Writing Words With the Tips of My Toes
I have come to accept that I’m probably going to be a one-book-a-year writer, when originally I wanted to do more. I didn’t have the entire Stars Trilogy written out when AEC Stellar snatched up When Stars Die. I’ve finished The Stars Are Infinite and have sent it off (but I spent years on this book and half a year revising when I got back to it), but it likely won’t come out until late next year. Originally, I did want to write more than one book a year because of everything I’ve read among the self-publishing community that the best way to get noticed is to crank out book after book after book. I have one self-published friend who has done 4 since publishing her first book in February. Granted, I am not a self-published author. I am a small-press author. However, here is an interesting tidbit: there is a bestselling author, traditionally, with a small press, and her book is not selling best. At all. Not even Midlist level. I can’t figure out why this is. Is it because her fanbase doesn’t know about it? Is it because her fanbase is finicky about her books? Has her book not been marketed properly? I don’t know, but I suppose this proves that having a lot of books behind you doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to succeed. I mean, why crank out book after book after book, when you can focus on just getting the one book out there and building your base using that one book alone? Perhaps some of you authors can weigh in on this.
Now that I’ve accepted I will probably be a one-book-a-year author, I’ve come to realize that in spite of having one book beneath my belt, I still have a lot of doubts when writing a new book, doubts that can be sometimes outright terrifying. Back in the summer, I started a book about a suicidal teen rescued by a puppeteer and taken to this place where he can recover from his trauma, and then he’s eventually kidnapped by a crazed psychopath, essentially. The premise seemed promising, at first, but I couldn’t execute it, IN SPITE of having outlined the book twice. I couldn’t convey what I wanted to, so I shelved it and decided to get back to work on The Stars Are Infinite, knowing it’d be an easier task to tackle because I already had things I could work with from having the first book. Now that TSAI is off, I’m back to the book about the suicidal teen. However, I have made an enormous overhaul with the book. I mean, HUGE, and I’ll speak about those changes in another post to coincide with this one. This is why I can’t be a one-book-per-year author, because I make massive changes to my books so that they are virtually unrecognizable from the first draft, and that, in my opinion, is how it should be, because it’s that way for traditional authors and successful small presses who don’t function as author mills. Author mills don’t spend as much time on editing as successful small presses do. But, I dunno. Maybe I just need more hours in a day or something.
I don’t know what self-published writers who crank out a crap ton of books a year do–and I mean publish, not just write a lot of books in a year, and then spend the next year or whatever revising the heck out of each book. Do they write the draft and just basically spend time doing line edits and copy edits and then proofreads? Or do they spend all day writing so they can finish that book in a week or two and then spend the next month completely overhauling the book? I mean, what do they do? I know one self-published author who had published two of his books, but he already had them written before deciding to jump into the publishing waters, and even then he was doing revisions on them. He told me he had been working on both books for six years. Now his next book is going to be published by a small press. The author with 4 books did not have those books written when jumping into the waters. Her first one she did spend a long time on, but it kept getting rejected by agents, who loved it, but thought it too niche. So she self-published it from their validation alone. With the other 3 books, she wrote as she went. At the same time, she now has an agent, and this author will likely be spending far more time on this one book than on her self-published books.
I’m about to dive into some opinion waters here, but just to let you know, I will adjust my perspective if someone can explain something to me. So please do not feel insulted by what I’m about to say. My opinion may be coming from pure ignorance, as I am not among the self-publishing community. I know authors who are self-published, but, frankly, I am interested in those in the small press community since I relate to them more. I feel like those in the big press group are untouchable. Sure, they’ll talk to you on Twitter, but will they ever accept your request? Probably not. So, please inform me. I do want to understand. Lack of knowledge is not stupidity. Lack of knowledge is ignorance, and they are two entirely different things. Am I saying self-published authors don’t work hard? No. Of course they do, but I often wonder about those who crank out so many books a year. Could they have created better products had they spent more time on working on a single book than worrying about cranking out more than one or two books a year? I feel like it should be about the readers, even if they are few.
I don’t think it should take a month to revise a book, which is a complete overhaul of a book. I think it should take more than a month, and then perhaps another month to do line edits/copyediting along the way, then proofreads, then sending off to a beta reader, then to an editor if you’re going to self-publish. I really don’t think it should take such a short amount of time to create a book. I feel like even if that book does sell well, you’re shortchanging your readers by not giving them the best book possible, even if it does get rave reviews. After all, they don’t know they could get better. Sells and rave reviews matter to me, but so does getting the best book out there possible, and I can’t do that by revising a book in a month. In fact, I’d argue, for me, it should take half a year to write the book at my fullest before sending it off to a beta reader, and then probably another month working on their critique, then a few weeks proofreading. Maybe some authors are just more talented than me. I really don’t know. I have no clue.
