Earlier this week, Huffington Post published an article by Lorraine Devon Wilke addressed to “Self-Published Authors,” asking them NOT to write four books per year. It was a long article, but the gist was: no one can write four good books per year. Not you, not I, no one.
Horse puckey. I thought the indie community had hashed this all out years ago, but here it is again: the old “If you’re fast, you can’t be good” chestnut, raising its hoary head once again in the form of a clickbait article on HuffPo. Just because I don’t write four books per year doesn’t mean I think it’s impossible. I can’t run 100 meters in under ten seconds, but Usain Bolt does it all the time.
Let’s take Elle Casey, an author with whom I’ve had a nodding online acquaintance since her days on Kboards three years ago. I have found her profusely generous with her time when it comes to helping other authors, which is pretty amazing when you consider her output. Over the last three years, she has averaged approximately one book per month. Let’s let that sink in. Not the paltry four books per year that the article warns us about, but one book every four weeks. When people hear about Elle, they usually have questions like these:
Yeah, but her books suck, right? Umm…no. On the contrary; I have read them, and they earned every review star I awarded them. I seem to have company, because her thousands and thousands of reviews on Amazon average out to around 4.5 stars. While quality is always a subjective judgment, Elle’s considerable audience is telling her that she’s hitting the sweet spot.
If she’s putting out books that fast, she must have a team of ghostwriters, right? Nope. She writes every word herself. Oh, yeah, she’s also earned over a million bucks with her writing in the last three years. She has made the NYT and USA Today Bestseller lists.
Elle isn’t alone. Look how often Amanda M. Lee publishes. Then look at her reviews. Can anyone look at them and think that she is not pleasing and connecting with her audience?
Many other indie authors publish four, five, six, even ten well-written, well-edited, and well-received books each year. When you consider the economics, it isn’t surprising. Because many of the fast writers are so successful, they have the resources to afford professional editors, proofreaders, formatters, and cover artists. I consider these authors the standard bearers of indie publishing, and it’s a disservice to their hard work and high standards to dismiss their efforts with a sniff of disdain.
But, the HuffPo article maintains, none of these books are of a density, the quality of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, the traditionally published Pulitzer winner. Perhaps Wilke is mistaking her own tastes, and/or those of the literati, for quality. I liked Ms. Tartt’s The Secret History, but The Goldfinch? I couldn’t finish it. That doesn’t inspire me to write an article begging her to stop taking ten years to write a novel. It means that, for me, The Goldfinch missed its mark. That’s all.
The article advises authors not to publish four books per year, “unless they’re four gorgeously written, painstakingly molded, amazingly rendered and undeniably memorable books.” That’s exactly the kind of over-the-top hyperbole that keeps people from ever publishing a single book. Do any of my books meet that standard? No, but I’ve got enough five-star reviews to inform me that I am connecting with and entertaining readers — even if they do not all merit the full gush of adverbial superlatives.
In my introductory post for IU, I said, “It drives me crazy when authors tell me, ‘Here is how you have to do this.’ Self publishing is such an individualized effort that I think there are very few universal truths. …it irritates me when someone tells me I have to do something. Instead, I prefer to say, ‘”Here’s what’s working (or not working) for me. Your mileage may vary.’”
I would encourage authors to set their own goals, each finding his or her own best pace. I don’t think I can ever publish like Elle or Amanda does, if only because both think more quickly than I ever will. But until we try, how can we know our capabilities? Please don’t let other people put limits on you, especially clickbait authors writing advice pieces full of lofty-sounding discouragement. You are a creative person, full of potential and amazing possibilities. I wish you much luck in finding what those possibilities are. In the interim, illigitimi non carborundum.
56 thoughts on “Dear Indie Author: Please Write as Fast (or Slow) as You Want”
Good post. I think it’s a question of whether people want to connect with readers or book award nomination committees, Shawn. 🙂
And that was sneaky. I had to Google illigitimi non carborundum.
I agree with you Al, and there’s nothing wrong with either one, as I know you agree. BTW, any day I can make you take to Google to find something I write is a good day. 🙂
Absolutely. An author’s goals are their business. As long as they aren’t looking to rip off readers, I don’t see a problem with it. Other authors taking exception to it, I also object.
Aye, there’s the rub.
Hmm…can one produce book-award potential and engage readers?
Of course, Laurie, although I suspect that if an author’s primary aim is one of those, the results will be different than if it is the other.
Thank you, Alan. I know you are a great supporter of indie writers proceeding at their own pace, whatever that may be.
