The Business Rusch: The “Brutal” 2000-Word Day
Association of Authors' RepresentativesBob MayerDavid GaughranDean KoontzDean Wesley SmithDepartment of JusticeDigital Book Worldgold recordsJoe KonrathJulie BosmanLee ChildLisa ScottolineNora RobertsPublishers WeeklyratingsSimon LipskarStephen KingtelevisionThe Business Ruschthe music industrythe New York TimesThe Passive VoiceWriters House
The Business Rusch: The “Brutal” 2000-Word Day
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
I know, I know. I didn’t do a long blog last week because of the hack-attack, now fixed, and I heard from a lot of you wondering what the “missing” post would have been about. Many of you speculated that I would take on Simon Lipskar’s ridiculous letter from the Association of Authors Representatives to the Department of Justice. My husband Dean Wesley Smith, Joe Konrath, The Passive Guy, Bob Mayer, and others did a fine job with that. [links] In my opinion, David Gaughran did the best post of all: he wrote an open letter to the DOJ, which all writers should read and should probably sign onto. I have.
The thing is, I wouldn’t have written about the AAR letter. What many of you forget is that I gave up on agents as authors representatives about a year ago. Those of you who have agents should be appalled at the lack of legal understanding evidenced in the letter, particularly if your agent negotiates your contracts for you. Not only are the agents who agreed to this letter more empathetic to large traditional publishers, they’re advocating something that ignores the law entirely.
I am not surprised by the AAR letter. I’m saddened to see it, but it simply puts out in public something I’ve seen in private for the past ten years, and only started to understand about a year ago.
Most agents, especially those in very large firms, no longer represent authors. Those agents represent themselves, and exist to make money off writers. It’s that simple, and that disillusioning.
Instead of shooting agenty fish in a rather slimy barrel, I’m going to look at something else. Last weekend, The New York Times published a whiny article about the changes in publishing, an article that has met with derision from long-established midlist authors and newer writers who understand this new world of publishing.
Actually, everyone picks on one paragraph, quoting thriller writer Lisa Scottoline: “Ms. Scottoline has increased her output from one book a year to two, which she accomplishes with a brutal writing schedule: 2,000 words a day, seven days a week, usually ‘starting at 9 a.m. and going until Colbert,’ she said.”
Note that the word “brutal” is not in quotes, so presumably it comes from the article’s author, Julie Bosman. She might’ve been paraphrasing Scottoline or she might’ve made that assumption all on her own. I do want to note that Bosman’s article runs 1165 words. Since it’s in a newspaper, I assume that she did the work within a short time frame, including the interviews, the information-gathering, and the research. I also note that she had four other articles of similar length published that week, which means she wrote five 1,000 word-plus articles (with research and—since this is the Times—revisions), which means she wrote one per day during her work week.
Assume that 5,000 words of research nonfiction will take at least as long to write as 10,000 words of fiction (without the interviews/research), and you have an equivalent number of words being written each day.
The “brutal” 2,000 words day, apparently, only applies to fiction.
The writers I’ve seen have been very nasty toward Scottoline, making a lot of fun of her. Scottoline wrote those “brutal” 2,000 words over the space of eight to ten hours (or more) in service of two-books per year. However, if you do the math, you realize that she should have completed seven books per year on that schedule. (2,000 x 365=730,000; the average thriller is 100,000 words, so she actually should have gotten a bonus 30,000 words.)
Also realize that most people can type more than 1,000 words in an hour, so how does Scottoline manage to labor over her 2,000 words for eight to ten to twelve hours?
Well, that’s the answer really. She labors. She thinks about every sentence, every twitch, and probably revises extensively as she goes along. Plus, when a writer becomes a bestseller, everyone wants a say in the product before it becomes final. Tough writers like Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Nora Roberts don’t let anyone comment on a work until it’s finished, but most bestsellers consult editors, agents, and the sales force along the way.
You try to write with a crowd sitting on your shoulder and telling you which plot point will sell the book, and which plot point will tank it. I couldn’t do it. I’m amazed anyone can.
The ridicule Scottoline’s suffering in the blogosphere misses the actual subtext of the article. The article is about a sea-change that the bestsellers are only starting to understand.
Let’s back up.
The New York Times article deals with what seems like, to traditional publishers and bestsellers, a rapid change in publishing. For decades, publishers forced bestselling writers to slow down to create demand for a product. Traditional publishers ignored evidence that readers wanted as much product as they could get from their favorite writers, calling writers like Nora Roberts, who publishes on average six books per year (plus some novellas), outliers whose fans were “unusually rabid.”
Stephen King writes about the difficulties in slowing down in the opening to Bag of Bones. The writer in that novel writes his normal four-to-six books per year, and puts all but two in a drawer, as “reserve” for times when he’s ill or unable to write.
The slowdown that publishers forced on their writers—with no evidence that it created more demand—was unnatural, and difficult to maintain.
You’ll note that King, who says he writes four hours per day, and Roberts, who puts in an eight-hour day, are hitting close to that 730,000 word mark of the “brutal” 2,000 word per day schedule. King takes his birthday and Christmas off. I’m not sure if Roberts takes any days off. I’ll wager both of them write more than 2,000 words per day.
So why, in reality, did publishers force the slowdown? Money, time, and attention. But mostly, money.
Two months ago, I showed you how much it costs traditional publishers to produce a book. The average cost of a midlist novel is $250,000. It costs more to produce a bestseller—more paper costs, more shipping costs, and primarily more promotion cost. Until a few years ago, the average profit margin a publisher expected to make on a book was four percent. That meant if a book—even a bestselling book—sold fewer copies than expected, the profit margin for that book got eaten up fairly quickly.
Traditional publishers have a two-to-three year publishing schedule. It has some give, but not much. So if the publisher plans to publish four titles by Big Bestseller Guy in 2012, and the second of those four titles sells marginally less than the first, the publisher will start to panic.
Because the money in books three and four has already been invested into those projects. In fact, most of that money has been spent long ago. If Big Bestseller Guy publishes four books in 2012, you can bet he also has four books on the schedule in 2013 and 2014, and a lot of that money has also been spent.
Four books per year by Big Bestseller Guy was a gamble too large for most traditional publishers to take unless Big Bestseller Guy was SuperHuge Bestseller Person, like Nora Roberts, whose books outsold her competition two to one. You could take that kind of gamble on SuperHuge Bestseller Person because her books made more than a four percent profit, so a loss on book two of four books in 2012 probably won’t hurt the bottom line much at all.
But most bestsellers still operated within that four percent margin, and so publishers were unwilling to rock the boat.
Most publishers are also pretty inept at marketing and promotion, even though they throw away millions of dollars annually on those very things. So the thought of throwing away even more millions on something that’s only marginally effective caused them to twitch.
Most bestsellers have advertising and marketing addendums to their contracts, things that the bestsellers can and do enforce. So there is really no way that the publishers can tell Big Bestseller Guy that they’ll do minimal marketing on book one, but they’ll really focus on book two and book four.
Nope. The marketing has to be equivalent.
Then the e-publishing revolution hit. While publishing profits went up, they went up only on the digital side. Every other indicator, from hardcover to mass market went down.
In the March 19th issue, Publishers Weekly published its annual Facts & Figures for publishing. The article that lead the examination of 2011’s numerical state of hardcover publishing had this headline: “Lower Unit Sales, Fewer Titles.”