So why do I feel like you’re shortchanging readers? Let’s look at it this way through the perspective of ballet: The average person who attends a ballet performance knows little about how ballet functions, yet, companies only accept the most polished dancers. So if the average person knows little about ballet, why accept polished dancers when the average person would probably be satisfied with dancers who are less-than-polished? I believe this is because the companies don’t want to shortchange their viewers when they know they can deliver the most stellar performance possible. Ballet is not like watching a movie, where a crap ton of new movies come out each year. Companies already have a repertoire of ballets they can perform, like Swan Lake and the like. Sure, new ballets are created, but they will always dance the classics. And a lot of these dancers have already performed many of the ballets done.
I know about ballet. I am among the ballet community. I have become more critical of the ballets my own studio puts on. They’re still fun, but I have noticed they’ve been casting dancers in difficult roles, roles they can manage, but the technique is sloppy because they haven’t been dancing long enough: toes not pointed, bent knees, lack of core, ect. On stage they can wow us, but in class, they struggle with technique. I wasn’t as impressed with The Nutcracker this year as I was the last time I saw it, not because of The Nutcracker itself, but because of a few dancers whose technique could not compare to the last dancers who performed those roles. I was not at all impressed by the Sugar Plum Fairy’s Cavalier (and we all watch The Nutcracker for those two characters). In fact, with the first performance, it was difficult for me to pick who danced best among the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. This time, it was easy to pick: the Sugar Plum Fairy, but she has danced for years and has beautiful technique, as do the rest of the experienced dancers at my school. Could many of them go on to become professionals? Probably not, because professional companies expect a lot more than one pirouette, even if it’s perfect. But they have strong technique, even if they can’t always nail it, which professional dancers can do. However, my fiancé didn’t seem to care about the Cavalier’s performance. He still thought it was impressive, but it’s because he doesn’t know ballet like I do. He doesn’t know that you’re not supposed to do pirouettes on a bent knee, and the Cavalier did four on a bent knee, so I wasn’t impressed. He also did the male version of foutte turns, but his foot was not pointed, and he was improperly aligned. In any case, I would have rather have seen one pirouette on a straight knee than four on a bent knee.
However, ballets are not catered toward dancers. They are catered to your average viewer, who, even if they watch professional ballet after professional ballet, may still not understand ballet unless they are actually among the ballet community. If they see pirouettes on bent knees, they may think that is actually part of the performance. They don’t know you can never have a pirouette on a bent knee, unless they care to research how ballet is supposed to actually work. Then they’ll probably become more critical. Or maybe they can discern a mediocre performance from a professional one, but there is some leeway given between studios that are professional and studios that are not. I give leeway to the younger dancers because the purpose of those performances is to give them performance experience, but I am still impressed by the younger ones because I have seen them grow and become better. But would I pay the price of a professional show for my studio? No, as they are not a pro company. So among professional performances, if a dancer does a pirouette on a bent knee, again, viewers will probably think that it’s part of the performance because, well, those are professionals. And they, the average viewers, simply want to be entertained; however, companies want straight knees in a pro company and won’t allow anything less. This is why professional companies only want the best dancers possible, so that way they know the average viewer is receiving the best possible performance, and that they’re not insulting their viewers by allowing less-than-polished dancers into their companies. This isn’t to say book-after-book-after-book-self-published authors are insulting their readers. Not at all. Some of them may be talented enough that they can create the best book possible and publish a few more titles in a single year.
Even so, I feel like cranking out a lot of books are like those pirouettes. The best authors that I’ve read crank out one or two books a year, and this is among self-published and traditional. I would rather see one book on a straight knee than four on a bent knee, so to speak. And since I am a writer among the writing community, I can tell. Sure, even books trad publishers spend months on can still be mediocre in the market, because for them, it’s about sales, and if a mediocre book can bring in sales, then they’ll keep at it with that author. Even so, they’re still working hard on trying to create the best product possible, even if it turns out to be a flop, even if they end up editing it so much that they accidentally make it worse. But readers won’t know. Non-writing readers forgive a lot of grammatical errors that writers do not. Most readers who think books are mediocre anyway think those books should have been worked on more without knowing they’ve been worked on to death. I got to the point where I was so tired of editing When Stars Die that I wanted to scream, so I knew my book was getting there. So I want to create the best possible book for my readers, and I don’t think that can be accomplished in two months. In fact, the one who self-published 4 books spent only one month on a book before self-publishing it. What if this author could have created a better, stronger product by spending more time?
Simply put, I want my readers to have the best product possible, even if some may disagree, and I cannot accomplish this within three months. I don’t simply want to write lots of books to fast build a fanbase. And cranking out a lot of books doesn’t guarantee that. Certainly that could help greatly with sales, thus earning more money, but, again, I want them to be holding the best product possible, a work they know took more than one year to polish–including publishing people’s input.
So, for those who do aspire to crank out a lot of books a year, what is your process and just how do you do it?