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.”
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.
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.
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.
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?