Excellent. As a former blogger (not yet a real writer) I know that often, my best (and sometimes longest) articles were often written very quickly when I was inspired. Sometimes that inspiration came from frustration or irritation with current events, sometimes because I had an idea that wouldn’t let go. So, no, I don’t buy that generality for a second. I’ve read fantastic books by Indie authors that I had no problems with the writing or dialogue styles; others that were in dire need of an editor, but most I’ve really enjoyed – and a lot of those seem to be prolific!
It probably wouldn’t surprise you to learn that I wrote this piece very quickly then, would it? 🙂
Thank you, Shawn. I believe in the essential point Lorraine made (although I could not finish The Goldfinch), because I’m a slow-as-heck and polish-till-I-make-myself-nuts writer, myself, and a proponent for quality in the books I edit. But it’s none of my business how frequently other authors publish. Unless they aren’t paying attention to quality at all.
I agree Laurie, and I am a fairly slow author myself, putting out a couple of books per annum. That why, as a somewhat slower author, I felt better about sticking up for the roadrunners out there a little bit.
The other thing that I have to admit, is that I only put out one to two books per year because of a lack of discipline. Yes, it’s because I also work a full time job, but if I really buckled down and focused, I know I could put out four books each year that are as good as I can make them at my present skill level.
Thanks for stabbing that beast in its cold heart. As an indie writer, and someone who earned his spurs writing for newspapers in the old number two pencil and scruffy notebook age, when writing fast was part of the job description, I hate when someone tells me not to do something, or that I MUST do something a certain way. Writing is a solitary, individualistic endeavor, and should remain that way. If that particular author wants to write fewer than four books per year, my advice is, have at it. But, leave me alone.
Charles, you could be my brother from another mother. 🙂
These one-size-fits-all critiques are going to, by definition, not apply to most people. As it happens, my next year’s publishing (a trilogy) is already written. It was written several years ago, and I have finally polished it to the point where it is “gorgeously written, painstakingly molded, amazingly rendered and undeniably memorable.” Well, at least it’s the best I can do at this stage of my career. So if I really wanted to, I could publish more than that next year. Which I won’t because it takes all my energy to do the publicity stuff.
PS. I didn’t have to look up “illigitimi non carborundum,” because it’s the motto of the Faculty of Forestry at University of B. C. The advantages of a long and diverse education.
You make an interesting point, Gordon. I took five+ years to write my first book. I polished and rewrote it until it was absolutely the best I could make it at that time. Now, three years later, I know I could improve it. But, if I had just continued working on that one book, would I have learned everything I have writing four additional books? I don’t think I would.
Great post, Shawn. And I agree completely. I have put out more than four books in a year, year after year and have great reviews to go along with my output.
Not everyone is the same. I write full time and love it. I will continue to put out as many books as I want.
Hi Jean, good to see you. 🙂 You are one of my prolific author friends that I thought about when I wrote this.
So Elle is a genius. There have always been geniuses, but I don’t think their output should be used to set the standard. The other thing is what is a “good book?” Nobel Prize material? Pulitzer material? Booker Prize material? Or a well written story a lot of people enjoy reading? I’m not about to try and answer that seeing I didn’t write the Huff Post article.
Well, I think Elle is a very smart lady, but I don’t know if she’s a genius. I think she’s a bright woman who has laser focus and a lot of discipline, and it has paid off for her.
My own writing speed is about 750 words written per hour. If I write two hours per day, I net 1,500 words. If I write five days per week, that’s 7,500 words per week, 30,000 words per month. That means I can write a 70,000 word novel in less than two and a half months, writing only two hours per day, five days per week. Elle and the other prolific writers just takes those numbers and ramps them up.
Agreed, Shawn. Those of us who learned to turn out acceptable prose on deadline are fully capable of turning out more than a book a year…and definitely more than a book per decade. I understand the desire for your work to be perfect, but nobody’s work is *ever* going to be perfect. Is it better to keep fussing with it, or better just to let it go?
I’m trying to write three books a year. Between the day job, life, and all the other stuff that goes into indie authordom, that’s a pretty comfortable pace for me. But everybody’s different.
(I didn’t have to look up your Latin phrase — my best friend in college took Latin. 😀 )
Well said, Lynne. Thank you. 🙂
Very interesting post, and I agree that any kind of ‘rule’ is pointless. I guess it depends a lot on the kind of book being written. I spend six months on research… then the book has four complete drafts… before it even gets to my editor. More than one book a year would be quite a challenge! Each to their own – write at the speed your book (and genre to some extent) demands. And enjoy it!
Totally agree, Alan. Genre, style, density, amount of research required, etc., all contribute to how long it takes to produce a book. Excellent point.
It’s just like working on a computer–there are 10 different ways to do anything, and none of them are the right or wrong way, it’s all just in what you’ve worked out and what you’re used to. I’m with you, Shawn; we’re indies–we don’t need no stinking rules.
