing what they must, I suppose, to keep reader interest.)

For me personally, I could never write two books a year. I have friends who do, and I applaud them. But I know that my quality would suffer, suffer, suffer, and I also don't think that I'd have anything fresh to write about. And I think it's really detrimental to write a book for the sake of writing a book. But this may just be the brave new world of publishing. Only the strong will survive. :) 

That said, and I completely understand why publishers want to have new material at hand all the time, I do wonder about oversaturation. Yes, in the article, they say that there's no concern about this, but I still wonder. People buy fewer and fewer books these days, and unless you're a household name (say a James Patterson - who doesn't even personally write his books anymore, I believe), I really don't know if readers can keep up. In theory, of course they can, but do they? I can only speak anecdotally to this but certainly, I had/have favorite authors who produce book after book, and it's not that I'm trying to lose track but I do. I may not buy the new one if I still haven't read the last one. Again, I know that the industry peeps refute this idea, but I don't know...I'd be curious to see data (which I will never see, so I'm only asking this hypothetically) of authors who publish this frequently. I bet this amped up cycle helps the big names, but for the mid-list authors? I'm unconvinced. Which, then, of course, raises the whole other issue: if you're doing everything that the industry asks of you and not seeing your sales bump up to the big time, what else are you supposed to do?

I guess that's the question that everyone - including the folks in the article - are asking themselves these days. What do you think? Is more product the answer to the lagging industry?

Reader Comments (9)

We've been discussing this in several of my writing groups. I definitely would not want to adopt the schedule mentioned in this article (7 days a week, 9am to 11pm). Where's the time for living? And without living, where is the chance to absorb new ideas? I also have to wonder about quality. Better to write at your own pace and build up that anticipation for each new book, than to become some sort of machine, churning out words for the sake of it. After all, the article mentions that literary fiction authors could easily get away with one new book a decade, which indicates to me that quality trumps quantity and will continue to do so.

May 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFiona Young-Brown

I saw the headline and thought - hmmm - when is quantity over quality ever a good thing in the arts? It's my job to interpret the books (so I don't consider myself a creative artist) and I can't imagine producing from the heart and imagination under a constant deadline. Not to mention all the work you're expected to do to promote the book!
We audiobook narrators also struggle these days with more being demanded of us, but in a different ways. Though the audiobook market is expanding, the demand is for the costs to fall, so we have to provide more and more of the technical aspects ourselves to stay competitive, and do it faster. Many feel that this demand compromises our quality, as we focus more on getting it done rather than taking the time to find the nuances and invest emotionally, and in focusing on tech issues, it's sometimes dificult to stay in the present with the book. Long winded way of saying, I empathize and I hope we can all stand our ground for quality over quantity!

May 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKaren White

I agree with your article. I am an aspiring author who is in the middle of querying agents, but it really depends on the lifestyle of the author, not many readers realize most authors have families to take care of. I am a student so I tend to write 2-3 books for my creative writing class each semester.

May 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVanessa Leigh

This happened in newspapers years ago, with journalists being judged by how much they wrote and not how well. I hope, if it continues, that things will turn out much better in publishing than the newspaper industry. It seems with so much talent out there, publishers/marketers could pull their top 24 women's fiction writers and say, we'd like one book a year and you'll come out this week every year and we're going to market you that way and along with the other writers. With that many good writers, women fiction readers could have a new book to read every two weeks. Like you said, we'd have to see the number to ensure there really is that type of demand and figure out the sweet spot for the book prices, but if that could be worked out, maybe everyone...publisher, writer and reader...could be happy. Or at least happier than trying to write two or three books a year or a book and many short stories and hundreds of tweets/facebook updates!

May 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKristen Krk

I like to write for the purpose of writing more than getting readers. Sure, who doesn't want readers to buy their books but if I HAD to write two books a year, I think I would lose what writing was all about in the beginning. I agree that it is detrimental to write a book just to write a book. Although I have only written one book and I haven't done much with it lately, I really enjoyed writing it because I could, because there was no pressure except of my own.

May 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDawn M Garcia

I really hear what Fiona said in that first post. It is essential to seek inspiration away from the desk. I agree in the idea that quality suffers, sure there are a few phenoms that defy that, but for the rest of us there must be a period of assimilation. Thanks for going to poke around to see what you have to say about promotion...building a non-fiction proposal. But if you have thoughts on it, please share, your posts have been invaluable!

May 15, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdeirdre

I haven't bought a Kindle or an iPad because I can't afford either of them, but I have seen a lot of people reading books on those things. That makes me hope that more people will start buying and reading books, but I don't know if the electronic readers (or whatever they're called) have actually made book sales go up. I don't think that I could write two books in a year. Two short stories, maybe, but not two whole books.

May 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNeurotic Workaholic

I am pretty sure I could not write two books a year (though I'm just getting back into writing, and have yet to complete even one book!). As a reader, I will say that, no, I can't keep up - especially since as an aspiring writer I keep reading more and more authors' blogs, and then I want to read their books, so my to-be-read list keeps growing (it's at about 366 titles right now, and I read an average of one book every week and a half - some take more or less time depending on the book and how much other stuff I have to do).

I went to a reading at a convention where the author talked about this very thing, because she has a contract that requires a book every six months, and she felt the quality of her last book had suffered due to that schedule, and all of the extra promotional stuff required.

It seems like this quantity over quality issue is everywhere these days, but I find it particularly sad that it's invaded the arts.

May 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLeslie

Two books per year seems like a lot. I always find that I need some down time between projects to let my mind rest before I start organizing inspiration for something new. As a reader, obviously, it's wonderful when an author you love has a slew of books available just waiting for you to read them. That being said, I'd much rather wait for a quality book than have something available that was quickly written and is mediocre.

June 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKate
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