The Writer’s Battle: How Many Books Should an Author Write Per Year?

Hey 3.5 readers.shutterstock_197378663 copy

So the fracas all began with this article in the Huffington Post.

Lorraine Devon Wilke argues, “Dear Self-Published Author: Do NOT Write Four Books a Year.”

At the outset, the premise reeks of establishment anti-self publishing flair, doesn’t it?

But in Wilke’s defense, she writes:

Unless they’re four gorgeously written, painstakingly molded, amazingly rendered and undeniably memorable books. If you can pull off four of those a year, more power to you. But most can’t. I’d go so far as to say no one can, the qualifier being good books.

I don’t want to stick words into someone’s mouth but the message I carried away was, “Don’t write four books a year unless you can put out four good books.”

That’s fair.

Further, she has self-published so I can’t accuse her of being an agent of “The Man” i.e. traditional publishing.

Wilke noted recent Pulitizer Prize winners who spent a great many years on their masterpieces.  Donna Tartt, for example, spent eleven years on The Goldfinch while Anthony Doerr took years to craft his tale.

It’s about quality over catalogue, and Doerr only had four books to his credit before his prize winner, while Harper Lee only put out one book, To Kill a Mockingbird.

Larry Correia, author of the Monster Hunter series of books (and a dude who got his start in self publishing) had this to say on his blog, Monster Hunter Nation:

If it takes you ten years to write a book—which doesn’t win the biggest most famous award in all of literature—and you make $15,000 (I’m being generous), that means you made $1,500 for each YEAR of labor. Let’s say all that diligent proofing, unhurried imagining, and turd polishing only took up 500 hours a year. Congratulations. You would have made more money waiting tables at Applebees… before tips.

I don’t know about you guys, but A. I can’t bank on getting a major motion picture staring Gregory Peck and become mandatory reading for all high school students. B. I’m probably not ever going to win a Pulitzer Prize. And C. I like making a hundred bucks an hour a lot more than I like making $3 an hour.

NOTE:  If you read Larry’s entire response, you’ll see he is in no way bashing Tartt or Doerr and he gives them due credit for publishing high quality award worthy works.

His point is that those authors’ experiences are atypical.  As an aspiring author, the likelihood of you winning a prestigious award is small.

I don’t want to put words in Larry’s mouth either but the message I took was that one can spend years on one book for the small, unlikely chance of winning a prestigious award, or one could publish more books and earn more compensation.

WHAT SAY YOU, BQB?

Here’s how all this applies to your favorite nerd, 3.5 readers.

I’m not old.

But I’m not young either.

Over the years, I’ve discovered the following to be unassailably true:

Life does not give a shit about your plans.

Disaster does not wait until you’re ready.  Chaos does not take a powder until you’ve completed a goal.

Shit happens with a vengeance.  I know because I’ve been there.

I know what it’s like to be plugging away on a dream only to receive bad news one day and all of a sudden, said dream becomes deferred.

I have dreams of being a writer.

But I am also a human being with basic needs like food, water, clothes, shelter, utilities etc.

So I need to work a day job.

Then at night and on the weekend, I have to perform a variety of life sustaining activities.  Chores if you will.

I have to maintain my humble BQB HQ.  I need to iron my pants.

And damn it, someone needs to take Bookshelf Q. Battledog for a walk.

So after all that’s done, there’s not a lot of time to write.

I try to make up for it.  I stay up later.  Get up earlier.

Given such a schedule, I could probably put out one or two books a year.

I don’t know.  I haven’t tried it yet.

Here’s what I’m getting at:

Money is nothing to sneeze at, avoid, or to be treated as bad when it comes to publishing.

Sorry, but it’s true.

As a man who’s been browbeaten repeatedly by life, I know that the next ass kicking life has in store for me is just around the corner.

What could it be?  I hate to think about it.

What I know is that whatever said disaster is, I’ll keep working because the need to sustain life isn’t going away.

THEREFORE – If I can find a way to make enough money from writing so as to be able to turn writing into my day job, then I know the next disaster life throws my way will not stop me from writing because writing is my job.

BUT – I am at the point where I realize if life tosses me a disaster before I’ve gotten a writing career off the ground, then that’s that.  I’ll keep working.  I’ll come home.  Deal with whatever the disaster is in my spare time and then that will be life.

ERGO – I don’t have eleven years.  Sorry life, I don’t trust you.  I know at some point in the next eleven years, you’re going to deliver me a whopper, some problem I’ll have to face while continuing to work and earn a living.

We all have our own thresholds.  Personally, I can probably sustain this for five years without a profit but shit, if 2020 rolls around and I’ve yet to see dollar one, I’m going to start taking it easier and watch some more TV and play some more video games in my spare time.

CONCLUSIONS

The confusing part for me is I don’t think either writer said anything wrong.

Wilkes basically said don’t write four books a year…unless you can.  So if you can, go for it.  Many people can’t.

Larry’s saying your number one goal needs to be to get paid, but if you read on in his article, he notes clearly you can’t sacrifice quality.  Putting out a crap novel will irk your audience and therefore take away from your profits.

