Last week the New York Times ran an article suggesting that authors only writing one book a year is slacking. Nowadays indy authors have a better chance of building an audience if they write multiple books a year, and big publishing houses view additional output as useful promotion. To write less might just mean we’re lazy. Lisa Scottoline has received particular bile on social networks for being described as struggling to write 2,000 words per day.
|How do I write so much per year? Bubble baths.|
Twitter whipped out the ballistics-grade snark. Writing is easy! Anyone can bang out a thousand words in an hour. That’s just a long blog post. I didn’t work that hard on NaNoWriMo! Get back into the salt mines, authors!
What rankled me was the number of mediocre writers espousing this condescension. Many were hacks whose e-books aren’t worth 99-cents and whose blog posts run over 2,000 words because they don’t know how to edit. Of course it’s easy to fluff up word count if you don’t care about craft.
It rankled worse with rush-pundits who actually show raw talent that, with the time and reflection they insist you eschew, could develop into something great. What they’d learn from experience will be stifled by the positive feedback loop of rushing adequate chunks of text to market. Traditional publishing has nearly killed the Max Perkins style that gave us Fitzgerald, Wolfe and Hemingway. God save us if the next wave of publishing kills taking your time.
|Slacker! He'll never go anywhere.|
John Scalzi was particularly level-headed. He advised folks to calm down and recognize that everyone has his or her own writing speed. And he was right. Many of us grew up on Stephen King, who seems to write at the speed of sound. Amanda Hocking and Seanan McGuire do multiple novels per year, and Jim Butcher has at least one door stopper a year. Meanwhile Jo Walton and Justin Cronin take about two years to release one book a-piece, and Patrick Rothfuss and George R.R. Martin can run even longer.
In a better world those authors who were at ease with promotion and speedy production would use their platforms to help the slower. I stump for talented authors of all paces routinely and have been lucky to find like-minded folks. But while Scalzi was correct, I still ran hot.
Or imagine some blowhard on Twitter screeching that she's not working hard enough.
|A great work, but also one of privilege.|
The self-publishing world, and particularly the Locke-and-Hocking world of cranking out as many e-books as possible, is not delivering such works. The best of these books I've read were passably entertaining and couldn't strive for more in their production cycles. In a market where a large catalog and frequent releases are your best shots at a career, it really can’t, and if you want to make a living, that two-year cycle of a Jo Walton or Justin Cronin seems implausible barring a very lucky hit. And when Amanda Hocking got that hit? It was having her sizable catalog that helped her become a millionaire.
Since I see something like this self-publishing model dominating the industry in a few years, this is disturbing for the future of an art form. We can’t stop the price cycling that Amazon, Apple and the Big Six have steered us toward. We can alter how we interact and help each other. That novel Harper Lee spent so long on owed a debt to Truman Capote’s assistance. Those who succeed in the speedy new market can help not just teach and critique, but to promote talents that have different paces.
The rebuttal is that the market doesn’t want great literature. It wants twists and thrills and titillation, and little else. It’s too dumb to recognize exposition and formula, and authors are fooling themselves for caring about more than dollars. This "market" would become a race to the bottom of both price and ambition, allowing The Novel to survive a few more years by imitating reality television’s innovations. If the future of publishing really is who can write the most blood-and-smut the fastest, then I might as well kill myself now.