Okay, I'm sure a lot of you have read this NYT article by now, which tells us that the minimum output of books per year for a professional author is now two. Per year. Double what people are used to thinking.
In the E Reader Age, a Book a Year is Slacking
And the article links this new phenomenon to the e book revolution.
Well, I would strongly disagree. MOST of the authors I know who make a good living at just writing books have been writing AT LEAST, at the VERY least, two books a year for longer than I've been in the author business. There are very few I know who can afford the leisurely pace of a book per year.
It was one of the first things I noticed when I moved from screenwriting to the author business in 2006. Successful writers write a LOT of books. Tons. Staggering numbers. Plus stories and any number of other things. (I felt like a total slacker until I realized if I had been writing books instead of screenplays for the last 11 years I would have those kinds of numbers, too.)
Of course, there's a catch that we all have to be wary of. How long does it take to write a GOOD book? When are you starting to risk, well, dreck?
I wanted to think and talk about that today.
From the beginning of my (still quite short, really) author career, one of the questions I have gotten most often at book
signings and panels is, “How long does it take you to write a book?”
My feeling is what’s always being asked is not how long it takes me to
write a book, but how long it would take the person asking to write a
book. Which of course, I have no way of answering, unless it’s to cut
to the chase and shout, “Save yourself! Don’t do it!” But that’s
never the question, so I don’t say it.
What I started out
answering instead was, “About nine months.” Which, from Chapter One to
copyedits, used to be true enough. But I'm getting faster. And the paranormals I write take more like two months. And of course with e publishing, the whole process of publishing has changed, and the time frame has changed, too.
I wrote three and a half books last year. One YA thriller, THE SPACE BETWEEN, one non-fiction writing workbook, WRITING LOVE, one paranormal, TWIST OF FATE (coming out in 2013) and half of my latest crime thriller, HUNTRESS MOON, which will be out in July. (And technically I also outlined another paranormal, KEEPER OF THE SHADOWS, which will also be out in 2013. Outlining is writing, too!).
So that's a lot of books. How long did it take me to write any one of those? It's really hard to say when those projects are constantly overlapping.
But the fact is, in almost every case, the real answer to the question of "How long?" is almost
Because honestly, where do you
even start? I’m quite convinced I’m a professional writer today
because my mother made me write a page a day from the time I could
actually hold a pencil. At first a page was a sentence, and then a
paragraph, and then a real page, but it was writing. Every day. It
was an incredibly valuable lesson, which taught me a fundamental truth
about writing: it didn’t have to be good, it just had to get written.
Now I make myself write however many pages every day. And now, like
then, it doesn’t have to be good, it just has to get written. Some
days it’s good, some days it’s crap, but if you write every day, there
are eventually enough good days to make a book.
there were all those years of theater, from writing and performing plays
in my best friend’s garage, to school and community theater, to
majoring in theater in college, to performing with an ensemble company
after college. Acting, dancing, choreography, directing – that was all
essential training for writing.
And then the reading.
Again, like probably every writer on the planet, from the time I
could hold a book. The constant, constant reading. Book after book
– and film after film, too, and play after play – until the
fundamentals of storytelling were permanently engraved in some template
in my head.
Hey, you may be saying, that’s TRAINING. That wasn’t the question. How long does it take to WRITE A BOOK?
still maintain, it takes decades. I think books emerge in layers.
The process is a lot like a grain of sand slipping inside a clamshell
that creates an irritation that causes the clam to secrete that
substance, nacre, that covers the grain, one layer at a time, until
eventually a pearl forms. (Actually it’s far more common that some
parasite or organic substance, even tissue of the clam’s own body, is
the irritant, which is an even better analogy if you ask me, ideas as
Let's take a look at Book of Shadows, the thriller I've just gotten back from my publisher and put out myself as an e book this week. (Free through Kindle Select today and tomorrow.)
When did I start Book of Shadows?
Well, technically in the fall of 2008, I guess. But really, the seed
was planted long ago, when I was a child growing up in Berkeley. (The Berkeley thing pretty much explains why I write supernatural to begin with, but
that’s another post.) Those of you who have visited this town know
that Telegraph Avenue, the famous drag ending at the U.C. campus,
is a gauntlet of fortune tellers (as well as clothing and craft
vendors and political activists and, well, drug dealers.).
Having daily exposure to Tarot readers and
psychics and palm readers as one of my very first memories has been
influential to my writing in ways I never realized until I started
seeing similarities in Book of Shadows and my paranormal The Shifters, and discovered I could trace the visuals and some of
those scenes back to those walks on Telegraph Ave.
Without mentioning an actual number, I can tell you, that’s a lot of years for a book to be in the making.
Over the years, that initial grain of sand picked up more and more layers. Book of Shadows
is about a Boston homicide detective who reluctantly teams up with a
beautiful, enigmatic practicing witch from Salem to solve what looks
like a Satanic murder. Well, back in sixth grade, like a lot of sixth
graders I got hooked on the Salem witch trials, and that fascination
extended to an interest in the real-life modern practice of witchcraft,
which if you live in California – Berkeley, San Francisco, L.A. –is
thriving, and has nothing at all to do with the devil or black magic.
Hanging out at the Renaissance Pleasure Faire (more Tarot readers!), I
became acquainted with a lot of practicing witches, and have been
privileged to attend ceremonies. So basically I’ve been doing research
for this book since before I was in high school.
early love of film noir, and the darkest thrillers of Hitchcock,
especially Notorious, started a thirst in me for stories with dark
romantic plots that pit the extremes of male and female behavior against
each other; it's one of my personal themes. Book of Shadows
is not my first story to pit a very psychic, very irrational woman
against a very rational, very logic-driven man; I love the dynamics –
and explosive sexual chemistry - of that polarity.
to completely switch analogies on everyone, this book has been on the
back burner, picking up ingredients for a long, long time.
what pulls all those ideas and layers and ingredients into a storyline
that takes precedence over all the other random storylines cooking on
all those hundreds of back burners in my head (because that’s about how
many there are, at any given time), is a little more mysterious. Or
maybe it’s not. Maybe storylines leap into the forefront of your
imagination mostly because your agent or editor or a producer or
executive or director comes up with an opportunity for a paycheck or a
gentle reminder that you need to be thinking of the next book or script
if you ever want a paycheck again. I know that’s a powerful motivator
But the reason a professional writer is able to
perform relatively on demand like that is that we have all those
stories cooking on all those back burners. All the time. For years
and years, or decades and decades. And if a book takes nine months,
or six months, or a year to write, that’s only because a whole lot of
stuff about it has been cooking for a very, very, very long time.
A long time.
writers, how long does it take YOU to write a book? Or your latest?
How many stories do you figure you have on the back burner at any one
And readers, do you ever notice certain themes –
or recurring scenes or visuals - in your favorite authors’ books that
make you suspect that story seed was planted long ago?
My spooky (and maybe - but maybe not! - supernatural) crime thriller Book of Shadows is free on Kindle today and tomorrow.