The Business Rusch: Book As Event
I finished my second novel (as an adult) on the day my best friend from high school gave birth to her second child. My friend called me from the hospital to tell me the great news and then, because she was a sweet woman and because she was from the upper Midwest, she reflexively asked how things were going for me.
Even though I am not what anyone would call sweet and wasn’t even then, I was raised in that same Midwestern community. So I gave my friend the best answer I could.
“Oh, I’m fine, and everything is going well here,” I said before turning the attention back to her. Where it belonged, I might add. She had given birth to the second of her two daughters, and fulfilled a lifelong dream of having a family.
I had different dreams. I never wanted children. All I wanted was to be a fulltime professional fiction writer. My friend and I were about as different as two people could be and still be friends. I hung up the phone that day with mixed emotions. I wanted to see her and her daughters, something I wouldn’t get to do for another year (and, sadly, that would be the last time I would ever see her, although I didn’t know it at the time).
I also realized that finishing my second novel was as important for me as having that second child had been for her.
I never told anyone that, though. I rarely talked about my writing because non-writers didn’t understand it. Finishing the first novel had felt like a fluke. I managed to get it done and it felt daunting. The second novel felt less daunting, but much more important.
Before I had believed that if I could do it once, then I could do it again. After I finished the second book, I knew I could do it again. And proceeded to do so more than a hundred times. (Believe me, that number freaks me out more than it freaks you out. Seriously.)
Finishing my first novel had been an event. A mountain climbed. A life goal achieved. It felt more important to finish than it did to publish the book. And the second novel, well, it felt even more important.
It did feel on par with giving birth to a wanted child.
Now, not so much. I’m still proud when I finish a novel, pleased at myself, pleased that something I imagined has become reality. But I also know there are more novels to write and more stories to tell and so much more to do. I’m actually more afraid of dying before I can finish writing all the projects I carry around in my head, and those projects increase exponentially as each year goes on. (See my Popcorn Kittens post. You’ll understand.)
Books sometimes are events and sometimes they aren’t. Before the rise of indie publishing, prolific writers understood this. Some books got published well; others got anti-published to use Carole Nelson Douglas’s term. (Or the term that apparently gets used in the Tor offices, which came to me via Beth Meacham on Facebook, “privished” not “published.” Privish, as in private, as opposed to publish as in public. [She had to explain it to dumb little ole me.])
The most prolific traditionally published writers (back in the day) were in the romance genre, and most of them could manage about six new books per year. I know that some tie-in writers did more—Dean famously wrote five in one month, but he didn’t sleep and then he rested for the next two months. In the old, old days of publishing, a lot of pulp writers wrote two novels a month, but those books averaged about 40,000 words, less than half of what the average midlist novel is right now.
I looked at Nora Roberts’ publishing schedule for 2013, and she will have five new titles this year, all of which are probably a maximum of 100,000 words. That’s still half a million words per year in print, not counting how much she wrote on the side or blogged or did in anticipation of future projects. I know that my finished word count is very different from my actual word count because I toss chapters and write background material and make copious notes to myself. I’m sure she does something similar.
When you look at her new releases site, also note that her publisher will release eleven new reprints in 2013. If Nora handles her own copy edits and proofs, she will work on sixteen different titles in the United States in 2013. That doesn’t count subsidiary rights, such as foreign editions or audio versions, movie options, a game or anything else that will come her way.
It’s a lot of work for one person. I know she rarely takes more than a day between novels, so she’s busy writing and doing writing related things most days of the year. She outlines her average day here.
Three new books with her name on them came out in the first quarter of 2013, one of them a brand new, never-before-published JD Robb hardcover. In the second quarter, when her big new Roberts hardcover is coming out, she will have her name on four books. In the third quarter, her next big hardcover—a JD Robb book, will appear along with four paperback reprints. And in the fourth quarter, you’ll find two brand new books for the holiday season—one a mass market and one a trade, as well as two reprints.
A Nora Roberts book (or JD Robb, which everyone knows is Nora Roberts) will appear every month in 2013, either as a never-before-published book or as a reprint in a brand new package.
Roberts rarely tours. Usually, any appearances she does are related to RWA National, where she goes mostly to see her friends. She’s a working writer (albeit on a very high sales level), and I have a hunch if you ask her which book she considers an “event” book in 2013, she’ll look at you like you’re crazy.
Oh, she might have a favorite book. All writers do. Or a book that was so hard to finish, so wonderful to get off the plate, that it’s worth celebrating. But most people don’t celebrate going to work every day as an achievement, and working writers don’t either.
We write. We finish what we write. We start something new. We finish that. It’s our job.
That we enjoy it immensely, that we wouldn’t or can’t do anything else, is entirely beside the point.
I was flashing on this attitude difference last Saturday night as I sat with the spectacular group of writers who had come to the weeklong Character, Voice, and Setting Workshop that Dean taught. This is an advanced-level workshop, designed for writers with a work ethic, not people who believe they have one great novel in them and they’ll write it one sentence per year as God intended.