Realize that PW’s F&F issue concerns itself with bestsellers only. No one looks at the numbers for the midlist. The only bestsellers that get counted “are based on shipped-and-billed figures supplied by publishers for new books with sales of 100,000+; all reflect only 2011 domestic retail sales for print books.”
No e-books, no self-published books, and tellingly, no returns. Since we’re dealing with print books, we have no idea if these books that have shipped and billed at 100,000 copies actually sold 50,000, 75,000 or 95,000 copies. That’s why publishers hold reserve against returns (which can happen up to a year after publication) and why these figures must be taken with a grain of salt.
That said, realize that these figures are the highest calculation of sales possible. Actual sales will be lower.
And the key here is that fewer books sold at 100,000 copies in 2011 in paper and fewer new authors made bestseller lists in paper in 2011.
The headline for the article on mass market and trade paper bestsellers had this title, “Less Is Just Less,” and has this quote buried in the lead paragraph:
“There were 48 mass market bestsellers with units of more than 500,000+ on this year’s list—the lowest figure we’ve recorded.”
I have no idea how long PW has published its mass market list, but I can tell you that the magazine has been around over 100 years, and it has covered mass market retailing from its beginning in the 1950s.
Less is less, in paper.
But the headline for E-books was “E-Books Boom.” PW has only covered e-books for two years (2010 and 2011) and sets its e-book bestseller limitation at 25,000+ copies. But—and this is an important but—it does not consider backlist titles for consideration here, nor does it consider self-published books. Kinda missing out on the whole point, actually.
Writers make significantly less on their e-book sales, even—especially—bestselling titles. Publishers are doing their best to get rid of the mass market paperback, by producing fewer and by putting most books into trade paper (as the paper format). Publishers are starting to think of the “cheap” edition of the book as the e-book, which is great for publishers, but crappy for bestsellers and other writers, because the e-book royalty terms are abysmal.
No matter what traditional publishers say, e-books cost less to produce. There are no returns on e-books, so publishers don’t have to produce two books to sell one, and publishers pay the authors less. So of course, publishers are moving traditional writers into e-books.
And self-published authors taught publishers something that they should have already known: Readers want a lot of books by their favorite authors.
Which has forced traditional publishing into a complete reversal of the editorial model it held just three years ago. Back then, writers were discouraged from publishing a lot of books. Now, publishers want as many books as possible.
Especially e-book-only novellas. Ironically, as you’ll note from the New York Times story, bestselling authors usually don’t get an advance on the short e-books they write for their publishers. And bestsellers get the same crappy royalty the rest of us do.
When I first heard this from a bestseller friend of mine, I simply assumed he hadn’t negotiated hard enough for an advance. (He hadn’t. He has since gotten better about this.) Then I heard from bestselling romance writer after bestselling romance writer, all of whom were asked to write novellas for no advance and crappy terms—and most of whom did so. (!!!!)
Traditionally published bestsellers are being told that writing the short story/novella length piece will aid in the sales of the next book, so therefore the short work is simply part of marketing—like a long book tour. Yeah, it’ll take your time from your next paying project, but you’re already doing a tour for free, so why not do this too?
(Musicians get paid when they tour to promote their albums. Why don’t writers? [Okay, that’s another post for another time.])
The key quote in the New York Times article isn’t Scottoline’s “brutal” schedule, which everyone seems to talk about, but a quote from internationally bestselling thriller writer Lee Child:
“Everybody’s doing a little more,” said Child. “It seems like we’re all running faster to stay in the same place.”
Exactly. And it doesn’t just seem that way. It is that way for bestselling authors. They signed contracts that give them spectacular (in traditional publishing terms) royalties on their hardcovers, with escalators that provide even more profit when the book sells more than 150,000 copies, 250,000 copies, 500,000 copies and so on. The escalators and excellent royalty rates exist on the mass market paperback side too (and mass market is being slowly phased out).
The royalties aren’t as good for most bestselling writers on trade paper, because ten years ago when those royalty rates got negotiated, no one thought the trade paper format would ever replace mass market. What no one realized is that trade paper cannibalized hardcover as the hardcovers got too expensive. Even so, the bestsellers still get better royalty rates on their trade papers than they do on e-books.
Every writer gets better terms from traditional publishing on paper formats than they do on e-formats.
With paper sales down and e-book sales up, even if a bestseller sells more total copies of a book than they did of a similar book the year before, the bestseller is going to get smaller and smaller paychecks. Advances are way down, due to the recession—even for bestsellers—and now royalties are down too.
Unit sales are down as more and more books become available, books that readers want to read, books readers couldn’t get before because those books were out of print or because traditional publishing believed that entire genres (I’m looking at you, Western) didn’t sell.
The one thing that hasn’t changed in this digital revolution is that readers still have a budget. Readers only have so many dollars they can spend on books. As they spend more and more money over a wider variety of titles (self-published, backlist, shorter works), they’ll spend less and less money on bestsellers.
We’re seeing it now: sales of bestselling titles (with some exceptions) have flatlined. If television is any guide, this flattening will continue for a decade or more. Think of the advent of cable. Once upon a time, a network television show could get 60% of all people who watched television at a given time period. Now, no television show can get that many viewers. A network show can still win its time slot, but the number of viewers it gets now—actual number, and not a percentage—is so low that the network show would have been canceled in the 1960s if it attracted the same number of eyeballs. And the population of the United States has grown significantly in those five decades. Which means that the percentage of viewers that the network show is getting is laughably small by 1960s standards.
Traditional publishers will not go away, but ten years from now, the bestselling books in the United States will sell significantly fewer copies than they do now. The threshold for bestsellerdom will go down, just like it did in the music industry. Originally, the term “gold record” in the music industry meant that the record sold one million copies. Now, to get a gold record certification, the piece of music (not necessarily a record, CD or mp3 but some combination) must sell 500,000 copies.
I’m sure publishing will do the same with its bestsellers some time soon. It’s already happening, as the Publishers Weekly articles show. “Lower Unit Sales, Fewer Titles” pretty much says it all.
All of this explains why major bestsellers from Scott Turow to Lee Child don’t understand why most writers are excited about the changes in publishing. From the bestselling writer’s point of view, these changes are harmful to a writer’s bottom line. They represent a terrifying future in which the revenue from a bestselling book goes down significantly.
It also explains why agents like Simon Lipskar are writing silly letters opposing the Department of Justice’s investigation into the publishing industry. Lipskar works at Writers House, a large agency that represents many bestsellers, including Nora Roberts and Stephenie Meyer.
Writers House and agencies like it are seeing the same thing that their bestselling writers are seeing: profits going way down because of the changes in publishing. Worse for agents, the midlist writers, whose backlist titles have reverted to the writer, are making money on books that have no agency involvement. In other words, the agencies don’t get a percentage of these backlist titles.
Traditional publishers are scared. Agents are scared. Bestselling writers are scared. They’re losing their power with each passing day.
So these three groups will never, ever, defend changes to the publishing industry that benefit the large mass of writers and readers out there. These three groups are in a panic. That’s why the publishers (possibly) colluded, why the agents are in bed with the publishers, and why writers who should know better have become shills for the industry they still work in.
Am I surprised? By that, no. But I am amused at myself. I decided I wouldn’t write about that AAR letter and here I go, writing about it after all.
The best thing the rest of us can do—that mass of writers and readers who are benefitting from these publishing changes—is to fight for our new position. If you feel so inclined, write the DOJ a letter. David Gaughran gives you a lesson in how to do it.
Otherwise, educate your fellow writers about the changes. Writers don’t have to give up their traditional publishing contracts. Writers do have to negotiate for better terms. And writers should probably not hire agents to do so, at least while this change is going on. Hire an IP lawyer instead—if you chose to remain in traditional publishing.
