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Publication: How often?

Elsewhere on LJ a question came up. It's one that I've thought about a lot over the past years (unlike, say, http protocol, but I digress). How fast can one write? How fast should one write? The answer to this question is about as varied as the answer to the question "How do you write a novel?" as applied to novelists.

And, as LJ seems intent on not actually letting me post anything like a reply to any of the comments, I thought I'd answer with a couple of versions, which are all, oddly enough, mine.


I had worked in bookstores for 9 years when I started writing my first novel. I understood two things: One, that cover was important and two, that timing was important. I had no say in the cover, and my instant response to it was a buyer response. Which is to say, I looked at it, and I knew I'd order lower on the title because of the cover. The whole "don't judge a book by its cover" thing? Not, sadly, true. It's not fair to the book inside, but the cover -- as I've said elsewhere -- is what will attract most people who are standing and staring at a bunch of books, many of which they know nothing about. If you've established a name for yourself, it's not as important, but if you haven't -- and this was my first book -- it's important.

So, I had no say in the cover, and didn't love it. I did have some say in the timing of the books, or rather, the publishing interval between the novels, and the say was entirely in the writing. I wanted the books to come out six months apart. Why? Because at six months, the new book could in theory keep the backlist alive, and at six months, I had some chance of gaining some name recognition. Not so much by sales, but just by the actual familiarity of the name itself. My then-agent agreed with this very strongly. And the first two books did come out six months apart. The third, however, came out a year after the second. Why?

Because I had to throw it out and start it over again. I had it finished, but it wasn't good. The agent thought it wasn't bad, but in my opinion, what it needed in order to work was a complete rewrite -- and that would take it out of the December slot, and push it ahead to the whenever slot. I could have done what I consider band-aid work, but it would have tormented me endlessly, because by that time I realized that the book would be out there with my name on it, and all errors, all infelicities, would be static. So I lost the slot, and rewrote the book.

The fourth book came out about a year after the third.

The fifth novel was sold to Del Rey when the third novel went out of print; the third novel was out of print just as the fourth novel was being published. It wasn't reprinted, and this -- although being out of print was a fact of life -- drove me crazy. In the end, we pulled the book and sold it to DAW instead, and that book was HUNTER'S OATH. I have never managed to make a six month interval since the first two books, with the exception of RIVEN SHIELD/SUN SWORD, and that, largely because the book was split (1132 manuscript pages for the first 'half', and 1648 for the second, and yes, I realize those are way, way too long).

A year per book was still considered acceptable, and I managed that until SEA OF SORROWS, which was published two years after SHINING COURT. That two year gap almost gave me ulcers. The two year gap between SoS and RS also gave me hives. Why?

Because the frontlist does drive the backlist. You can watch it in your royalty statements; every time a new book is published, the backlist numbers go up. They go up for the period in which the book was published, because people order the first books in the series to coincide with the release of the new one. After that, they dwindle again. The longer between new books, the lower the numbers go, and it doesn't matter who you are as a writer, or what level of sales you've achieved; this is almost always true.

To keep a book in print when it's not a bestseller is tricky enough. When a new book is coming, it's much easier to justify the warehouse work; when it isn't, and you're not entirely sure when the new one is going to be published, it's harder. No, you don't have any say in this. I don't, either. Writing a long series that's a midlist series, when there are gaps between books that are greater than a year becomes trickier in other ways as well. Demand can change, reading tastes can change, the early books can become unavailable, and if they can't be found, there's no momentum and no incentive for the sales force to push the next one. If the books sell steadily, and the series is long, it also delays things like hardcover publication, if the series started as a paperback series. When I started publishing with DAW, DAW was publishing maybe two hardcovers a year; they're now publishing one a month (or more). Because, as I've mentioned, the industry does constantly evolve.

So. For purely practical, career and business reasons, it's best to have a gap of no more than one year between books; if you're starting out in paperback, six months is ideal. If you're not writing a series, the answer to this is different. I haven't told a single book story in my career, so much of my commentary is based on series. If you've got eight books written, publishing them at a faster rate is sometimes a bit tricky because readers have odd reactions to books when they know very little about the publication or writing process; they'll think you wrote them in two months, and there is a strong reader sense that speed of writing and quality of work are inversely proportional. So in that case, I'd still recommend six months.