Still, these writers who are either already established or who have professional habits that have for some reason (usually the long [and stupid] wait times in traditional publishing) not yet started to make a living at writing. And still, most of these writers have that myth engrained in them that every piece of writing they commit is an event, something to be workshopped, discussed, promoted, and revisited, over and over and over again.
When you’re a beginner, like I was, finishing a novel is an event. It’s not an event like giving birth; it’s really not. With each birth, a parent signs up for a lifelong journey with their child. With each finished novel, a writer moves onto the next (rather like a cat and kittens, I guess, if you’re going to stretch that birth analogy).
But as a professional, writing is what you do. Finishing is what you do. Go back to the beginning of Nora Roberts’ career, and you’ll see that she was publishing between six and eight category romances each year. That brought her published word count then, at the beginning of her career, between 330,000 and 440,000 words annually. (Categories then were about 55,000 words. Some larger, some smaller.)
In other words, her great work ethic was already there, and she was in a genre that allowed her to write that many books per year for a traditional publisher.
The reason I thought of all this on Saturday is this: the last night of any workshop we do the big reveal. In that moment, we tell these writers how many tens of thousands of new words they finished in that busy week. Many of them get upset; that number can’t be true. Some of them can’t finish that many words in a month. Yet they did it under pressure, and often sold (or will sell) what they write, while going to class and maintaining a very full schedule.
I love to watch the faces as writers realize that treating each finished product as an event is hurting them rather than helping them. It’s a very deliberate mind shift, one that we do on purpose. Because we have to show writers that everything they learned in school about writing, all those myths about the importance of treating each thing they write as something that can be perfected over years, hurts them rather than helps them.
Obviously, I think about this at the end of every workshop. I wrote about it last summer in a series of blogs starting with one called “Perfection,” and then collected them in a book called The Pursuit of Perfection, earlier this year.
But this past week, I had a secondary realization. It comes from indie publishing and it will take a bit of an explanation.
I’ve worked in publishing on all sides of the desk (except as an agent), so I can tell you about the other side of Nora Roberts’ career. Her publisher’s attitude toward those sixteen books.
One of the hardcovers—one in February, one in April, and one in September—is an event book. That’s the April Nora Roberts title. It came out this week, and I have seen promotion for this baby everywhere. The book will turn up in the pitiful book rack at my grocery store, when the two JD Robb hardcovers did/will not. The JD Robb books are top-of-the list books.
The two paperbacks, the trade and the mass market, are the top of a smaller list. They’ll come in the holiday season, and they’re priced perfectly for gift-giving. It’s brilliant, and they’ll get some holiday promotion, either alone or with some other romances that the publisher wants to promote. These books will piggy-back on everything else.
The reprints are there so that Roberts’ readers don’t forget her over the three weeks between books. They’re also in the slot to pick up new readers who weren’t alive when those books were first published (by another company, I might add). In addition, last year’s hardcovers will get their paperback releases, which will then promote the new hardcovers. Many cost-conscious readers wait that year plus to buy the new book, so that they save the ten to fifteen dollars per copy. The new reissues will have the first chapter or two of the new release hardcover to entice the reader to start the opening of the new book, and then hurry out (or online) to buy it and finish it.
This all took a lot of work at the traditional house to get this planning in place, and it was just one author for that house, in one particular product line. A lot of people, from the head of the sales force to the publisher (of whatever division Roberts writes for) to an editor to a mountain of assistants to bring this plan to fruition.
In addition, these people are working on dozens of other books at the same time. Some are “event books.” Others are top of the list books, like the JD Robb’s. They get a different level of promotion. And the rest get published to fill out the lists.
Want to see what I mean? Click the bookseller tab on the Penguingroup website, then click on the catalog link on the left (or hit this link here) and look at all the catalogs you can download. I would suggest downloading them and viewing them online. You’ll see the monthly output of one imprint is more than Roberts’ entire publishing schedule in 2013.
This is important to understand. Because this is why books get anti-published (or privished), why many books disappear, and why all traditionally published books get treated like produce. They are produce. They do spoil, in a company’s collective hive mind, because the company is moving on to other things all the time.
For example, G.P. Putnam, which is Roberts’ and Robb’s hardcover imprint (the trades come out of Berkeley, a different imprint), is also publishing a new Clive Cussler in September, the same month it’s publishing the Robb. It’s also publishing a new Catherine Coulter, a new “Robert Parker” (actually the guy who has taken up the books now that Parker has passed away), a new Randy Wayne White, a new “Dick Francis” and some really impressive nonfiction.
What’s the event book for September? You have to look for the first listing in the Fall catalogue, which is…Sue Grafton. She’s going to get all the attention in the publishing house, the bulk of the ad dollars, and most of the promotion. You can see that from the listing on the right hand side, the listing that tells you what the company will be doing to support that book.