But you don’t have to be traditionally published any more to get your work to readers. You can indie publish if you’re so inclined.
The nifty thing that most writers have now is choice.
The one thing most bestselling writers do not have is choice. They’ve signed long-term contracts that control their next works. They’re bound to the old system. And unless they lift their heads out of that brutal 2,000-words-per-day, seven-days-per-week schedule, they’ll suffer as the system suffers.
Don’t expect them to defend you. Right now, they can’t even defend themselves.
I am so happy to be back on my weekly schedule. The hacking issues got resolved thanks to a lot of people and wewatchyourwebsite.com. It took a great deal of work, but I have hopes that we’ll avoid such incidents in the future. Thanks to everyone who reposted the blog that got eaten when the hack attack hit, and thanks to all of you who donated to help defray the expenses of repairing the website. I greatly appreciate it. I found myself relentlessly upbeat as the crisis went on because of all the support I got from my readers.
For those of you who don’t know, the nonfiction part of my website exists because of donations. I make my living on my fiction; my nonfiction doesn’t pay for itself. So to keep me blogging every Thursday, I have a donation button. If you learned something, or if you like what you read, please leave a tip on the way out. Thanks.
“The Business Rusch: “The ‘Brutal’ 2000-Word Day,” copyright © 2012 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
92 responses to “The Business Rusch: The “Brutal” 2000-Word Day”
Leave a Reply Cancel reply
Ten Little Fen: A Spade/Paladin Novel
Spade and Paladin find themselves snowed in at a remote sf convention, with a killer on the loose! Get your copy here.
Get a Free Book, Monthly Updates on New Releases, and Special Offers
The Chase, the latest Diving novel, answers a lot of your questions about the series. It also might cause you to ask a few more. Click here to find out more.
Get Early Copies of the Thursday Business Blog and More!
Rethinking The Writing Business
All the licensing blogs in one volume. Learn how to think about your writing business in a way that will enable you to work smarter, not harder. Get yours here.
A New Edition of A Dangerous Road
For book clubs and reading groups, complete with questions! Go here to order.
Thanks, Kris. That is the best answer…ever. I’m going to try every bit of it. Starting with that sign, “Have fun.” Ever since I started getting a following for my writing and making a little money at it, something went haywire and I stopped having as much fun. I feel like there are all these expectations now, and that stuff is mucking up the fun. Anyway, thanks again.
You’re welcome. We all have to deal with this. The survivors are the ones who figure out how to do it in the best way for themselves. So glad I helped. 🙂
Okay, so how do you get those critics on your shoulder to shut up? Is there a trick to it? Because mine are beating me up a lot lately. 🙂
Honestly, Rob? You really want to know? When they start talking to me, I tell them to shut up. Out loud. And repeatedly do it until they go away. If that doesn’t work, I open a new screen and do a short essay about their points, telling the critics why they’re wrong or what I’m doing to fix the problems. Mostly the essays end with big caps: YOU DON’T BELONG IN THE CREATIVE PROCESS! GO AWAY! Believe it or not, all of that works. (So does a sign near or over your desk that says “Have fun.”)
Regarding the word-count imbroglio, I am a loyal supporter of Lisa Scottoline and probably always shall be because she has a skill as a thriller writer that reminds me of some of the very best writer people in the SF community — she makes nearly every fan she meets feel that person has a special bond with Lisa.
She hands out TastyKakes at signings, introduces her mother and daughter, and greets familiar faces in the crowd with personal inquiries as if one was her BFF.
In my case, Lisa did something that ranks as possibly the most satisfying meet-the-writer experience in my life. It was my second occasion of one of her signings at the local Borders and I mentioned that Hartwell and Cramer had included my friend Michael F. Flynn’s Hugo-nominated story, “Dawn, and the Sunset, and the Colours of the Earth”, in which MF^2 had graciously included a brief faux-paranoid bulletin-board message-forum section from invited contributors from his AOL Authors forum.
Lisa asked the Borders events manager to please locate the sole PB copy, purchased it, and asked me in front of a dozen lingering fans to autograph it for her.
I felt as if I was in the old joke about visiting the President in the Oval Office, have the hotline ring, and the, after listening for a moment, President handing over the phone with, “It’s for you.”
She is a master promoter of her work and of her following. As part of the business of being a writer, her PR work is nearly without peer.
Thanks for the post, JJB. Nice to see another side of it all.
Kris: regarding textbooks, it’s another industry that deserves the shakeup it’s getting. In SURELY YOU’RE JOKING, MR. FEYNMAN, Nobel prize-winning physicist (and all around card) Richard Feynman recounted his experience as a school board volunteer reading textbooks for LA schools. The clueless, unqualified parents he worked with mostly didn’t read all of the choices, or understand, or spot errors.
I love the new world of publishing all around. I have no name, yet I’ve found fans in England and Australia who have bought my short stories (I’m American). I’ve never written a novel. In the past, what would I have done? Published my stories as little chapbooks and stood on a street corner (in England! In Australia!) Hawking them? This isn’t a change in the industry for me, it’s an industry that would never have been possible!
Exactly, Eric. Good points all. I remember that my junior high history text book claimed America won the War of 1812. A friend used Encyclopedia Brittanica to challenge the teacher on that, who was surprised… 🙂 So you are right. And the prices of texts, particularly college texts, are outrageous. I love your definition of a new industry. Very true.
A minor update: the weakest of the bigger publishers just hit chapter 11. And apparently it was their textbook business that pushed HMH over the edge.
“The global financial crisis over the past several years has negatively affected” Houghton Mifflin’s financial performance, in a business that “depends largely on state and local funding” for the schoolbook market, said William Bayers, company general counsel, in court papers.
He cited “recession-driven decreases” and “purchase deferrals” by the states and a “lack of anticipated federal stimulus support” for “substantial revenue decline.”
What Wikipedia did to the Encyclopedia business lies not too far.
I had seen that, Felix, and it hadn’t computed into the entire industry. This truly is something for me to look into. Thank you!
I didn’t realize until after I posted that that people would get it mixed up when I said something about “editing.”
I understood what you meant, and I wasn’t trying to say it was the same thing. I meant “film editing” as just one of many things where you see the gears cranking behind the scenes. I could have as easily said “camera angles.”
What I meant was, when I was learning about film technique, I couldn’t see anything but technique, and my creative mind would be frozen, just like you become after a workshop. I wouldn’t see what was happening dramatically on the screen, I’d see “long tracking shot, dolly zoom, cut cut cut, motion going this way, motion going that way…”
But after I got it down, I could watch JAWS and be fully aware that Spielberg was using a dolly-zoom but still be screaming “Get your kid out of the water!” I know exactly how Spielberg got me there without losing any of the thrill.
I really like being able to do that. It adds joy the the process. It was worth going through those paralyzed “learning” periods to get there, imho. I think that a part of getting to that point is a major zen lesson — how to be fully aware without being distracted. To get control of that inner editor so you can benefit from what it does, without losing anything.
Me, I don’t like to be aware. I like to get completely absorbed in the magic. I have to work to shut off the critical part of my brain to do that.
Kris: I came via The Passive Guy’s blog to read the entire article. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your analysis and information with the rest of us. One of the wonderful things about the indie revolution is the willingness of fellow writers and publishers to spread their knowledge around.
