One of the recommendations I keep reading about on how to be a successful author is to write more books—one every three months is often suggested as a standard—why not one every week? In some ways it seems absurd to measure the success of a creative enterprise based on the time you spend creating. But, of course, what is being measured is more about marketing and the short cycle of attention that demands something new every day. Having a new book every three months would maximize marketing dollars and increase the author’s visibility so it must be good. Or is it?
I write quickly, when I’m writing, so producing a book every three months would be within my capability. But as an Indie author I spend about as much time dealing with other aspects of book writing as I do writing. The details of publishing and the time consumed by marketing will usually be about the same as writing. Of course someone else could do that—but I’m not in the position to hire someone for those other tasks. That probably means that two to three books a year is about my limit.
Usually I’m carrying around with me every day at least two, sometimes ten ideas for a book. They just sort of bubble around inside my head until one day I begin the story. Very little prep work –I just start. There are authors who will spend almost as much time preparing to write as they do writing—I really admire this approach and wish I could do it. Prepare a detailed outline, develop a story board for scenes, list all of the important characters, even write character descriptions—wow, this is so impressive. Authors also do extensive research on locations, the elements of law in a book, details about specific issues related to crime, the courts, jails, anything you can think of; it is amazing the details that will be in a book—even a book of fiction. This is not how I work—I wish I could. It just sounds so orderly and efficient.
I have said this before and it still sounds a little goofy, but it seems to me the characters write my books. I start the process and lay out the basics but often the story takes on a whole new approach as I’m writing. The characters by their actions will dictate how a story progresses. I didn’t plan it—it just happened.
The first book I wrote, The Bootlegger’s Legacy, was not going to be about a bootlegger (obviously that was not even the title of the book when I began) it was going to be about two normal guys, honest business-people who found themselves in financial trouble and decided to do a drug deal to save their businesses and their families. That idea came from something I had actually seen happen. From day one that kernel of an idea grew, changed, and then exploded into something entirely different. It was still two guys dealing with financial and family issues but it became a different story. A much better story I might add—with almost all of it made-up. The kernel of fact turned into something unknown to me until I started writing.
Some writers need the details planned in advance, for me that would be a serious mistake. I need to start an adventure and see where it leads. That first book taught me to write on the fly and see where it goes. But I still envy the writers who can plan and devise details in advance of writing—it just sounds so organized and mature.
That three-month cycle of writing books is a recent ideal, no doubt, based on something to do with Amazon algorithms. Authors are infamous for taking as long as it takes to write books. Many famous authors took what in Amazon terms would be a lifetime to write a book. Margaret Mitchell took ten years to write Gone with the Wind—and supposedly only began writing because she was bored and never intended it to be published. J.R.R. Tolkien wrote the Hobbit and was asked to write a follow up. Some seventeen years later he finished The Lord of the Rings. The manuscript was 9,250 pages which his publisher decided to break up into three books. Based on the Amazon driven standard of four books a year Tolkien would have written 68 books during that time not just three. Maybe the 68 books would have all been great; but somehow I think we’re better off with the three Tolkien actually wrote, no matter how long it took.
Since I’m not Tolkien or Mitchell I will stick with my goal of two to three books a year because it’s what I can do and it seems to work on Amazon—which I guess is a good thing?
PS. The 9,000 plus pages of Tolkien’s manuscript could easily have been 25 books rather than 3. Must have been a massive editing job. Wonder what was cut? I cannot imagine writing that many pages and then have it chopped down to maybe less than 20% of what I wrote. I think I would have been cursing the editor. From one write-on-the-fly guy to another –maybe Tolkien should have planned better.