I can guarantee that everyone in the G.P. Putnam side of the building knows exactly what’s going to happen with Grafton’s book in September. There were placement meetings and discussions on how to do the best job possible with that book. They’re doing a little less work, but not much, on A.Scott Berg’s nonfiction biography of Woodrow Wilson. A. Scott Berg’s books are events in the nonfiction world, and G.P. Putnam is (rightly) treating the book that way.
The amount of promotion the JD Robb is getting compared to those two is relatively minimal for a multiple New York Times bestseller. Some of that is because Roberts doesn’t do media, but most of it is because Roberts’ readers come to her books without a lot of promotion.
The Dick Francis, co-authored by his son? A lot less work by the publisher. There are a lot of bigger names who sucked up the oxygen in the room long before we get to the Francis in the September part of the catalogue.
The event book in October? Bobby Orr’s autobiography. Yes, hockey fans read. (And let me give those of you who think otherwise a big fat raspberry.) November’s event? Patricia Cornwell’s next novel. But the other books get a bit more promotion than normal because November’s a big deal month in traditional publishing. That’s the holiday buying season. And Roberts isn’t even in G.P. Putnam’s catalogue.
She’s in Berkeley’s catalogue. Same company, different imprint. Whole different line-up of authors.
But the sales force might or might not be the same, the editor is the same, and the assistants working on the books in the editing side are the same.
Only their focus is always on the event book. Yes, they’re doing their best to keep the big names like Roberts satisfied, but they’re doing the most work on the really, really, really big books.
This is important to know, because beginning writers who sell their first novels to commercial publishers expect their books to be an event. We jaded pros know better. We considered ourselves lucky when it went right, and it rarely went right.
Scott Turow, to touch on last week’s topic, has always been more than a bestseller. He’s always been an event writer. He doesn’t understand anything different.
Please poke around these catalogs. Realize this is one gigantic corporation with lots of imprints. Realize that a lot of the people who work on one book in September for one imprint will work on books for other imprints. And also realize that for some of the authors and books listed, these catalogs are the only promotion they will see from their traditional publisher.
If something goes wrong with one September book, oh, well. There are dozens, maybe hundreds, of others. The only books that nothing should go awry on are the event books. Someone will sacrifice their entire career to prevent that. Even the top-of-the-list books can be sacrificed to prevent a disaster with the event book.
How does this apply to indie writers? Well, most indie writers have the attitude I had when my friend called. Not only is it hard to finish a novel, but then the writer has done all the production too. It feels like an event, and for a newer writer, it is an event.
But for readers, it is not. A subset of readers might be happy that your first book is out (family, friends) but most will never notice, and promotion won’t help that hardly at all.
What helps the new writer become a success is word of mouth, and publishing the next book.
Marie Force did a non-scientific survey of indie writers, their sales over the past few years, and their income. To a person, the writers who treated each new book as an event were 1) new and 2) not selling very many copies. (I am [somewhat snobbishly] saying that selling 1000 copies of one title is not as impressive as, say, the 25,000 copies and up listed in this list by people who are doing no promotion or minimal—hey my book is out there!—promotion.)
The writers who write a lot of books every year are doing infinitely better. And these are just digital numbers, not print at all. In fact, as Courtney Milan pointed out, her digital historical romance numbers are much better than the digital historical romance numbers listed in Publisher’s Weekly’s survey.
Now, granted, this is a self-selected group of writers who are reporting. But not everyone is selling 200,000 copies of their most recent e-book. Some are selling as few as five copies. And kudos to them for reporting! They’re all trying to build. The biggest difference—the most obvious difference—is between those who believe their job is writing, and those who think that each book is an event.
It wasn’t just the class that made me think of the events. I’m guilty of it too. When you publish four new books per year, it’s an event to have a book out. It’s unusual.
But this year, WMG Publishing has made incredible headway on getting my backlist up. Every week, I am looking at cover concepts, going over copy edits and page proofs, and dealing with the next book to appear. Between those backlist titles going up in e-book, or in e-book and trade, and the short stories that are appearing from my traditional publishers, I am getting behind on my announcements for the reprinted material here on this website. Either I write or I promote, and even making an announcement takes writing time.
I thought of that as I forgot that I have a new frontlist title debuting this month. We’re going to be doing something I’ve wanted to do with that book from the beginning: we’re going to serialize it for free on WMG’s website. That book is Spree. The first chapter will go live on Tuesday, April 23, along with links so that you can order the rest of the book immediately if you want to. WMG will serialize the book chapter by chapter, leaving the previous chapters up, each week.
The reason I forgot is twofold. First, Spree is not WMG’s top priority next week. Next week, WMG’s first event book will appear. We’ve all been preparing for this release since last August. Fiction River #1: Unnatural Worlds will hit the stands that day. By then, subscribers should have their copies. (They shipped today.)
Dean and I have worked very, very, very hard on this project from the editing side to the publishing side. Even though we try to stay hands-off at WMG, we were the ones with publishing knowledge on anthologies, magazines, and subscriptions, on how to contact readers, how to deal with authors, contracts—oh, we’ve had a million meetings. And the review copies went out (later than we hoped) and the covers got approved (earlier than we hoped) and people have supported the project in a big way that can only grow.