I jumped in last summer with one novel, and now have several short stories out as well. I run a small indie press — publishing two other authors right now with two more to launch shortly. It’s a tremendous time to be a writer (and publisher)!
It really is a great time, Patrice. Thanks for the comment, and welcome.
What I see in textbooks is the various Open Textbook initiatives bearing fruit. (Here’s one: http://www.opentextbook.org/)
I see many small states ticked off at the publishers pandering to the big state school boards (California, Texas) and sticking them with politically slanted texts.
I see the schools and school boards doing the math on buying print books instead of gadgets. (I see cheap ruggedized readers you can safely give to six year olds.)
I see university professors teaming up to share materials online and write their own course materials. After all, there is no shortage of knowledgeable teachers capabable of assembling suitable study materials and sharing them online among themselves. Materials that universities could deliver to students “free” as a way to justify their tuition charges.
The publishing conglomerates are relying on electronic versions of their existing materials as a fallback to their coming decline in fiction book revenue; I think they’re in for a shock.
Not today or tomorrow, but give it a few years…
If anything, their electronic textbook initiatives are going to grease the way.
Fascinating, Felix. I hadn’t thought of any of that. Good to know. I’m going to start investigating. 🙂 Much appreciated.
For me the problem is not so much analysis that slows me down. ( Don’t get me wrong, it can and does). It’s more … ego. Maybe a need to please. When I first learn something, I’m doing it self-consciously, and that makes me fuss and stumble. It’s like hearing your voice echoed back at you.
But analytical aspects of creativity come naturally to me. I’m ambidextrous and dyslexic, and I suspect my right and left brains are no more sure if which side is left and right than I am. Or maybe it’s just some zen training I got as a kid, which taught me about being aware without judgement. When I watch movies, fir instance I am fully aware of the editing, but it doesn’t kick me out of the story at all.
But when I first learned about editing I was distracted by it because I was learning. The change that allowed me to still enjoy the story wasn’t that I learned to shut off the awareness, but that I finished learning what I needed to know, and it was no longer distracting.
When I say editing, Camille, I mean editing professionally. Like I did when it was my job. That is what gets me. And I am exceptionally good at analyzing things: it’s just not good for me as a writer. Exceedingly left-brained.
Indeed, as amusing as the word count issue is, the eye-opener for me is the production pipeline issue and the “bestsellers” contract issues.
They brought into focus exactly why the publishers, agents, and their apologists all over are acting the way they are. (Oh, I knew their ox was getting gored somehow, but now it’s clear exactly *how*.)
We are in a time of transition where the new (ebook-driven) economics are starting to take hold and the old (gatekeeper-driven) contracts and pipelines are still in place. The inevitable dysfunction produced is seriously goring a lot of oxes. Some fataly, I fear.
The big takeaway I get from this article (Thanks, Ms Rusch!) is that this is *not* a good time for newcomers to be pursuing the traditional publishing road. Perhaps in a few years after the dust is settled and the oxes are healed or euthanized–after the new paradigm and its economics and processes firmly take hold–there *may* be value in following the big publishers’ repaved road.
Or maybe not.
The ebook evolution isn’t done.
There are clearly further disruptions ahead.
(I’d hate to be in the textbook business come 2015.)
There are bigger storms coming to the world of big publishers.
And, (switching metaphors) those traditional publishing contracts may be more in the way of achors than life-preservers in the stormy months and years to come.
Panic, blind flailing, and over-reaction are understandable.
Still reprehensible–those folks need to get out more, for their own good–but it helps to know where the fear response is coming from.
Much obliged, ma’am! 🙂
You’re welcome, Felix. I’m glad that helped explain some of the fear. I haven’t been watching textbooks as closely as I should. What do you see coming in 2015?
Is this a bad time to mention I can write 2000 words in forty-five minutes easy? Well, on a good day, anyways. Stress has been creeping into my life so it’s not as easy as it used to be. That whole article set my teeth on edge. I’ve written and published two novels this year, about to have a third done. If things go well, I’ll have six novels self-published this year. and a handful of short stories and novellas along with it.
Honestly, I don’t think I ever go the “writing slow” myth. No one ever spouted it to me so I never clung to it. I was the last minute essay goddess in college. I’d finish my essay at midnight or one in the morning, turn it in to the professor the next day and make an A (sometimes a B). I never told the professor because I knew it would annoy them.
E-publishing is a wonderful thing. I’ve sold about seven copies of my ebooks this month (I haven’t received the extended distro yet from Smashwords) and I am thrilled. That’s the most I’ve sold without doing a free promo. I feel truly sad for these author who see this new publishing revolution as a drag or a crutch. It’s awesome and I ain’t stopping.
Sounds wonderful, Amanda. Congrats on the sales–and especially on getting the books done. Yeah, I can do 2K in an hour or more when the project is going well. But when it isn’t…well, I grind down to 1,000 words an hour. Which then makes me finish my brutal 2K in…2 hours. 🙂 Seriously, when critics are sitting on my shoulder, I can’t write at all. I seriously can’t imagine writing with the pressures some of these bestsellers allow in their offices. I write for pleasure, not for money, so I can shut all those folks out. That I make money at something I enjoy is a bonus for me.
Here is irony for you…..
My internal editor sounds just like your husband! (Although he says things that sound just like Kate and Damon back in 1982.)
Seriously, my internal editor kicked in negatively back after I went to Clarion. When I got out of the workshop I was JAZZED, but I couldn’t write anything. Nothing was good enough for the imagined workshop participants standing behind me every time I sat down at the keyboard.
So I blew them a raspberry and wrote something which would not be approved of at all by this imaginary workshop. They were all sophisticated and commercial and literary, so I wrote an old-fashioned completely unmarketable swashbuckler. (This was in 1982, and that kind of unsophisticated adventure was — like space opera, and westerns — completely passe.)
Irony #2 – that swashbuckler got me into grad school with a fellowship.
Not that the swashbuckler was anything anyone in grad school would have approved of either. But golly, I had actually finished it, and it had a plot and everything.
Grad school did not kick my internal editor into gear at ALL, because even the instructors seemed to have less experience and knowledge than I had gained at Clarion. And they were so easy on everybody.
Camille, I would’ve slowed down after Clarion, but I was working as journalist and had deadlines, so no time to think about it. 🙂 It’s editing and analyzing that slow me down, so I’ve stopped doing both. And I am very happy…
It’s a bit sad that people (including me, I guess) mostly discuss the word count and miss the rest of your post.
I’ll have not much to add to your main topic since I’m not knowledgable in the world of publishing. What you wrote makes totally sense, though, and I have a feeling this is very profound. I was waiting for some super huge bestseller guy to exploit his ebook rights on his own but I guess I shouldn’t hold my breath…
Are these people really chained to their publishers like you said? Or don’t they all simply get it? I can’t quite believe the latter…
Frank, remember that most of the current bestsellers long before indie pubbing became an acceptable option. Back then (all of 2 or 3 years ago), signing a long term deal with a publisher for a lot of money and guaranteeing the relationship was a smart idea. Things have changed rapidly, and so have profits, and now these writers are stuck. Many of them don’t even realize what’s going on.
Last summer I attended a conference and shared some ice cream with a very well respected editor. As we discussed the editing of books he mentioned the goal in NY is to achieve less than a 3% error rate in published books, but they rarely achieve even this. My advice to Phyliis is to relax and take a deep breath.
As for the topic at hand I saw this article but it’s too ridiculous for a response. Writers who believe this is the way to work must have so much stress in their lives they will die young. I have empathy for Scottoline she must be under severe pressure.
