I’ve seen a growing trend in indie publishing this last year. Many, many authors are now uploading at the breakneck speed of one book a month. I, myself, dabble in “fast and furious” writing, but this results in a book a quarter. I’m a little like the R. L. Stein character in the Goosebumps movie. Even though he knows the fate of hundreds, if not thousands of lives are in his hands, he sits down to write “as fast as possible” with a horde of creatures breathing down his neck. He begins: The night was dark.
He muses a moment, shouts, “No, no, no!”, and types: Dark was the night.
Yeah, that’s me.
Then a few weeks ago, I was speaking to a friend about books, and she mentioned one of her favorite authors. “It’s cool,” she said. “I read one of her books in September, one in October, and she’s putting more out in November and December. I know she’s going to keep publishing one a month.”
Clearly, there’s a group of authors with super powers I do not possess. Or is there? I set off to find out.
To start, I examined one of Planet Earth’s most prolific writers, Edgar Rice Burroughs. After looking at his various publications, he produced–on average–three to four books a year. And we can all agree that while his stories were riveting, they were not War and Peace. They were pulp. Short, sharp, and tightly plotted. But they were GOOD. Then I looked up Earl Stanley Gardner, another prolific pulp writer. I didn’t go through every single publication year, but on average, he put out four books a year as well.
Now I’m feeling pretty good. I, too, can publish a book a quarter, just like the heavy hitters. I go to market with well-plotted mysteries starring unforgettable characters. Snappy dialogue, heart-felt arcs, the whole nine. But in examining Gardner and Burroughs, I never found a publication year that listed 12, count them, TWELVE books.
So how are modern writers able to achieve this inhuman number when gods like Gardner and Burroughs could not? Especially when you consider that beta reading, editing, and well-considered cover design should be a part of the schedule? Without naming any particular authors, here are my guesses:
“Collaborative” Fan Fic: Big time authors with high profile characters have allowed–for a price–others to write stories involving their worlds in exchange for greater visibility. For a percentage, the author allows use of their name on the cover. This one, to me, is the “work smarter, not harder” model. I would do it if I could.
VERY Short “Books”: Many of these 12X wonders are putting out books of 70 pages, heavily padded by front and back matter. No one uses the term novella any more. Novella is dead. In this new paradigm, books are supposed to be 70 pages long. (don’t shoot the messenger)
VERY Sloppy Books: I’ve seen a few with typos in the FIRST PARAGRAPH. The reviews for these books are rife with comments like, “could’ve used an editor” and “read like it was written by a six year old.” These are basically raw NaNoWriMo manuscripts with a cover.
Ghostwritten Books: I’m a ghostwriter myself. I’m not knocking it. But I suspect that some authors are “sourcing” books to a stable of cheap, hourly writers (with no experience) just to make numbers. The words aren’t pretty; the plots are extremely simplistic.
Ready for the most disturbing guess of all? Drumroll please…
Content Mill Books: Think only telemarketing gets outsourced to India? Think again. I read a one-star review recently for a mystery where the reviewer said, “This book reads like it was written in another language, run through Google Translate, and uploaded.” And no, this wasn’t a Chinese author trying to crack the American market. This was a plain Jane mystery writer with a bogus profile and one or two generic social media accounts with no photos. I really, really hope I’m wrong on this one. But evidence is mounting…
And lest you think the public can’t be fooled, all of the books in all of the cases above are selling like hotcakes. It’s the “McDonald’s” model of publishing–churn it out, sell it cheap, shoot for high volume–and it makes Gardner and Burroughs look like doddering slowpokes.
There will always be people who prefer pulp to substance. (hey, I’m one of them at times) But when we reach a point where “making the numbers” is more important than making a good story, we’ve lost the race.
If you are a writer who churns out 12 books a year, I would love to talk shop! How do you achieve your big numbers?