The event continues for WMG because its audio arm, headed by Jane Kennedy, is doing a multicast audio book of Unnatural Worlds which will be available in the summer. WMG will do an announcement of that. I read my own nonfiction, but not my own fiction. Other people kept coming in and out of the office to do their parts, and Jane has spent the last week plus locked in the editing booth, quietly tearing out her hair.
I noted that event, remembered how every publishing company always has event books, and realized that for publishers the event books are the unusual ones, not the everyday books.
Longtime professional writers rarely have event books. But I’m working on one now. I’m finishing the next Smokey Dalton novel, Street Justice. I had so much trouble with this series from my traditional publisher, from the casual racist assumptions expressed by the sales force (“but there are no black people in the Midwest”) to forgetting to send books to bookstores while I was on a publisher-mandated book tour. (If you want to see how ugly book tours are for writers, see Kevin J. Anderson’s recent blog, here.)
I tried to move the Dalton books to a new publisher, but couldn’t because, by this century, publishers wouldn’t buy a series in the middle unless it was top of the list worthy which, because of the previous publisher’s dumbass mistakes, the Smokey books were not. (Despite the acclaim and the demand; booksellers couldn’t get the books they ordered.)
I figured I’d never get the chance to write this book, so the very act of writing it is an event. It makes me alternately joyful and terrified, which event books do. I have to remember that while this book is an event for me, it is not an event anywhere else, and once I release it into the wild, it will simply be the seventh Smokey Dalton novel.
Which is what it’s designed to be.
I have to keep my expectations in line with that designation, instead of the event book designation. Because if I expect the world to fall at my feet because I finally completed a book that’s been in my head for six years, then I have forgotten my job.
I write books. I write a lot of books. I finish books and move onto the next book.
Right now, WMG is focused on Fiction River 2: How To Save The World. By April 24, that will become the next big focus, although probably not an event. The company’s first real event novel will be my book, Snipers, which has been turned in since January. The staff at WMG is doing all kinds of event-oriented promotion, behind the scenes and according to what the company can afford. But it’s bigger than anything they’ve done before.
Blowback got top of the list promotions. Skirmishes, the next diving book, will get the same. WMG is talking about doing either event or top of the list promotion with Dean’s thriller, tentatively titled Dead Money. And there will be event promotion on Fiction River 4: Christmas Ghosts, as well as the upcoming special edition, Crime.
A small company can handle only a few events per year because they’re expensive in time and money. Writers, who are small companies in and of themselves, should look at their books in the same way. Can the writer afford to do books as event, focusing on promotion and getting readers, or should the writer write the next book?
I urge you to look at the Penguin Group catalogs again, and remember that event books aren’t even company-wide events in traditional publishing. They’re just imprint events.
Then I urge you to review the numbers in Marie Force’s blog and note all the mention of series, number of books published versus numbers of books sold.
I started this by talking about Nora Roberts, who doesn’t kill herself on book tours like Kevin just did. She’s published more than 200 titles in her career, and she’s still publishing five to six new books every year.
Makes my 100 books, under various names (and some media tie-ins), look paltry. I have some catching up to do. And I like doing the short fiction as well. And the editing. And—oh! Squirrel!
Okay. “Squirrel” was my 7,718th word for the day. I still have some writing to finish before I call my workday complete. So I’m declaring this blog done. Not because I’ve said all I can. Not even because I said it as eloquently as I’m probably capable of.
But because it’s 10:48 p.m. and I usually have posted the blog by now. I got some work ahead of me still. So I have declared the blog finished because, to paraphrase Tina Fey in Bossypants, it’s show time.
I’ve already used up more words than usual in this blog, so I won’t keep you. Thank you folks for all the comments, e-mails, links, and support. I have put up a donation button so I keep doing this blog every week. If you’ve learned something or felt inspired, please leave a tip on the way out.
“The Business Rusch: Book As Event” copyright © 2013 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
Great post, and so liberating! For the most part, I just want to write, upload a few links to the work, and release.
That being said, I am going to work on a longer piece (mine are shorts right now) that I think will become an event, but I don’t think too many of my works will lend themselves to that.
Anyway, I think “event” books really only work well once you have a stable of books to interest the reader.
Great column today, Kris. I wish all the newbie writers I’m seeing on the message boards would read it, and understand what you’re getting at.
So many of them finish a book (99.99% of the time it’s published the minute the last word is written, but that’s another subject for another day), and the immediate concern becomes “where/how can I promote my book”.
The whole idea of simply writing more books seems to escape most wanna-be writers. The truth about needing to hone their craft and be more productive isn’t getting through. I honestly think there must be web sites and books out there that promise big sales from one book for a lifetime.
I try to help these folks — when they’ll listen, anyway — but it occurs to me that maybe it’s a pointless task, and that maybe their lack of knowledge/work ethic/word count leaves more room for my books to gain traction.
Great post, Kris. But I have a (stupid) problem that’s really been bugging me for a long time.