How much can I write? In a given month, I expect to be able to write 80-100 novel pages a month; I don't have to pace myself for short pieces because if I can do them at all, it doesn't matter if I do them and burn out on that story because, well, it's done. This would, in theory, be a book a year, and not a short book either. But there are months when the writing is tossed to one side for any number of real life reasons, and there are months when the writing is tossed to the side because face it, it just sucks, and in the end? The answer isn't as clear. RIVEN SHIELD and SUN SWORD were actually faster than earlier novels because they were the last one(s) and endings for me are always clearer; I've pushed the stone up the hill, and it's careening down at a speed I can barely keep up with. To continue with this analogy, it doesn't meant that it doesn't hit bumps, that it doesn't veer, that it doesn't become something entirely different -- it just means that the story has killer momentum for me.

Knowing the ideal, why is it that I, with bookstore experience and a sense of the business, had these two year gaps? Life. And the books themselves. At some point -- at least for me -- I had to make a choice. Everything the head knew, the heart couldn't always follow. I found writing harder with later books than I had with the early ones. Partly, this is because I knew more about writing, and had a much more bitchy internal editor. I don't think this is likely to change, though. Hard doesn't matter, if you can still make deadlines. Which, demonstrably, I stalled on.

If I continue to work at my current pace, there's some chance that I'll finish HOUSE WAR by the end of this year. Which means publication sometime in 2005. Or, about two years after SUN SWORD. This is in part because I started BLACK GAUNTLET first, and then couldn't finish it without writing HOUSE WAR -- for my own internal sense of the universe as an organic place, where things could happen, and the story grow in any direction as a response to events that were taking place.

I thought I could do this; I couldn't. This is part of the learning process (at least mine; I think I had an enormous arrogance, or if we're being kind, self-confidence about things I could do when I was younger, and all of learning has been the humbling and enlightening process of realiziing that there are some things that are just too costly in too many ways for me to be able to do. It's particularly important that everyone realize that the me in this case is, well me <wry g> I'm sure that we all gain experience in as varied a way as we write, and not all of us need to jam our hands into the fire to figure out the whole burning thing. Digressing. Everyone act surprised <g>. In 1986, I could have done this. I could have finished BG, but I think it would have gutted HW. When all things are equal, it makes sense to go with a sound business model; when all things aren't equal, it makes sense to go with the book. To me. But that's probably because it's the only way I've found, with experience, I can go.

Because as it gets harder, I've found that I really have to finish the story that I'm working on now; that my heart has to be right there, up front, and without distractions and anxiety, inasmuch as that's possible. I could have started something entirely different; that wouldn't hurt or change my sense of continuity. There are whole worlds I look forward to writing about. But they aren't now, and as someone else said elsewhere, the only way to get there from here is to finish the books I need to write now.

Comments

( 54 comments — Leave a comment )
mrissa
Aug. 25th, 2004 08:26 am (UTC)
If anything could make me glad to not have published a novel yet, I think it's the ability to get "ahead" a little.

Not that I'm very glad. But still.

Do you think the ideal publication schedule is the same for children's or YA as it is for adult?
msagara
Aug. 25th, 2004 08:34 am (UTC)
Do you think the ideal publication schedule is the same for children's or YA as it is for adult?

No, I don't. I think that -- and again I realize this has nothing to do with reality -- readers -don't- equate YA novel publication speed with quality. So I think that more frequent publication than the 6 month schedule would be okay -- but really, I can only say this on the basis of a genre selection of middle-readers and YA novels in our store over the years, and it's small compared to the rest of the store (we'd like it to grow; we're so pressed for space now, it's not funny.)

However, I'm not a YA writer (one novella to date), and I don't really understand the YA market in any way from that perspective, as it's almost, but not entirely, different in some of the ways it plays out.