What say me, BQB?  People shouldn’t judge a book by the amount of time that was spent on it.  That’s not to say don’t applaud a writer who dared to hold onto a dream for 11 years and see it through to amazing results.

But on the other hand, if someone is so talented they were able to churn out a decent novel in a relatively short amount of time, there’s no need to discredit said individual either.

Further, we often talk about “how many years” but we don’t talk about hour counts.

Bookshelf Q. Battledog

Bookshelf Q. Battledog

Someone who writes full time for a living i.e. who wakes up, puts on the coffee, then clacks on the keys until the end of the day, could probably, in theory, put out more books in a year than say, a jerk face like me who’s trying to squeeze in some time to write between work, mowing the lawn, ironing my pants and walking my killer attack papillon.

Say I put one hour a day into a novel for 365 days?

Meanwhile, the established professional writer puts in a standard 40 hour work week, and after 9 weeks (and roughly 365 hours), has completed a comparable novel.

Does that mean I care more because “my novel took a year” while the other guy’s took “nine weeks?”

Thus, I guess in my typical BQB happy go lucky manner, I’ll say both authors are right.

What you can turn out in a year is a matter of a) your talent b) your situation in life c) your ability to be honest with yourself and determine whether or not your product is ready to go or crap that needs more work and therefore more time.  For that, you’re going to need professional help.  (An editor, not a shrink, though a little time on the black couch never hurt anyone.)

In short, if you’ve got the talent, don’t hold yourself back.  On the other hand, if you put out crap, your readers will run.  Only you (and your professional writing help i.e. editor) can determine whether your work’s good to go or if it needs more time in the oven.

All I know is I need to get my writing career off the ground before life delivers me that crushing blow that convinces me to say, “F it.  Bring me my Cheetos, it’s time to watch TV.  Writing, schmiting.”

What say you, 3.5?

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22 thoughts on “The Writer’s Battle: How Many Books Should an Author Write Per Year?

  1. Shana Gorian says:

    Dude, priceless. Great post. I’m with ya on this.

  2. lgould171784 says:

    I average one novel every four years. That’s as fast as I can go and still maintain the quality that I demand of myself. I don’t make a living at it, but luckily I don’t have to. All I really get out of it is the satisfaction of knowing I did my best.

  3. isilkemp says:

    Great post, BQB. I’m putting out roughly a book a year while also going to graduate school full time, and people are always on my back for taking too long. I mean, sheesh, there are only so many hours in a day, right?

    • One a year sounds good. In Larry Correia’s post, he mentions that while he was working he only did about 2 a year.

      You’re ahead of the game because if you do one a year for 10 years you’ll have a pretty hefty catalog one day.

  4. […] Source: The Writer’s Battle: How Many Books Should an Author Write Per Year? […]

  5. eponym says:

    unless you aren’t paying for editing, professional covers, professional print interior design and professional eBook formatting, and are just knocking out four 1st draft eBooks, i agree that you can’t publish 4 books a year, esp. four novels (novels are books of at least 300 pages. there is a grey area between 200-300 pages, but the convention is 300).

    it costs at least $2 grand and usually at least $5-6 grand to publish a professional-quality book, and that doesn’t include all of the money lost to the people preying on indie authors and defrauding us, and the mistakes we make from lack of and misinformation.

    people who write fast and are ok with publishing first drafts, don’t really have the same financial constraints as people who don’t. it’s easier to knock out books when you aren’t as concerned with quality (and i don’t mean that pejoratively). they can write in their spare time, precisely because their goal is primarily just getting 300 pages.

    but arguing that you should knock out books quickly because you can’t bank on winning an award is specious argument. no matter how fast you write, the odds you will make even $10 on it are minuscule. and as hemmingway said, the first draft of anything is shit. some are ok with that, some aren’t. since you most likely won’t sell anything anyway, if what matters to you is the quality of the writing, not the page count, take as long as you feel you need to.

    i don’t mind if people want to publish first drafts. i don’t mind if people want to publish a book a month. i don’t mind anything people want to publish. it isn’t up to me. i applaud and support anyone who publishes anything, even if i can’t get past the first sentence of their book. i pledge to kickstarters (i can’t pledge much, only about $5) of any kickstarter that looks like the author is really going to work on–i don’t care what it is about and in most cases i’m not interested in reading it. i do it because crowdfunding like kickstarter is the only viable way for the majority of people who want to write to be able to do so. the indie author community is so large, even with micro-pledges, we could all keep each other afloat, if we wanted to.

    i have less than $500 to my name at the moment, and am getting ready to sell my phone. i will likely never re-coup the money i spent to publish To Thee is This World Given, but i’m not going back. i wasted 23 years of my life trying to do the responsible thing, racking up over $100 grand in school debt along the way–just to be able to have enough money to write in my spare time. but i couldn’t. every job i’ve ever had sucked the life out of me. i’ll keep trying kickstarters (even though i haven’t been successful yet), entering my short stories into contests, and scrapping up any money i can. …i’m already working on a new novella, I’m pretty sure it will take me at least 9 months working on it full time to complete just like To Thee is This World Given did. the only way i can write it is to stop caring about the future. what happens, happens…

    sorry for the length of this =(

    • No that’s ok. The more info the better. Write on.