When I read posts like this (as well as the comments), I get really excited and motivated and start thinking about how much I could produce if focused just a little more, find those extra minutes to write a 100 words here, a 100 words there — words that do add up over time.
But then … I wonder about reading.
Stephen King said — a writer must write a lot and read a lot. But where’s the balance.
I’ve seen only a few writers tackle this problem. Stephen King writes 10 pages a day and reads at night for a couple of hours.
Harlan Coben admitted to feeling guilty for not writing when he’s reading — which is what I feel, too.
I suppose it’s a question of balance. You have to find a balance between those two. You’re very busy, but you also read a lot. I think I remember you saying that you write before you start reading because once you start reading, you’re done.
So: how does one find that balance. If one has, say, 4 hours a day to read and write, at what point does one say, I’m done writing, now I need to read?
Where does that line get drawn for you.
I know, I know, stupid … but I hate feeling guilty not writing whenever I read, and I hate feeling guilty for writing too much at the expensive of writing.
Maybe this is just one of those writer things.
Good question, Jeff. If I read anything fictional or storylike before I write, I get no writing done that day. My pages are the most important, so I read when I’m done writing for the day. It’s my carrot. When the book is going good, I occasionally miss the reading. But that’s better than missing the writing. You can always read–in line at the bank, waiting at the doctor, at breakfast–but writing takes a tad more concentration. So writing first every day, then reading. If you only have four hours–three writing, one reading, I would say. Remember, writing is your job and you don’t get paid if you don’t write. So use that as your measure.
The 75/25 rule, then! Or something close to that.
And thankfully, I don’t have the typical, “But … but … but …” sounding in my head, which usually means I have a problem with something.
That I don’t hear the word “but” means your advice makes complete sense to me and is something I can live with.
An answer, at last!
Rereading my post, I see I ask a lot of questions, but don’t use a lot of question marks. Oy!
Thanks, Kris. Much appreciated.
There is a trick I use. It works for me and maybe it can help you. (The sane parts of my routine at least 😉 ).
Every day I get up at 5am and start writing at 5:45am. I have a separate computer and I set it up on my dinner table. I sit down, read what I’ve written and turn my hourglass. It takes 45min for the sand to run through and in this time, I do nothing but write. Every time I write past it, till I have a thousand words plus pocket change (most of the time 1100 or something).
Here is the part that might help you: I have a shallow jar on the counter that connects my kitchen to my living-room. Next to that jar is a stack of eleven quarters. Every time I finish a session, I toss in a quarter. Then I note my word count on a post-it. Then I set my cell phone timer to 15min for my break. Sometimes I nap, sometimes I walk around, but when the timer ends, I get back in my chair for another session. I do this every morning, every day and most days I do it four times (about 4500 words). After I’m done, my word count goes onto the punch card (a Google spreadsheet). I will note how many quarters, how many words per session and what story I finished or started. The day’s total word count goes into a separate column. I’m on OWN, so I submit the week’s total word count to Dave on Sunday afternoon. Also helpful: I have printed the covers to the stories I mean to write and every time I finish one, I cross one off. Or if I don’t have a cover, I have a sheet full of numbers for the month and cross those off.
Now: Every time I start to feel guilty that I don’t do enough writing or my WIBBOW flag goes up, I look at the jar. There will be four quarters in the jar. Evidence that I have worked. Evidence that I have eaten my daily piece of the elephant. Then there is the sheet with the covers. Then there is the punch card. Then there is the big table Dave puts out for Team 250k. I set minimum amounts per day and I refuse to feel guilty about anything. If I felt guilty it would negatively impact my performance for the next day. I can’t have that.
My reading time is scheduled two hours before I go to bed. I read two short stories of whatever genre I’ll be writing in tomorrow. Then I attack the novel I’m reading (Mystery Workshop reading list right now). I would love to read more. Don’t have the time. I’m working towards becoming a full time writer not so I can write more, but so I can spend most of my day reading.
The “book as event” discussion is definitely one I struggle with regularly. When I released my first book, I did nothing to promote it because I simply didn’t have time with a 50+ hour day job and writing the next book. On my second book, released with a small publisher, I promoted the hell out of it believing that the reason my first book wasn’t making sales was my lack of promotion. Results of promotion: Nada.
I followed those two books with the first two books in a series. The first one had no promotion, the second one had some promotion–a virtual book tour. The reason I did promo was twofold: 1) to get reviews; and 2) to see if those who bought the second book would buy the first. Results: Decent sales on second book, and 83% of buyers appeared to also buy the first book. I think the promo time was worthwhile and I intend to make it a rule-of-thumb in future series to promo on second book. I may change my mind on this if new data comes in.
However, I’ve also learned something about myself in this process–something that is difficult to admit. Even though I know, intellectually, that promotion is stealing time from my writing, I realized I NEED it for me. I need to celebrate once in awhile. For me that celebration is in connecting to readers. I NEED to hear from them that it is worthwhile that I wrote that book. Yes, even at age 59, I still have the look-Mommy,-look-what-I’ve-done syndrome. I admit that I do not write just for myself, I write for readers and need to hear that someone appreciates that.