sartorias has more experience with that, and maybe has a better grounded opinion.
(no subject) - janni - Aug. 25th, 2004 08:51 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sartorias - Aug. 25th, 2004 09:23 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - domynoe - Aug. 25th, 2004 10:43 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - msagara - Aug. 25th, 2004 11:01 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sartorias - Aug. 25th, 2004 11:27 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - msagara - Aug. 25th, 2004 11:33 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sartorias - Aug. 25th, 2004 01:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - msagara - Aug. 25th, 2004 10:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sartorias - Aug. 26th, 2004 05:42 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sartorias - Aug. 25th, 2004 01:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - msagara - Aug. 25th, 2004 02:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sartorias - Aug. 25th, 2004 02:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - msagara - Aug. 25th, 2004 02:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - schulman - Aug. 25th, 2004 10:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - msagara - Aug. 25th, 2004 10:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - schulman - Aug. 25th, 2004 11:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sartorias - Aug. 26th, 2004 05:40 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - braider - Aug. 25th, 2004 10:40 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - msagara - Aug. 25th, 2004 10:49 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - braider - Aug. 25th, 2004 11:04 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - janni - Aug. 25th, 2004 04:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - braider - Aug. 25th, 2004 06:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - janni - Aug. 25th, 2004 06:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
Kids' books... - artbeco - Aug. 25th, 2004 12:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Kids' books... - janni - Aug. 25th, 2004 04:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - lauramc - Aug. 25th, 2004 10:32 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - lauramc - Aug. 25th, 2004 10:33 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - msagara - Aug. 25th, 2004 11:02 am (UTC) - Expand
kristine_smith
Aug. 25th, 2004 08:36 am (UTC)
And again, you speak to something I've been thinking about.

I had/have a day job. My first three books came out a year apart. During this time, I came to realize that 1) I was a slow writer who had a nasty habit of needing to toss the first 200 pages and start over, and 2) I was burning myself out.

Contract delays led to CI coming out two years after LAW. Life means that Jani 5 could come out anywhere from 2 to 2 1/2 years after CI, unless I get it done early (miracle) and a hole opens up in the schedule into which J5 can be dropped, which happens not infrequently.

I don't know how to address this. I am a slow writer. Not as slow as some, but if I have to keep the day job and no crises occur, it will be a book every two years. A year and a half if things go well. After I retire, something I'm thinking of doing in 4 years' time, this may open things up--I will have to work at least part-time, but part-time ain't full-time, which means more time to write. Whether this could knock the year and a half down to a year is anyone's guess, assuming anyone will still want to buy my books by that time.

Sometimes you wish that all you had to worry about was the story.

kristine_smith
Aug. 25th, 2004 09:31 am (UTC)
But wait! There's more!
The thing is, if it was well and truly "one book every twelve months," it could prove doable even with the day job. The problem that isn't always mentioned is the overlap between the book you just turned in and the book you need to start. Downtime to let the brain recover--one month, maybe? Then come revisions, which in my case have taken several months to address. Then come copyedits. Page proofs. A week here, two weeks there--that's almsot 1/12 of the time allotted for the next book. Then just as you're entering the middle of the new book, the previous one is hitting the shelves, and you would like to attend some cons to do some promo, and then there are area bookstore runs--an evening here, a weekend there. That twelve months for the next book can whittle down to seven to eight before you know what happened.
Re: But wait! There's more! - msagara - Aug. 25th, 2004 10:56 am (UTC) - Expand
next_bold_move
Aug. 25th, 2004 09:40 am (UTC)
This may be a silly question. How many words do you write a day, on average?
msagara
Aug. 25th, 2004 10:46 am (UTC)
I confess that I'm one of those authors who looks at things entirely by page count. Like, say, one of four that I've heard of. But I borrowed this from a Fred Pohl talk that I attended at Harbourfront when I was in high school. He said "I write four pages a day, no more, no less." And that seemed do-able to me, even then. Of course I didn't actually apply the advice until about ten years later, but still <rueful g>.

However, if I aim for 4 pages a day, in manuscript format, then I'm aiming for roughly 1,000 words. I know that there are a number of people who don't like manuscript format, but I also know of at least one very large publisher who does their word counts based entirely on the standard manuscript format, and as they've set an upper limit of 150K, if you send them something longer than 600 pages, you watch it bounce <wry g>.


In theory, at that rate, I should write 120 pages a month -- providing I take no time off, never go to conventions, never revise anything, never write anything -else-, etc. And 120 pages a month would be considered fast by a lot of people, but there's a reason that 80 was one of the numbers in a typical month. Research, reading, other work, children, household crises, etc.
domynoe
Aug. 25th, 2004 09:45 am (UTC)
I know a certain author who needs to read this. The third book of one of her trilogies has ben on indefinate hold since 1998. The first 2 of the trilogy are in print, but it's driving me mad that the third has yet to come out. Whenever you check her site, it's still on hold. Apparently she may be finally getting to it this year, and now another book is on hold for another series. I love this writer and I will buy the book when (if?) it comes out, but jeeze! I actually am okay with waiting 2, even 3, years between books, but SIX? Or more? That's insane.