You know this made me smile, Melissa. 🙂
Love this post! 🙂
Thank you, Melinda! 🙂
We’re a feisty bunch.
Excellent post. We all do what we do at different speeds and with different levels of proficiency. My speed is slower than molasses in January but I know, even among our select group, there are those who put out great work at the speed of maple sap in March.
Exactly. It rankles me when somebody tells me what I MUST do. We’re all grownups and can figure out what works best for each of us.
Fantastic post Shawn.
That’s ridiculous. Is a song less beautiful because it was written in a couple of hours? What about the Bob Ross painting I watched him paint on TV in under an hour? Works of art in my eyes.
There is no right or wrong way to do anything. Just what works right for you as an individual.
Exactly. Many composers create in a rush of inspiration that lives forever.
Some of the greatest songs of all time were written like that. A couple of hours on the bus between stops. According to this, a song should take weeks to write. Silly. (Pardon my harsh language ?)
Agree wholeheartedly with you Shawn. I’ve produced 4 books in 4 years and I’m happy with that. I’m still looking for readers to please and hoping the time and trouble I took with the most recent, including a professional edit, breaks the mold. Just got a review including this: “The author really shines in his portrayal of human inner thought and reflection.” To me that kind of reaction from a reader is worth more than any literary award.
I agree, Frank. Nice review. Those warm the cockles of our little writer’s hearts, don’t they? 🙂
Excellent article. Thanks so much for posting. I write 3 – 4 books a year for a trad publisher and have been doing so for some years now. I have found that writing faster has made me more intentional about my writing and I believe has made me a better writer. With each book I learn something new so it stands to reason that the more I write the more I learn.
That’s something the original article didn’t even address – that for years there have been Trad authors writing multiple titles per year under a number of pen names. Thanks for reminding me. 🙂
Completely agree with you Shawn. Just because someone has the ability to output high quality stuff in a short amount of time doesn’t mean it’s bad. Look at the Beatles! Look at Prince (He produced a lot of high quality stuff in short bursts and they say he’s got tons of unpublished stuff that’s gold).
There are people who are really good at what they do and they can do it quicker than the average person. That’s what makes them stupendous. I agree, we can’t all be stupendous. But, we shouldn’t hate on those who are just because we’re not.
People who can write well fast can and should. Those who aren’t yet fast are certainly welcome to try to write faster, if that’s their desire. But, discouraging others to try something new is rarely good advice. (I will discourage people from trying known poisons, though. 🙂 )
Couldn’t have said it better, RJ.
Well said, Shawn. 🙂
Hi, Elle! Thanks for letting me hold you up as a bright and shining light. 🙂
Yikes, don’t do that. Then I have to creep around waiting for a troll to appear. lol
Thanks, Shawn, for that healthy dose of good, common sense. If I could boil your words down into one of the old chestnuts, it might be: “If it works, don’t fix it.” If writing X books a year is producing the kind of results you are happy with, then by all means keep on keeping on!
Good to see you, Andrew. When’s that next book coming out? 🙂 You are completely right, of course.
I agree with the conclusion that writers should write at whatever pace they want, but your argument is simply the other side of the same coin as the argument made in the Huffington piece. She says speed affects quality because awards prove it — I can’t do it so you shouldn’t. You say speed doesn’t affect quality because sales and reviews prove it. Just because I can’t do it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Same argument. Then you say: “I can’t run 100 meters in under ten seconds, but Usain Bolt does it all the time,” which ironically is a switch back to your opposition’s argument because records prove it. The truth is only like 71 people in history have ever broken the 10-second barrier. No women. And only 1 white person. The rest of this incredibly elite group of amazing super athletes come from the same background. In other words, this is a tiny, elite group of uber athletes…and because they did it, you can try. Both articles seem like click bait to me — one that does it by provoking and one that does it by soothing.
Like you, I think writers should write books at whatever pace they want. I have no good argument why. The opposition disagrees, but they have no good argument why. And since there is no way to measure quality or even demonstrate it, we’re just two groups of people playing ping pong with insults.
How about if I say, “I can’t dunk a basketball, but there are thousands who can?” 🙂
The truth is, and you all know it, traditionally published authors can’t put out 4 books a year. It’s not possible. It takes them forever to put out a single book — and everyone knows it. This is one of the reasons indies say they prefer being indies in the first place. Which is why I said this article is just the same argument in reverse. It’s not about dunking basketballs or changing the metaphor. The article didn’t need to be written (and neither do any of them on this topic of rules).
This article, like a lot of indie blogs I see, is simply a butthurt response to traditional publishing types telling us what we can and can’t do. These type of articles (click bait) preach to a choir of likeminded butthurt indies. Who cares what traditional publishing types say? Who cares what indies say?