The other difficult thing to admit is, if I find I am spending more than a week on promotion (thinking about it, worrying about it, using it as an excuse not to write), it is because I am having trouble with whatever book I’m working on. I’m procrastinating dealing with it. Whether it’s a structural problem, a scene problem or a character problem, on an emotional level it translates to “It’s not good enough,” or “why did I ever think I could be a working writer.”
I’ve written 11 novels at this point and still suffer these doubts in my process. I share them as an example that this may be a natural part of the writing process for some people. Recognizing this as part of my process is important to moving forward, so I can work with them/past them. If I can’t recognize them then, for me, that is what becomes “writer’s block.”
I hope that when I get to 100 books published, like you, that it will be easier to simply write the next book without the above. However, I suspect there will always be certain books or series that will be events for me simply because I need them to be. I also suspect there will still be those times in my process when I believe the problem is my lack of talent instead of something structural/fixable.
Thank you for continuing to share your insights. Your workshops, your blogs, your books continue to be an inspiration to me.
Maggie, your comments about doubting your abilities really struck home for me. I go through this regularly and the last two books have been hell for that reason. I’m just finishing up novel 11 and it’s slow going because I’m struggling with doubts. I’d like to think they’ll go away, but thus far in my career, as soon as I crest one hill and master one set of skills, I realize there’s a whole new set to acquire. And the cycle of doubt starts over. I think you’re right, this is just part of the landscape for some people.
It’s not unusual at all. I’m going through it right now. I never have the skill to pull off what’s in my head. So I figure I should finish it and then try again. (Usually I’m too tired to try again.
Slightly off-topic, but what program do you use to write? You seem to use it for fiction and non-fiction together. Or do you just keep good records about your word-count progress?
Dean mentioned that your stories are in separate files (InDesign files, I’d wager) that you put in folders to keep track of the themes for potential collections.
I loved the post and the comments so far. Amazing what I still have to learn. 🙂
I just work in word, Eric. I let others do the harder stuff. 🙂
Um…7,718 words today? Why aren’t you writing a book every ten days instead of all this non-fiction? 🙂
And here I thought my 4,000-word days were a big deal.
Is it really worthwhile to write books that are a 100,000 words or so with indie publishing?
I read a lot of books that are stretched out, sometimes artificially. I realize it is done to take more shelf space in bookstores, but with indie every title gets the same space. I miss the old 200-250 pages books that used to tell a mean, lean story.
What’s your take on sales for different lengths in indie?
Write as long as the book needs to be. If that’s 40,000 words, so be it. If that’s 100,000, then write that. The nice thing about indie is that these artificial rules that everyone places on writing no longer apply.
I keep trying to leave you comments and it keeps not working! I’m prolific as hell and this post makes me feel “not-freaky”. Once again, you say what I need to hear. Thanks again for being you in the world! I wrote about you here:
So, it sort of like building a house — you may celebrate the first wall going up, but there’s still a house to be built and you can’t keep stopping to celebrate every time you complete a task….
So, is there a guide to when the independent author should treat one of the their books as an event? The first one in a new series, or let the market decide?
Maybe when you finish one you didn’t think you could finish. 🙂
I see several “events” in my future, in that case! 🙂
Kris — this was the post I really needed to read today. Thank you.
I finished the first draft of my 10th novel last month.
I kept thinking, “I should celebrate!”
But I didn’t. Instead, I started printing out chapters so I could read them out loud (my ear always catches things my eye misses.) Once I finished that, I started writing a new short story, and I began looking at the next novel (which I plan on finishing by August.)
It’s–just another book. I’m glad it’s finished, I really like it. But there’s no reason to go out for a fancy dinner. It’s done. Time to start the next thing. (Okay, so at some point I may have gone out and had an ice cream sundae, but that was also in the context of hanging out with friends, not strictly an “end of the book” celebration.)
This wasn’t necessarily the case with the earlier novels, nor should it have been. It was amazing to finish those. I wasn’t as much of a working writer.
Now? I’m actually more eager to finish everything I start, so I can move onto the next thing. I’m happy, I announce the finish, but then I start writing the next project.
So thank you again.
I have to admit, I miss the “event” part a little bit. I very distinctly remember how it felt to finish my first novel (as an adult) the first time. It was a golden light, angels singing sort of moment.
Of course, that was just the first draft. I “finished” that book quite a few times after that, and I don’t remember any of them. Not even the final one, where I knew I was publishing it soon.
Since then I’ve written and self-published two novellas and over a dozen short stories. I’m 25,000 words into my second full-length novel and have at least four more short stories to write this year if I want to stay on schedule, not including any traditionally-published anthology work.
I barely remember finishing any of those stories. Mostly just the novellas, because they were both beasts in different ways. But those weren’t like the first time. Those were exhausted, shoulders-slumping-in-relief, oh-thank-goodness-that’s-done moments. Maybe finishing the second novel will have a little of that golden glow, but I don’t really expect it. That’s not why I write, anyway.