If it were me receiving all this advice and crowding around my writing desk I’d tell them to take a hike and leave me alone. Of course if I had an agent they’d probably be fired the day after I hired them.
Holding my tongue about the misspelling by the proofreader in the comment about Kris’s misspelling. Mistakes happen and pointing them out for correction is one thing, but let’s not equate minor spelling errors to mean anything more than what it is: a simple error, easily corrected.
Exactly, Sam. What’s been fascinating to me as we reproof the backlist books for WMG is this: we compare them to the published editions to take advantage of the previous copy editor and previous proofer’s work. Inevitably, we find missed words or misspellings or problems in the published version that were not in the original manuscript. Unfortunately, perfection is impossible in publishing. We must simply do the best we can and move on to the next project.
If I confined myself to 2,000 words a day, I’d be fired. I’m a technical writer; the pressure to produce is constant, high and unyielding.
When it comes to writing fiction, however, I think word count is less important than time spent. Over the years, I’ve learned to keep track of the time I spend writing, and log it in a spreadsheet. This tells me that it takes about six months to write a novel (I only get a couple hours a day to write my own work) and a week to write a short story. If something takes longer than that, I need to stop and understand why. Sometimes the story demands it — and sometimes I am just lollygagging.
At all times, I am reminded of Blaise Pascal’s famous line: “If I’d had more time, I would have written you a shorter letter.”
Love the quote, Sarah. 🙂 I too keep track of time (and word count) in my desk calendar. Paper calendar. (I have a million electronic calendars which I use for other things.) I also keep track, in that calendar, of what’s going on in my life. So if I look back and realize I had a bad week on both hours and word count, I might see that I had a bad run of migraines or a crisis in my personal life…or I just watched too much TV. If it’s the TV thing, I can correct it. With the others, I just have to forgive myself.
And thanks for the heads up about other writing industries. I figure TV writers, with a weekly show to produce, can’t just tell the show runners that the daily word count is too brutal for them. If so, then they get fired or another writer gets brought in. If that happens too often, then well, you’ll never work in that town again. 🙂
What alarms me about this latest round of idiocy isn’t the high-profile articles, letters, and public statements by traditional publishing insiders. It’s the enthusiastic was I see them getting picked up and re-parroted around the net, often with various other geegaws and baubles grafted on. See an example here, which adds a quote from Samuel R. Delaney’s “Letter to a Critic” talking about science fiction writer burn-out (which I think says far more about science fiction burning up good ideas before their time, but that’s another rant…):
The article is bad enough, but the comments make me want to pull out my eyes with pliers.
Probably it will all blow over, but the net (and by extension, much of what passes for “news” these days, witness all the “Demon Amazon” stuff in major media) is all about simply repeating whatever popular ideas are already out there, and I worry about it’s becoming a mind-worm that poisons a large base of potential readers, or worse, a full-blown meme that grows to encompass fast-writing, “trash fiction,” indie-publishing, and anything that isn’t traditionally published and grown in New York.
Okay, I’m alarmist and get out ahead of trouble. I come by it honestly.
The great thing about readers, Steve, is that no one else knows what you’re reading. That’s why 50 Shades of Gray sold so well. So yes, people might parrot that stuff, and then they’ll go home and secretly read the “trash.” Just like they always have. Only now it’s easier to be secretive.
And really, why worry about what other people think? We can’t control them. Only ourselves.
I wirte about 5,000 (finished) sellable words a day on average. What slows me down a lot is the publishing side. There’s an incredible amount to do each day because each 2,500-3,000 words is a short story for me. I can really relate to the 2,000 word brutality. Bestsellers are not alone. They should add short story writers who do everything themselves too.
(I managed to publish 35 shorts last month though. Not really a bad effort, but a bit less than usual because my day job was busy.)
Yes, Jenny, indie publishing takes time. However, imho, hitting your writing goals comes first every day, and then you do the publishing stuff. Folks can wait an extra day for that new story. Congrats on all you’ve done, though. You’ve done a fantastic amount!
I truly hate to say this, because I’m a big fan and read your blog regularly, but you have made a boo-boo that no one should make, but especially not a writer. You wrote “incidences.” There is no such word. One event is an “indident.” Two or more are “incidents” (add an S as in any plural.) As a former proofreader for a national magazine I cringe. As a writer myself (13 novels) I want to cry.
Wow, Phyllis. Everyone makes mistakes. Don’t mean to make you cry. This one got read by only me and Dean, neither of whom are proofers. It happens with a blog. Even on the biggies, like the Entertainment Weekly blogs and the LA Times blogs. Considering what we’ve been discussing in the comments, I’m leaving your post rather than just correcting the problem because I want folks to know it’s okay to make mistakes. Worrying about them freezes writers up big time. However, I do appreciate the heads-up.
From one of Kris’s replies: “We’re not writers, imho. We’re storytellers. And the story is what matters. If your stories don’t make sense on the page in the first draft, then you need to learn to rewrite.”
THIS! Oh, so much this! Writing is the medium I use, but I’m a storyteller. My goal is to tell a good story, the words are just tools. If the first draft of a story is _broken_(or out of order), then I rewrite. Otherwise, I just tweak, cut, clarify, maybe add a scene or two.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
Absolutely, Devin. 🙂
This has been haunting me for a few days, ever since Passive Guy posted about it. So I did some thinking.
Okay, 2000 words a day. Just to be fair, we’ll think of this as on a full-time writing schedule, so that’s 10,000 words a week. And we’ll assume they are raw and rotten words, because only about a third of them end up in the finished books.
I’m working just over 1/4 time at the day job this summer, so I guess that would mean 1400 words a day, five days a week, is equivalent. Which makes 7000 words a week.
Wait a minute. When I feel the need to set a word goal, the one I pick as a sustainable and fair goal to keep my nose to the grindstone is…. 1000 words a day (every day, not just workdays). 7000 a week.
That’s raw words not finished ones, and I’ve never done it when working less than half time.
I’m inspired, based on this, to make that my “brutal” goal this summer. I’ve been doing time goals lately, but maybe I’ll go back to word counts.
It makes me feel virtuous.
Sounds marvelous, Camille. 🙂
Thanks, Kris and Annie, for the words of advice and encouragement.
My own critical voice came into be in college — and esp. in grad school — when I was in training to be an academic. While critical writing works for academic articles and books, it’s hell on fiction. It took me a long time (a decade!) to unlearn much of it, and it didn’t go away until the summer of 2010 when I took up a story a week challenge. It’s been dormant since then, until March.
Ironically, I’m now writing a 20K-word nonfiction piece to “forget” what I learned at the Char. Voice workshop. I’m having a lot of fun with it, too, and it’s a nice break. My hope is to finish sometime next week, then get on a story-a-week challenge for the summer. The workshop axiom will be my axiom: It doesn’t have to be right, it just has to be finished.
Great axiom, Jeff. That’s mine as well. 🙂
Good points, Kris.
Another thought I had about Scottoline’s process is that it’s exactly that: it’s the process that got her to her bestseller and current status, so change *would* be a threatening thing.
So if she struggled to get one book out a year with all the people in her office, and now her agent tells her could she write two to make up for the shortfall in print run and declining sales and royalty rates…not only would changing her process and looking for a new frame of reference for the business be frightening, it would seem virtually impossible.
From her point of view, she’s got to double her previous output in half the time, or lose everything she’s worked to get so far.
Talk about a Sword of Damocles above your head.