Instead of tilting at windmills, why don’t we just start believing our own mantras we’re continuously spouting in defense of our existence as indies: we write whatever we want, we don’t need gatekeepers, traditional publishing is a failed model, writers should keep more of their royalties… Etc etc… And stop trying to emulate that model while insulting it and envying it.
Last week, the same indie writers telling me I can write whatever I want said I wasn’t much of a professional unless I followed the new indie rules of (fill in the blank): hired an editor, got a professional cover designer, etc.
In other words, in my opinion, the only response to articles like this from both traditional or indie writers is the same: “No, thank you. I’m not interested.” Stop being butthurt about everything. And go off and write and publish whatever expression you want to the marketplace.
I have to disagree with you here, sir, because I think *this* article did need to be written – if for no other reason than to encourage those who could have been or were discouraged by the article it rebutts. It doesn’t strike me as a “butthurt” reaction at all, but to each his or her own.
I hear you. And I appreciate that. But we’re you really discouraged by that article? It was nonsense.
I was not discouraged by it, but I could see how others, especially aspiring authors, could be.
Frank, Lorraine Devon Wilke is an indie author. I’m not sure how that would affect your perceptions about her post.
If you actually were discouraged by the article then I apologize — but it doesn’t change what I said, just the words I used:
This article, like a lot of indie blogs I see, is simply an ENCOURAGNG response to traditional publishing types telling us what we can and can’t do. These type of articles (click bait) preach to a choir of likeminded DISCOURAGED indies.
This is what I learned after writing the article you’re analyzing in this thread: my experience as both a reader and indie writer is my own, and, it would seem, is not one shared by those who responded so heatedly to my piece.
1. My experience as a writer is one in which the books I choose to write take enough time to develop and fine-tune that I wouldn’t want to publish more than once a year, and so the repeated mantra that to be truly successful one MUST publish voluminously not only doesn’t resonate, it’s antithetical, exclusionary, and limiting. And since I know and associate with many writers who work at a similar pace and feel similarly about that mandate, I wrote my piece not only from my individual perspective, but as representative of that contingent of writer.
Add to that:
2. My experience as a reader and ardent supporter of indie authors is that far too many books hit the marketplace with quality issues that impact their success, many by writers who DO publish multiple books per year. So given that experience, plus #1 above, my perspective formed.
Clearly the nerve pricked was my suggestion that “no one” can publish multiple books per year and have them hit the high-quality bar expected of accomplished writers and desired by most readers. According to the many who commented with flame-throwing verve, I’m wrong about that. It seems, instead, that a great many ARE publishing multiple books annually while meeting that high standard of excellence AND making loads of money as a result. Which is wonderful, both for them as writers and for the fans who enjoy reading their books. I applaud them, truly.
But I don’t personally know those writers, nor have I read those books. That’s either because they’re not in the genre I’m drawn to, or the particular writers I know are just not of that demographic. That doesn’t mean they’re not there, but it’s all about perspective, isn’t it?
There are some in the indie world who believe strongly that self-publishing gives permission to writers of any skill level, experience, and professionalism to publish freely, with or without commitment to quality or presentation. Then there are those who’ve asserted to me (with great vehemence) that anyone who doesn’t publish voluminously is a “hobbyist,” a “literati”; not a “professional.” Some form their opinion about what’s “professional” based on how much income a writer makes (one fellow devoted over 6000 words to “fisk” my article along those lines!).
That I have a different perspective is why I wrote (and stand by) my piece. But where I will concede, is that, clearly, outside of my personal experience and beyond the writing community with which I engage, there are writers who DO publish voluminously, enjoy that pace, and do so with top-quality, excellent work. (I think I’ve heard from every one of them! 🙂
Beyond that, I will continue to believe that the artistry of writing, and the sheer individuality of every writer, demands that each write at their own pace and with their own view of how often to publish. That someone telling writers they have to publish four books a year to succeed is considered less incendiary than someone telling them that they don’t, is emblematic of just how sensitive, eclectic, and varied this community is!
Huffington Post is well named because of all the Huff and Puff it puts out. That’s not to say it has no value, it does, to some. Equally it’s style and content doesn’t suit others. So it is with books and how fast they are written. I couldn’t write four books a year because I don’t have the skills – but others do. The quality of their work is fr their readers to judge, and if they earn lots of stars, that suggests it’s good.
My conclusion? Whoever wrote that article was just letting off steam and voicing their own opinion You don’t have to share it, or take it as Gospel truth. Huff!
I didn’t see either article as clickbait. It’s an interesting discussion and it won’t be the last time we hear it. I read both articles, a few of the comments, then went back to writing. No biggie.
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