I had wondered if some of that was due to the self-publishing. When I wrote that first novel, I wasn’t self-publishing. Now, finishing the text is just one step in a longer process. I still have to do a cover and write the metadata and do formatting and make a new page on the website and Goodreads… I think I get more of a “glow” when I’ve finished uploading things than when I finish the writing part. Because that’s when it’s really “done.”
That’s when I get to start the next one. 😉
I think it’s really difficult to participate in book as event thinking when you write more than a couple titles a year. I just think you run out of time. I have three novels and a novella (nearly 250k words in all) that are in various stages of my publishing process (post first draft), and I’ve just started another novel that I’m planning to have finished right about the time the first of those novels escapes my clutches.
I just don’t have the time to do anything but publish the book, tweet once or twice, and post on Facebook and my blog before I have to get back to work on the next if I want to see out it by the end of the next month.
Maybe one of these days, one of them will become an event on its own, but that will happen without my help.
I don’t have kids either, but I really miss my characters for a week or so after I’ve finished a novel. Sort of a “post partum” effect, I guess.
Meanwhile, the nice thing about novels is that you don’t have to chauffeur them around to soccer practice.
I’m on the final revision stage of the third book of my fantasy trilogy. It took me two years to finish the first draft, so yeah, my wife and I shared a bottle of champagne to celebrate, a month ago.
That trilogy has been swirling my mind since 2004 so yes, I felt I had the right to celebrate.
Still, I get what you say. I keep saying to myself it’s one book among millions that are better than mine and that are nevertheless quickly forgotten by the masses, replaced by millions others from year to year.
I will make a duty to go on signing sessions in the same locations I used to go since 2010, because I think I owe it to the handful of persons who not only I convinced to buy the first one, but who bought the second and are awaiting the third.
Some of these persons though, did not buy the second book online (yes, we encoutered twice at least in real life) and I’m not confident they would do so for the third.
However, these signing sessions, though on much more tiny scale than what does Kevin J. Anderson, weigh heavily on me, and I have some ideas to sell more online paperbooks.
Yes, the best plan is to write more and release more books, and at a greater frequency. I get it.
Nevertheless, when in a beginning stage, and in a country still not very much affected by online buying, you have to make yourself known. In my mind, now, I’m not only Alan Spade but the guy who have written Ardalia’s trilogy. The only real way I have to make others know that, the only real way to expose them to my work is to be there. It just feels more real than permafree ebooks or giving free stuff away (which I also do, of course).
If I could do a national tour without sacrificing my family, I would probably do it, to give a better kick to the books. But it’s not what I choose. Too much time and energy investment for a very, very questionable result, even if I’m not a bad seller.
Please, note that I envision my regular sessions as a first stage in building a readership, not as a perennial way to make a living (I have a dayjob for that). I hope very much to prioritize more and more the writing with each year.
I had to leave the Character Voice workshop on Saturday afternoon, so unfortunately I missed the chance to see you again. It was kind of a bummer to go through all that work and then miss the “validation” of the workshop — but I had things to attend to at home. (Everything is under control now, or at least as much as it ever does with three small kids running around the house!)
It was a fantastic workshop and I learned a ton, and the luxury of being able to sit down for a day and pound out a story was wonderful. I think the work really benefitted from that context and the ability to focus, as well. And since it never occurred to me that Dean might actually want to buy one of the stories for Fiction River, I felt no pressure at all and just had fun with it. Funny how that works out.
And yes, I am writing the next one already. And sleeping. A lot of sleeping. 🙂
Thanks again to you and Dean for running “Fiction University” down there on the coast and I look forward to the next time I can visit — when the kiddos get a little bit older :-).
Oh, the dastardly deeds I would commit to go to that mystery workshop of yours…
Thanks, Ken. We missed you. I missed the chance to talk to you.
I hope you’re finally catching up on your rest. And the mystery class, well, it is different every time. Dastardly deeds will be committed–on paper, of course. 🙂
Kris, somehow I find it very reassuring that your first 2 novels were events for you. I hear so much about the proper attitude for a pro (and I agree with it) that I often feel inadequate as a newbie.
I’ve completed and self-published 1 long novel, 1 short novel, 1 novella, and 4 short stories. I write 5 days out of 7 (weekends are for my husband and children). I love what I do, but I can’t say I’ve yet achieved the productivity of the pros.
My daily word count is low, usually around 500. It’s not the words themselves that are so much the issue, but imagining the scene vividly enough and *feeling* it in my gut. I have to do that in order to then write the words. Developing the clarity I need is what slows me down.
I’ve written about 2 million words of prose, but only 400,000 of fiction, and feeling the shape of a scene or a story doesn’t come easily to me.
I *hope* my productivity will improve as I persevere, but my lack of experience means I depend heavily on the reports of writers who have gone before me. I’m currently wading through a huge patch of insecurity, so I appreciate the reassurance I derive from reading your blog!