My concern for my books (if they ever get published) is the revisions time. I'm having a heck of a time getting through them for book ONE, how the heck am I going to cut the amount of time I work on them for books 2 and on? Should I just be sure to have the first 2 completed before I even submit?

Will it ever get easier/faster/less frustrating (take your pick)?
pixelfish
Aug. 25th, 2004 10:19 am (UTC)
Just A Guess...
Would this author's initials be MR?
Re: Just A Guess... - domynoe - Aug. 25th, 2004 10:30 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Just A Guess... - sleary - Aug. 25th, 2004 10:41 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Just A Guess... - domynoe - Aug. 25th, 2004 10:45 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Just A Guess... - pixelfish - Aug. 25th, 2004 04:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Just A Guess... - msagara - Aug. 25th, 2004 10:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - msagara - Aug. 25th, 2004 11:16 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
msagara
Aug. 25th, 2004 10:34 am (UTC)
Hmmm.

Guess what? My spousal unit has nominated this question as the topic for the next rambling post <wry g>.

The short, and unreassuring answer, is a definitive maybe, with the caveat that in this business nothing is guaranteed, good or bad.
(no subject) - janni - Aug. 25th, 2004 04:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - domynoe - Aug. 25th, 2004 05:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
trektone
Aug. 25th, 2004 10:15 am (UTC)
How did the the Luna book-writing fit into this, or will the other ones fit?

Also, do you plan to ever write a standalone, non-media-tie-in or shared-world novel? It doesn't seem to be in your business model, but do you think your head and heart will ever want to tell a one-volume story? Not counting your long short stories, that is. Hmm, or maybe I answered my own question. Hee!
msagara
Aug. 25th, 2004 10:39 am (UTC)
How did the the Luna book-writing fit into this, or will the other ones fit?

Given your professed preferences, you're going to hate the answer to this question: The Luna novel was fit into that space that has been occupied by up to 80,000 words of short stories (when added up) in previous years. The other two will fit into the same space in the following years. The optimism caused by managing to write the first novel in that time was slightly kicked into the oh-crap side of the meter by the fact that the revisions didn't seem to want to be done that way.

I did mention learning experience, right?

Also, do you plan to ever write a standalone, non-media-tie-in or shared-world novel? It doesn't seem to be in your business model, but do you think your head and heart will ever want to tell a one-volume story? Not counting your long short stories, that is. Hmm, or maybe I answered my own question. Hee!

My head is always telling me that something is going to be "short", for a very odd value of short :/. I originally started OATH/DEATH with the certain sense that it was -one- volume. I started the first four books as a -short- story. I started the entire SUN SWORD series certain that it would be two volumes.

Even House War is mutating :/.

In the next column, for want of a better word, I'll address the length of a series as an optimum, and the type.
(no subject) - trektone - Aug. 25th, 2004 12:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - domynoe - Aug. 26th, 2004 07:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
dendrophilous
Aug. 25th, 2004 11:24 am (UTC)
Solutions?
So what can a slow writer with nothing published do? Hope the first book takes long enough to sell that there's time to build up a backlog? Learn to revise faster, which is not the same thing as spending more time writing?

(And now I'm wondering again about the oft-asked question, is it better to write the sequel to an unsold book or an unrelated book first...)
msagara
Aug. 25th, 2004 11:28 am (UTC)
Re: Solutions?
So what can a slow writer with nothing published do? Hope the first book takes long enough to sell that there's time to build up a backlog? Learn to revise faster, which is not the same thing as spending more time writing?

(And now I'm wondering again about the oft-asked question, is it better to write the sequel to an unsold book or an unrelated book first...)


This is why many writers find the second novel the killer novel. Because no one cares how long it took you to write the first one, but people will want the second one by a certain deadline, and many authors find the struggle to work to deadline almost paralyzing.

Many, otoh, don't.

In my case, because I was writing what amounts to one long story, I figured I would just continue until I'd finished it, so there really wasn't a question for me. In your case, things don't sound as clear cut.
Re: Solutions? - robling_t - Aug. 26th, 2004 02:53 am (UTC) - Expand
robling_t
Aug. 26th, 2004 02:59 am (UTC)
But there are months when the writing is tossed to one side for any number of real life reasons

Thank you, this makes me feel a teensy bit better about my wordcount for the YTD being abysmal because I can't seem to get anything done when I'm infested with plumbers or waiting around for same. (Which I have been for, by my calculation, fourteen weeks out of this year!) Gotta get back on track now that they seem to be done, knock wood...
( 54 comments — Leave a comment )