Just like you said in your previous post about how bestsellers would be squeezed, and how disruption-innovation studies predict, that established players are sometimes the least able and least recompensed (or motivated) by their previous incentive structure to change to take advantage of the new market conditions.
Sam, I think you’re right. I think many bestsellers are going through the exact process you’re describing, and are deeply, deeply terrified. I know I would be.
Change is most fearsome to those who have the most to lose. The attitude of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’ prevails in other fields as well. If you knew how much was spent on ‘social issues’ by the government of Ontario, and how much of that actually trickled down to the ‘authors,’ the parallels are extreme.
Precisely, Louis. I’m reading about the music industry right now, trying to understand what they went through a decade ago. It’s quite familiar…
Thanks for the mention Kris. I was originally going to send the letter this morning, but I’m going to keep collecting names for at least another week as they keep pouring in (thanks in part to you).
You’re welcome, David. Good letter. I hope lots of folks sign on.
I think the word count debates and revising debates are quite fun, but I try to remind myself that every writer is different and my experience at this early stage in learning to be a writer is that every project differs. And that is OK. What matters is you live life in the way that makes you happy and produces the quantity and quality of work you want to.
Each writer is different, Thomas E, and each book is different. We do work in the arts, after all. 🙂 Thanks for the comment.
Jeff, I have a ridiculously strong critical voice, which Kris pointed out to me some years back. I think it comes from having a very critical mother and writing legalese for nitpicky lawyers for lots of years. You should give yourself a huge pat on the back for writing stories at the character voice workshop. Being creative during Dean’s analytical workshops is one of the hardest things to do, at least for me, because my inner editor is on caffeine overdrive after I’ve analyzed stories all day. Writing a story a week, or heck, writing anything on a fast deadline, helps me turn off my critical voice. I hope you have fun on your summer story challenge.
As for Lisa Scottoline, if she’s letting that many people into her writing office… *shudder* That sounds horrid. I just gained a lot of admiration for her because she’s writing bestsellers under conditions that would reduce a lot of writers’ output to total dreck. Thanks for pointing out what’s going on behind the numbers, Kris, both with bestsellers and their publishers.
I’ve been following the anti-trust case on various blogs, and it’s kind of funny how so many of the strident voices in the industry are missing (on purpose?) the entire point of the lawsuit: it’s not whether agency pricing is a good or bad thing for readers, writers, distributors, agents, or publishers; it’s about whether the defendants violated anti-trust law. When a judge issues a 56-page order on a routine preliminary motion to dismiss, like the judge did in this case, I’d take that as a strong hint from the bench that the parties need to stay on point.
Annie, thanks, and thanks for letting folks like Jeff know that the critical voice burn is normal after an analytical workshop. I agree with you about Scottoline, and I love your comment on the judge’s order. I read the whole thing and found it quite…fascinating. It seems like she was irritated at the lack of legal knowledge in the briefs she was being forced to read.
Re: Lisa Scottoline. I had an eyebrow-raising moment when I saw that part of the article. A “brutal” writing day for me is 8,000-10,000 words. BUT…I’m not a NYT best-seller (yet.) I wish I had more time to make sure every word counts, that every scene is tight, that every character’s motivation is clear. If I could spend 8-10 hours a day just on writing, I just might make that NYT list. So kudos to her for getting those 2,000 words a day down. I’m happy to get 1000. And I don’t have editors looking over my shoulder, either.
Tori, I don’t think most bestsellers change their process when they become bestsellers, unless they listen to all those critical voices coming at them. For all we know, Scottoline wrote slowly from the beginning. I do know that the more prolific bestsellers ignored all of those voices, and sometimes actively told them to get out of the writing process or go away. When your 200-lb gorilla tells you to leave, you leave. However, most bestsellers, like most writers, are very grateful for the help so they believe they can’t work without it. To each his own, but I suspect that multi-handed process will go away in several years. It’s a relatively new development, after all, designed to make the books more “marketable.” I wonder how books ever sold before the sales people had their paws in the process. [evil grin]
I am so with Jeff that after the Character Voice workshop I am struggling to get out of critical voice and let the stories flow. Prior to it, I was easily hitting 2,000 words a day. Now some days it’s a struggle to hit 1,000. Before I would have panicked and freaked about the slow down but now I’m learning to relax and realize my brain is still processing everything I learned. It’s also nervous and gearing up for the Short Story Workshop in June, so there’s that. Yet I’ve still managed to finish a couple of novellas and short stories, it’s just taking l-o-n-g-e-r.
Boy, I am so glad to hear the SSW is more creative-voice based! What a relief! That will definitely help kick that ol’ critical voice to the curb!
Rebecca, I hope it will kick the critical voice to the curb. It’s not fun to write that way, although I do understand the processing thing. That happens a lot. Plus, you’ve learned new tools, so you’re playing with them. That’s always uncomfortable until the tools fit well into your system. Watch for an assignment soon…:-)
Oh, Kris! Thank you!
“My issues aren’t in the words, which I don’t consider writing anyway, but in the story.”
Yes! Being a relative newbie, I’d never heard anyone say that. Such a relief to learn that I’m not the only one to see it that way.
Once I see clearly how a scene should proceed, the words fly out of me. It all just *feels* right. But I often know what I want a scene to achieve, yet do *not* have a clear vision of exactly what happens or exactly what is said. And getting that vision . . . well, *that* is what slows me down. Why is it that some scenes are so clear and others so murky?
JM, if I knew the answer to your question, my writing would go quickly all the time. Sometimes you just have to trust the process. 🙂
Thank you, Kris. Once again you have explained a lot. I had wondered why the Bestselling Authors were so adamant about holding on to the old world of publishing.
I also wonder how soon one or more of the really big names will jump ship and indie-pub. Not just threaten to indie-pub a short story as a form of leverage, but pub their own books free from the system that has them trapped. They can’t be ignorant of the lack of money they are making on their backlists compared to the mid-list authors with less than stellar careers who got their old books back and indie-pubed them.
Do you think that will happen or are they too married to the old system? I know if I were in their shoes I would be talking to my lawyers about how how to break the “do not compete” clauses and whatever else there might be in their contracts to keep from going out on their own.
Thanks, Claire. I think most bestselling writers gave the business concerns to their agents, who are invested in the old system. I think most bestsellers don’t worry their pretty heads over that nasty business stuff. I also know that they do have a lot more business things that demand their time than midlist writers do, and that it must feel good to give someone else all the difficult stuff. Which means that these writers have no idea that midlist writers are doing better under the new system. Nor do the bestsellers understand the new system. I don’t think many will–or can–jump ship because of clauses in their contracts. I’m watching a friend who does understand this get sucked into worse and worse contracts with the promise of bestsellerdom right now.
I think there will be a group of indie bestsellers who don’t go the traditional route after their books hit the lists, and they’ll teach the older bestsellers that there’s more money to be made. Or not. The older ones might never get this.
Well, 2,000 words a day is a very tough page for ME, certainly. I can make it (though not every day of the week) when I deadline is breathing down my neck, but not as a daily lifestyle.
Then again, I am indeed a re-writer and I do indeed sweat blood over my prose. That’s how I get a good book out of the sheer gobbledeegook which is the first thing I thrown down on the page. Glittering prose, complex characterization, layered storytelling, and well-structured plot reversals do not flow forth freely via just one pass of my muse-blessed fingers gushing over the keyboard in a river of creative genius. Mostly, predicatble, plodding, disorganized, unimaginative stuff is what first gets on the page. And then I work on it a whole lot, with multiple passes and a lot of shuffling, deleting, replacing, and rewriting, to make it good enough to expect any human being on the planet to be willing to spend their hard-earned money and their hard-won free time to read it.