“I’m actually more afraid of dying before I can finish writing all the projects I carry around in my head, and those projects increase exponentially as each year goes on.”
That’s how I feel. I don’t want someone taking over my names/books when I’m gone. I think those ghostwriters are creepy.
Zhane/Zia, ghostwriting can only happen if your heir(s) and literary estate manager agree to it or pursue it, and it’s only at all likely to happen if you were such a major bestseller while alive that it’s fiscally worth paying a second writer to write under your name after everyone knows you’re dead–and there are very few writers of whom this is true.
Otherwise, your intellectual property can only be taken over (ex. new Price-and-Prejudice stories and new Sherlock Holmes stories in the market) about 75 years after you’re dead and your work goes into public domain. And, hey, when you’ve been DEAD 75+ years, it’s time to let the things of this world go!
Actually, Nora toured regularly for about 20 years. One of the most amazing thing about her, an all-round amazing professional, is that she maintained that heavy a writing/release schedule for years while -also- having a heavy touring schedule most years. Equally amazing, she did this for so many years despite describing herself as “not a good traveler.”
I know from seeing her at conventions that she spent part of each day at every conference in her room, writing. Her friends who’ve been on vacation with her have talked about how Nora also spends part of every day, while away on vacation, in her room writing. (Ex. I remember a friend of hers saying that a group of old friends, including Nora, went away together for a week or two somewhere, and, “At the end of it, I had a suntain, and Nora had written a new Silhouette novel start-to-finish.” And the woman was not kidding.)
Nora has long been known for writing 6-9 hours/day, every day, when at home, as well as setting aside time to write when at conventions and on vacation, and for taking only one day (or no days at all) off between books. I also remember hearing her talking about her process many years ago, saying she used down time to write–such as time spent in airports on layovers, in airplanes, in waiting rooms, sitting in her car waiting for her kids, at Little League games while waiting for the game to start, etc., etc. All of which is a clue to how she maintained such a heavy writing/publishing schedule during the many years she typically went on at least one major book tour per year.
I imagine she stopped touring for a variety of typical reasons–time marches on, one gets older, the demands of a book tour get more draining (book tours tend to be very hectic, tiring, and full of missed connections, lost luggage, and hotels that can’t fund your reservation), tours are no longer considered as important for gaining or maintaining one’s list position, and she has a bunch of grandchild now.
A friend of mine decided to stop touring, after years of doing it, when for the umpteenth time she was stranded in a bad neighborhood after dark by a driver/car that simply didn’t show up and her NYC contact for sorting out such matters had gone home for the evening. This has happened many times to her over the years on tour, and on that occasion–in her 60s by then, a number of bestsellers under her belt, etc.–she decided she’d had enough and wouldn’t ever tour again.
Thanks for the clarification, Laura. One thing I did note in the catalog was that the writers who didn’t tour (or tour much) like Cussler, Koontz & Nora had more books out, and had different placements on the list.
(She toured for Harlequin? Or for the early Bantam books? I can’t imagine her doing it for 20 years, since it doesn’t jibe with what she would say at conference in the mid-1990s.)
FYI Kevin writes like that too when he’s touring. It’s exhausting and horrible and doesn’t really boost sales. Although it does have an impact on velocity, when done right (which is rarely).
I don’t know about Harlequin, but she toured for Berkley for years. I also remember her saying that she kept doing it bceause she found that when she didn’t, the numbers went down.
My understanding is that from mid-90s on, she only toured around RWA national. That doesn’t mean she went around the area where RWA was; it meant she was out of the house for only two weeks (or three) per year, all at the same time. The initial sale numbers (velocity) went down. Overall, her sales kept climbing. Velocity is more important to NYT bestsellers for placement, but it’s really not important if the books remain in print.
Nora was known not only for touring regularly for years, but also for using her tours and many public appearances and interviews to help promote a more (how shall I phrase it?) respectable/modern image of romance.
From her own website: “Readers who are new to Nora’s work may not realize that for nearly 20 years–1986 to 2006–she went on the road for multi-week, multi-city book tours that crisscrossed the country. Several years ago, she decided to step back from actively touring to concentrate on her writing and her family.”
We’re not disagreeing, Laura. But she said she did the tours around RWA National. And it was concentrated, and not for every book or she’d never write. That’s what I’m saying. She only did it once per year, and said so, at conference, from 1995 on. I wasn’t sure if she still toured, which was why I said rarely. But from about 1995 on, she did her public appearances around the RWA National.
In other words, when Nora toured, it was an event and for years and years and years, her “event” book (like this year’s April hardcover) came out in July.
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Wow. Looking at those catalogs is humbling.
Very informative post.I liked Marie Force’s blog. It was very interesting. I’m a erotic romance writer so seeing those numbers were very interesting. I see doing a series is the most lucrative and I’m a huge fan of doing a series, I love them. I have two on the go right now. I hope later on to release them.
I also read Mr. Andersons tale of his tour. I’m glad it was him. Not my cup of tea in the least.