      $6 grand to publish a novel? Holy Crap. I might have to give up then.

      • eponym says:

        i feel badly that i scared you. =(

        i didn’t mean to.

        it can be done for much less. esp. if it is only released as an eBook. there are free options for every step. the price for outside services is always based on word-count and/or page count–so shorter is easier on the wallet =)

        look into kickstarter, the worst that can happen is nothing, and many $5-6,000 kickstarters to fund publication costs get funded. and very large kickstarters, $50-60,0000, even over $100,00o get funded too. you have a big online following–that is usually the key.

        i hope you won’t give up. the happiest day of my life was when i finished my manuscript.

      • Nah don’t worry. I haven’t been scared out of the game yet. I’m guessing original artwork, as in a reputable artist sits down and draws your characters, rather than takes stock photos and mashes them up, probably does set an author back quite a bit.

        We’ll see how it goes.

  6. mpmmanor says:

    It’s weird – Barbara Mertz (Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels) said that when she started out, people told her not to write more than one book a year under her name, because then people would say she was “prolific” and that was bad. Since she was a single mom and the sole financial supporter of her two kids, when the books started making money, she just made up two different names to write under. Seems as if that stuffy attitude has changed for some writers, anyway. (We agree with BookshelfBattle, if someone can do a lot of books a year and it works, why not? but if they need more time, that seems fine too) Barbara always said a lot of luck and timing went into success for writers, along with hard work. But since she started out wanting to be an Egyptologist (where job prospects ain’t that great either), writing seemed like a step up at the time in terms of likely job prospects… https://www.bookbrowse.com/author_interviews/full/index.cfm/author_number/419/elizabeth-peters? That was all before the internet opened up all these new possibilities for writers…

    • Sounds like something I read about Stephen King. He was told it’d be frowned upon if he put out too many novels in a year. So he put out extra ones under a pen name and used a picture of someone else that he knew.

      Now he can put out as many as he wants.

  7. John Charet says:

    This is a very fascinating post about how many books one should write a year 🙂 I think any writer should do what they want, but at the same time, they should make sure they have the strength to write four a year that look as If a lot of effort went into them because a writer should just not write 3 half-hearted books and 1 heartfelt book. Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

    • I have a theory that if you’re a professional writer in that it’s all you do, four might be possible. Maybe three. I mean, if you wake up, hit the computer 8 hours a day, 5 days a week.

      But then again maybe not. If you want to write Pulitzer stuff maybe you have to pour your heart out for years. But if it’s all you do then 3-4 non-pulitzer stuff (i.e. books that are just fun) might be doable.

      I don’t know. I’d have to find someone who does it full time and ask.

      Where it gets tough is when you’ve got a job and you come home, you’re tired, you have other things that need to be done, and you have to talk yourself into believing that spending a few extra hours writing about a magic elf fighting a dragon or whatever your book is about is worth it.

  8. Mei-Mei says:

    This is not a problem I will ever have lol, but I enjoyed reading your thoughts on it.

  9. Ken says:

    For me, writing is a hobby and not realistically something that will pay the bills one day. I can tell you that you can get quality work out there for a lot less than 6k. As I sit on the eve of my launch I can honestly say that I may have 1200 bucks invested which I will probably never recover. I spend that much just keeping my boat supplied with equipment and maintenance so it’s a relative expenditure.

    Books for me have always been about the story. If the story makes me forget about life for awhile, and I can manage to see it like a movie in my head, then it hits the mark. I’m not judging anyone’s book for technical proficiency but agree that a lot of errors are distracting. All of those I can overlook if the story is good enough.

    I’m not investing thousands in cover design and expensive marketing campaigns. I’ve waited my whole life just to get a book out there in the first place, what rush is there now. I have a daytime job that pays my bills and all this is just dream material anyway. I have a guy who can help you with your cover work and guess what, it’s a hobby for him too and he does fantastic work. Same goes for editors. There are professional editors who do it simply to help beginning authors get their work completed and ‘out there’. You just have to look for them.

    How many books could I write in a year. Four sounds about right to me…but only if the story is good enough. A good story practically writes itself.

    Carry on my friend, no one has a formula for this no matter how much they say they do.

    • 1200 bucks, as long as that’s not something that’ll make you or break you, seems ok.

      I’m loathe to call writing a “hobby” but people do spend money on their pastimes. Golf clubs, model train sets, and what have you. Spending a bit to chase your dream doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.

      Thanks for the encouragement! I’ll keep plugging away and see what happens.

  10. wotsbooks says:

    Nice blog BQB. I am fortunate because my job in the Brigade pays the bills but, having been bitten by the writing bug, I really don’t relish the idea of ever giving it up. Realistically though I see that making money from it is difficult and whether or not I’m any good as a writer is hard for me to judge. I hope you get the book done and hope you carry on.writing and blogging 🙂 Ned

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