Writing is not the same thing as typing. I’m a good typist. If it were just a matter of TYPING fast, as often seems to be the implication in these sorts of discussions, I’d produce a million publishable words per year. But since the two things are not actually identical, it’s a stretch for me to produce about 200,000 words of publishable material per year.
And I’ve managed to sell about 30 books, sixty short stories, and many articles. So this is what works for me.
And it’s just barely possible that one of the reasons Scottoline has a huge audience and makes a lot of money for each word she publishes is that she labors over the words, too.
As I said, Laura. She labors. Sounds like you do too. I’m of a very firm belief, proven with hundreds of students, that rewriting is a skill. Most writers never learn it. Apparently, you have. Me, I prefer to get it right the first time. My issues aren’t in the words, which I don’t consider writing anyway, but in the story. Usually stories come to me out of order. So I write the pieces and stitch them together in the proper order later. That’s rewriting, but not laboring over words. We’re not writers, imho. We’re storytellers. And the story is what matters. If your stories don’t make sense on the page in the first draft, then you need to learn to rewrite. Sounds like you and I have both done that. But that’s a very, very, very different skill from actual storytelling.
Wow. Just wow.
Shucks. Just realized that three word comment took me almost nine minutes out of my brutal 12 hour day, 2000 word per day quota.
Oops, dang it! Now I’m up to 1 hour 4.4 minutes out of my day with that explanation.
Arrgh! The explanation of the explanation put the total at 1 hr 45.95 minutes!
Urp. 2 hrs 24.73 minutes!
It’s a never ending Achilles’ Tortoise paradox, I tell you! Oh the humanity!
LOL, Lee. Achilles’ Tortoise. LOL.
2000 words a day. And look how much you could get done in only a couple of hours. Imagine sitting down for half a regular work day (4 hours).
For me, the excitement is how many stories i could tell. Like so many other writers, I have more ideas than I could probably write in a lifetime. What’s even better? The fact that I can make them all available as I finish them without someone or something constraining me. Great for readers and writers.
On an aside, I remember when the issue with publishers asking for (sometimes free) novellas. I shook my head in disbelief then, and do so now. Unless they were constrained by non-compete clauses, didn’t they even for a second realize how much better off they would have been in writing it and publishing it themselves? I know, I know. So many reasons not to. Many wouldn’t ever consider it.
Over and over again, I count myself fortunate in the position I am. Time to go do what a writer does best: write.
Thanks, JA. I’m still shocked by that free novella thing too. And the agents encourage it! [shakes head]
Agreed that 2,000 words is not brutal by any stretch of the imagination. Seriously, have these people never written a timed essay series in high school? 1500+ words in 45 minutes on average.
I don’t have that many working hours for health reasons, but 2,000 words is still no struggle. It’s finding and settling on a block of time longer than 15 minutes when no one will bother you, at least for me — and my health condition causes memory recall problems! I’m sure able-bodied people can pick up where they left off and write in smaller chunks than I can.
It’s getting to the point that any time I hear about the publishing industry from a traditional news source, I brace myself for errors, grievous misunderstanding about how the industry functions, and checking off most major points on a bingo checklist.
Exactly, SV. I prepare myself too. I didn’t even mention the opening paragraph of the article, filled with misinformation. Apparently genre writers like romance writers, producing four or more books per year, and publishing them didn’t know they were required to write only one or two. That’s why I used the word “bestseller” here where there often is that requirement. Thanks for the post!
Not all of us write at the same pace, sure. I’m a slow writer, I have language processing issue, and I am, um, classically trained and yes, I do like to have layers of literary stuff.
And yeah, it can take a long time to write a book. I have a book which took 10 years. I am writing a long novella which apparently will take a couple of years.
But that’s not all I’m writing!
While one book is developing, I write other things. I might be writing something that already had its years of development. Or I might be writing something that has a shorter gestation.
If you actually have all day to write, 2000 words is never brutal. If you have a day job, sure, you won’t have the time for a full day’s work. But if you’re putting in 8 hours a day writing 2000 words of rough drafts and then editing it down to about 500 usable words, and going over proofs of previous stories… welcome to the real world.
That’s work. It isn’t brutal. Sorry it just isn’t.
If you can make a living at less than that, great. If you are willing to make less than a living so you can write to the schedule you prefer, that’s also great.
But writing is not a lottery, where you win because you’re special and you get to do whatever you want.
Writing is either you job, in which case you don’t whine about having to do a moderate amount of it, OR writing is a calling, in which case, you don’t care about making a living at it, and you do it the way the calling dictates.
Thanks for the post, Camille. Great post.
Something in CE Petit’s post on the AAR letter struck me: “the trade association for literary agents demonstrates its inability to understand law — despite its members’ obligation to look out for the legal interests of its clients — and demonstrates rather definitively why literary agents should be licensed and regulated.”
How do we go about making literary agents have to be licensed and regulated? This seems like a very good idea.
I feel sorta bad for Scottoline. I write slow. I average 500 words an hour most times. Granted, that means I could make the 2000 words in about four hours if I had four hours at a stretch to write in. (Someday…) I deeply hate rewrites, so while I don’t go back and edit as I write, I do tend to take more care with what I put down the first time than those who write “freely and rolickingly.” But it sucks to have a process that works for you and then to have people jump on your back because some stupid reporter added an adjective.
I agree with you, Mercy, about the word count. I feel bad for her too. As for licensing and regulating literary agents, well, we all need to talk to our Congress critters or our State Reps, and somehow get them to feel it’s important enough to put into law. And we need to insist that the laws we already have on people who call themselves agents (whether that’s travel agents or literary agents) get enforced. I can tell you that literary agents violate the existing agency laws all the time.
I always get annoyed by wordcount-watchers; just like the pigs in Animal Farm, to wordcount-watchers all words are equal… but in reality, some words are more equal than others.
(Aside: This is not me trying to cover up for slow writing. I’ve done a 6,000-word appellate reply brief in one nine-hour day (and won) more than once.)
Writers would be much better off doing “a unit a day,” where a “unit” is a distinct part of the work-in-progress, than counting words. Of course, that requires having at least some conception, at the beginning of the day, what a “unit” will be…
CE, I try to put in a certain number of hours with a particular goal in mind. Sometimes I achieve the goal, sometimes I miss. Sometimes I do more than expected. I stopped counting words long ago because I learned something weird: some projects go faster than others, and nothing I can do will speed those projects up or slow the others down. I’m getting very Zen about my writing in my old age. 🙂
I sent a letter to DoJ a few days ago:
“I’m a full-time, self-supporting writer who’s been licensing my books to publishers for over twenty years. I hope to continue doing so for many years to come. Like many writers, I also now self-publish some of my work in ebook format, bypassing the traditional publishing system entirely; I hope to continue doing this, too, for many years to come.
My interest, therefore, is in seeing =all= aspects of the rapidly-changing publishing industry thrive. As a writer, I benefit most when all potential venues for my work grow fruitfully, further develop their markets, and innovate to attract still more readers.
It is up to the legal system to prove whether or not antitrust violations have occurred. But after I read the letter sent to the DoJ by the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR), I felt compelled to write this letter to clarify an important point: My position as a professional writer is =actually= that **breaking the law is not a reasonable reaction to being faced with aggressive business competition.** And only an organization with a very poor grasp of business =and= of ethics would think otherwise.”
