I’m baaaaach, with more then and now musing. I renamed this post a few times — “Quantity of Books” won out over “Productivity”, “Books in a Year” and other variations. You’ll see what I mean as I ramble on…
THEN: Fifteen years ago, I received The Call — my agent had sold my first novel to Roc. “They asked if you had a sequel,” he said. “I told them you had planned two.” (A lie — I’d written a stand-alone, and I hadn’t dared to think about more in the series.) “They want to know when you can turn in the first.”
I thought for a bit, and I said, “It took me three years to write The Glasswrights’ Apprentice, but I learned a lot doing it. I should be able to produce a sequel in about two years.”
My agent laughed, and he said, “The correct answer is one year. I’ll have them put one-year-deadlines in your contract.”
Don’t get me wrong — I was thrilled by the *notion* of a three-book contract, but I was astonished by the thought of writing an entire book in a year. (Ultimately, I was utterly overwhelmed by the *reality* of writing that book — I hadn’t begun to think about editing the first novel and promoting the first novel, all while writing the second.)
But that was the standard, fifteen years ago — publishers wanted to see a book a year from their authors. In fact, when I tried to figure out how and when to release Season of Sacrifice (a traditional fantasy novel not set in the Glasswrights world, written while my agent was shopping around Apprentice because that’s What One Does), I had many long discussions with my editor and agent about how best to release it. I was heavily pressured to use a pen-name, because no readers wanted to buy two Mindy Klasky books in a year. (I refused; I was so exhausted promoting Mindy Klasky, I couldn’t fathom promoting Pen Name, too.) I was then heavily pressured to release Sacrifice after the last of my Glasswright books, to launch a new series. (I refused; I was afraid that my writing would have improved so dramatically over five books — Apprentice sold well enough that I was almost immediately offered a new three-book contract — that Sacrifice would suffer greatly by comparison.)
Ultimately, I released Season of Sacrifice in January 2002, between the July releases of the second and third Glasswright books. Sacrifice had an … unfortunate cover (babe in a leather bikini), and January is a notoriously soft month for traditional bookstores. Sacrifice remains my weakest selling book.
In conclusion: Back in the olden days, publishers wanted a book a year. No more — readers wouldn’t buy an author more frequently; no less — readers would forget an author if too much time went by.
IN BETWEEN: Publishers began to experiment with other release schedules. A few saw great success with back-to-back releases — three books in a series released, one a month. Most authors who tried this strategy, though, suffered. They nearly killed themselves, turning in 300,000 words, editing same, reviewing copy edits of same, etc. Even if the author survived burnout, sales often didn’t follow through — bookstores ordered using computer models, and Book One had only sold a relative handful of copies when the computer said the store had to order Book Two; Book Two had sold no copies (because it wasn’t in stores yet), when the stores needed to order Book Three. Therefore, unless the Quick Release Strategy had full buy in from the large chain store buyers, it tended to doom series, rather than springboard them to success. Book-a-year continued to prevail.
NOW: Traditional publishers have shortened their schedules to nine months, in many cases. They want to feed readers sooner and more frequently, not letting short attention spans wander.
Self-published authors are taking rapid release to greater extremes. Many advisors for the self-publishing crowd suggest getting books out every three months. Some of the most successful authors release books even more frequently — one a month, in many cases. (I’m planning a one-a-month release strategy for my contemporary romances, the Diamond Brides Series, built around a baseball team. I’ll start on Opening Day 2014 and release one a month for nine months.)
Extremely Rapid Release has a few advantages. It feeds voracious readers. It builds buzz as a “stunt”. It gets all the books in a series out before readers have forgotten the series exists. And it exploits the not-completely-understood promotion algorithms at Amazon — where new books are given greater precedence over older ones, and “This Month’s Books” are given the greatest internal promotional preference.
Of course, Extremely Rapid Release has some drawbacks. It’s grueling for authors. It requires advance planning. (I’m a fast writer, but there’s no way I can produce half a million publishable words in nine months. I’m writing the first six Diamond Brides books before the first one hits the market — more, if I can amp up my writing schedule!)
So, there you have it. Then — a book a year, pretty much carved in stone. Now — a book a month, if you can get it; two books a year at least.
Thoughts? Questions? Agreements and/or disagreements?