Excellent letter, Laura. Thank you for sharing. I love your last line.
This is an excellent post! Interesting point that the word choice of brutal may not have been the author’s. As a slower writer, I totally get it, but apparently am in the minority as people are whipping out 2000 words with ease it seems. I’m envious!
Pam, one of the many things I teach at a workshop is how to write faster without losing quality. It’s more fun to write quickly, for one thing. But it takes concentration to unlearn some things about writing, and it takes a willingness to experiment. Primarily, you don’t worry about the quality of each word. You just give yourself a deadline to get the story done, and write it, forgetting whether it’s good or bad. It’s a freeing way to write, and it might speed you up. You still might end up being slower than most writers, but you’ll have more fun writing. I guarantee it. (And your writing will actually improve–everyone’s does when they try this.)
I will probably comment later on the main topic – I’ll have to let it sink in a bit.
But regarding the brutal 2000 words a day: German magazine SPIEGEL recently had an article online by an author who explained how he financed his (very frugal) living while writing. Among other things he said he got three scholarships for a novel which took him four years to write. No indication that he wrote something else during that time.
The novel has 270 pages. Let’s assume a small font size and say 280 words/page and we get a 75000 word novel. Let’s be real professional and assume he didn’t work on weekends and holidays. That would be 220 days times four years. I get 86 words/day.
With a bigger font and 365 days/year one gets less than 50 words/day.
I can understand that “literary” writing takes more time – you care for every word and rewrite a lot, and that’s ok. I still think being a little bit more productive is possible and would probably lead to a little bit more money. Crank it up to a brutal 200 words!
Frank, “literary” writing takes no more time than genre writing. That’s a myth. There’s no need to “polish.” I’ve published a lot of literary stories written in a day or an hour. So have a lot of other “literary” writers. They just lie about how long it takes them. 🙂
Like you, I have no idea how it takes writers years to write one book without working on anything else at the same time. I’d get bored! I have no idea what they’re really doing. Probably reading, preparing, and staring into space. But I truly have no idea.
It all makes sense now – bestselling authors in traditional format are under pressure.
What it means for the rest of authors is that it is even less likely now that we would be able to join them – and the odds of that happening diminish every day.
But it doesn’t matter TOO much, because we have ways around the narrow gate – and a set of new bestsellers is emerging, and the rest of us can join them because they are welcoming us in.
Now all we have to do is make our writing quality as high as that of our best models, traditionally published or otherwise, and then readers will vote with their pocketbooks.
Nothing has happened except that the middlemen have been cut out – and they were getting inefficient anyway.
Good post, ABE. You’re spot on: In our indie published books, we need to make sure they’re the best they can possibly be. I love your comment on the middleman. 🙂
I have to sympathize — a bit — with the “brutality” of 2000 words a day. After the Char. Voice Workshop, I was able to finish the novel I was working on, no problem. But then … the critical voice Dean had awoken in that workshop was waiting for me as I started my next novel. It took me hours just to write 1000 words (that never would’ve worked during the workshop, as you know!), and I was laboring over every sentence, every bit of dialogue, analyzing it for accent, attitude, opinion, etc. I was even reading in ultra-critical mode, with no enjoyment at all, just for study.
35 pages into the novel, I stopped. I realized the critical voice was raging. I shelved the project, started reading King’s THE DARK TOWER series (because I know King is good enough I can’t study him while reading) and started working on a nonfiction project that would allow me to forget everything I learned in the workshop, get it to the back of my brain. I’ll go back to creative fiction the beginning of June.
But my point is, once you allow your critical voice any elbow room, it can overtake the entire creative process. For writers who haven’t learned the joy of the creative voice and how much it can produce OF QUALITY in a short period of time (as I know from the two short stories we wrote at the workshop), writing 2000 words a day is brutal.
In order to get past this little bump, I’m going back to a story a week challenge over the summer, from June to August, when the kids are out of school. Maybe even two stories a week. The pressure to write and finish is exactly what is needed to quiet the critical voice and allow the creative voice to flourish.
I know this is a little off topic of your post, but your paragraph about the writer “laboring” over her work got me thinking about my own problems of late.
Jeff, getting your critical voice turned on high is a common problem at the workshops, and it takes a while to tone that voice down. The reason I don’t come to the analytical workshops at all except to say hello is that I have the largest critical voice on the planet–I grew up with a harsh-tongued mother and I edited for more than a decade. It takes work for me to shut that voice off, so stopping in on a workshop–or teaching one from an analytical perspective–always shuts me down. The workshop I teach alone, the short story workshop, is more creative-voice based, but still can turn on the critical voice.
All that is a long way of saying, I understand, and you’re not off-topic. I did mention that Scottoline is working with a ton of critics on her shoulder. As much as I make fun of the word “brutal,” I believe that she is taking 10-12 hours to write 2000 words because of those critical voices. The fact that she can produce good books under that kind of pressure is a real tribute to her abilities, imho. I certainly wouldn’t want to work that way, and strive hard to prevent it. I’ve fired agents who wanted fingers in the process, walked away from second book contracts with editors who had too heavy a hand. So I get it. I just wish the press (and the writers) would stop blaming “voracious” readers for this. The problem is the system, not the readers–who just want good books from their favorite writers.
I’ve signed David’s letter.
I have seen traditionally published authors urging their fans to buy their books in paper; however, I prefer the e-book format and now buy almost all of my books for my Kindle. Although contracts are between authors and publishers, I wish there was a way as a consumer/reader that I could encourage publishers to give their authors better royalties for e-books. I guess we just have to lure more authors over to self-publishing.
Sandra, thanks for signing on David’s letter. Like you, I buy a ton of e-books, and I always get angry when I see a high e-book price. Sometimes I get pushed to the paper, and sometimes I download a sample because I’m not going to buy at that price until the price comes down. And sometimes I forget that I was interested in the book. I can’t believe I’m alone in this. Thanks for the comment.
In France, many writers seem to be in love with trad publishing. Look at these numbers dor 2010/2011 best-sellers on l’Express : http://www.lexpress.fr/culture/livre/2010-2011-le-bilan-des-best-sellers_1008903.html
With the exception of Stephane Hessel, hardly impressive at all. So, why are there not more french writers to take the indie ship ? Without doubt because the alternative of the ebook is not yet very present. The best french indie writer, David Forrest, sold “only” 15 000 ebooks.
But we have also policies like the “prix unique du livre” which benefit publishers, because there is a collusion by big publishers to keep ebooks prices high in order to protect mass market books (what we call livres de poche, pocketbooks). So there can’t be much discounting (up to 5%). And big publishers don’t seem very eager to transform all their titles in ebooks.
But interestingly, when you look at the french Kindle Store, the first of the top 100 are low-priced ebooks.
Alan, that’s a similar pattern to the one that happened in the US when indie e-books priced lower got introduced. Thank you for the report on France.
Thanks for explaining the Scottoline article. It…confused me. I wasn’t sure about where “2000 words” = “brutal” came from in regards to writing.
Today alone, I wrote 1250 words on the current wip, a 300-word blog post for my writer’s blog, several e-mails back-and-forth with my editor discussing the latest manuscript she just reviewed and possible future projects, my replies to reader comments on today’s post and a comment on your post. The reason I didn’t do more on the wip tonight is due the mound of bills and other assorted household paperwork threatening to engulf the kitchen. Last month, I would have regarded today as a rather mild experience.
That NYT article made me feel like I should be sweating blood over every little word choice. Thanks, Kris. I feel much better now.
Glad to help, Suzan. 🙂