11.20.2006

Frequency be damned

Dear Miss Snark,

For a moment can we set aside the Quality Of Writing issue and address the Regularity Of Writing issue? Let's say an author has only a couple of books in them, or can only produce something every ten years, and they know it. This must be a factor when agents consider taking on a new client, yes? Is there an industry "guideline" on how often an author should be able to produce new work to remain relevant? Eyeing the bestsellers in my local chain store, I get the impression that regular output trumps even good writing.

Thank you for your (g)insight, (ha!)


Two words: Donna Tart
Another two words: Thomas Pynchon (appropriate on this day as no other)

Another: Tom Spanbauer
Yet another: Tom Robbins

Maybe this rings a bell: Edward Jones


I'd mow down even Grandmother Snark on skates for this kind of quality writing. These guys couldn't produce a book a year if they cloned themselves and each one kept writing. Nor should they.

Great things are worth waiting for. Any agent would kill for work of this caliber. Frequency be damned.

The secret of course is being great.

Work on that part.
It's the only part you can control.

24 comments:

kitty said...

I don't know how great her writing was, but as far as I know, Grace Metalious wrote just two books: Peyton Place and its sequel , Return to Peyton Place.

Anonymous said...

Oh, hey, Margaret Mitchell, Gone With the Wind, worked on over a 10-year stretch. I read that one about six times before discovering Tolkein in high school. He didn't have nearly enough books out there for me, but the ones that WERE there...wow.

Then there's J.D. Salinger. His book ain't my cuppa, but still in print and used as a plot device in all kinds of things. Nothing new from him since 1965.

Hmm. To Kill A Mockingbird...Confederacy of Dunces...yeah, we could really get this one going, but I think the point has been made:

Write well.

Write REALLY, REALLY well.

Marlo said...

The publishers used to have rule of no more than one book a year. They were fretting saturation, and they thought a year was a good amount of time for people to get interested again. They don't seem to think that anymore, because I see lots of authors who are putting out three or four books a year. But it makes me crazy, because these books are, well, usually...bad. They churn them out like mills, and, of course, they come out like the rough drafts they are, complete with typos and worse slop.

It takes as long as it takes, if you're going to do it right.

I do sometimes wonder how many writers got shoved out the door before they had a chance to put on a pair of pants. I mean, assuming they didn't *want* to go out in their holey soiled underwear.

Nut said...

Definitely quality over quantaty. You don't want to eat half-cooked food, do you?

Yet its true, it is kinda tough, consentrating on one book for a long time. Polishing every word, glossing every sentence... while there's a bunch of other ideas knocking on your brain. Driving you... nuts!

Okay, maybe it's just me. Sorry for this shameful display of insanity, oh powerful Queen of Snark.

magz said...

Ahhh, great writers all, and well worth waiting for!
Bless ya Miss Snark for mentioning my hero, Tom Robbins. His writing leaves me in awe, and his are the ONLY books I ever read that I force myself to slow down and savor, often reading a page at a time out loud to the Rott(on) sisters. (They like him too!)
I'm never going to get tired of reading and rereading and rereading his masterpieces!
Do you have a very favoritist Tom Robbins book?

Miss Snark said...

Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.

But only by a...thumb.

December Quinn said...

Thomas Harris. I doubt his agent is too worried about the eight-to-twelve years stretches between books.

magz said...

LOL! I'm Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas, Skinny Legs and All.
On another note, may I ask if you've read the latest from the world's most prolific author, Stepen King?
This week I did both; the big paperback Cell and a brand new full priced hardcover of Lisey's Story.
Cell was a fast read pretty good generic SK spook book (it'd make a great wild movie), but I thought Lisey's Story was an incredible deep whole new direction for Steve; a wonderful and masterfully written tale. I think it's the best thing he's ever done, and really really unlike his usuals. I was awed, and I've been a fan of his since the git-go.

HawkOwl said...

Personally I'm just as happy Edward Jones doesn't turn one out a year. The world can live without that... caliber of writing.

Though of course it's a different thing if you're looking at it as an agent, I suppose.

whitemouse said...

This ties in to a bit of advice I read on Absolute Write recently (but in a fairly old thread) regarding how to increase one's sales.

The advice-giver said that having more than one book by the same author on the store shelf helps both books to sell better, so if you want better sales for your first novel, hurry up and write a second one so it has a friend to sit beside.

I'd never heard anything like this before. Could Miss Snark, or a snarkling with publishing experience, tell me if this is a real effect or not?

Anonymous said...

I am so glad to hear you say this, Miss Snark. I write romance--and yes, I'm published--but in the last couple of years, I have felt increasing pressure to write more/faster. And there seems to be countless writers able to write two or three books a year--some even more! Many are, uh, mediocre at best. Yet the need for speed spurs them on.

While there are those on this list and others who will jump in with the comments, it's *only* a romance, and a writer should be able to *churn* out a lot of books, it should be noted how the romance genre has been struggling with the bottom line in the past three/four years. I can't help wondering if part of the publishers' problem isn't this emphasis on quantity over quality.

And, yes, there very definitely are wonderful, evocative, well-written romances out there and readers who appreciate them, so, please, all naysayers who haven't had the interest or desire (what you read is always your choice) to read extensively enough to find them, please rein in your bias'.

Anonymous said...

Um, I thought publishers pretty much expected a book a year from you. And you had to put up a pretty big fight (and be pretty damn good) to do less.

BuffySquirrel said...

I suppose one area where having your books side-by-side on the shelf could be beneficial is with a series. Often I've seen book three, or even book two, book three AND book four, with no sign of book one. As I'd rather start with book one, I don't bother at all.

I suppose I could be the only one.

susan said...

I'd add to that list Barbara Kingsolver. She could write ad copy for spark plugs and I'd read it.

(news flash--I just found out her next book is scheduled for May 2007)

Anonymous said...

A friend recommended Tom Robbins. I don't even remember which book I picked out, but I couldn't even get half way through it. I filed it the same place I filed Catcher in the Rye.

Anonymous said...

Authors such as Meg Cabot, who publishes approximately 8 novels a year (possibly more), astound me. I wonder how it is physically possible to write, edit, and polish that much fiction, then tour and publicise, and maintain a blog! Hypergraphia is one explanation, I suppose.

Miss Snark, I LOVE that you cited Tom Robbins. I read Still Life With Woodpecker, 25 years ago, a red dot on the map of my life.

Dave Kuzminski said...

Yes, I can attest that having another book beside the first will contribute to sales. My first book sold only one copy in its first year. Sales took off when there was a second beside it.

robin said...

Ooh. I first read Still Life in high school. Because our teacher told us not to, and told us we could absolutely NOT use a Tom Robbins book to write a book report.

I loved it when Drew Barrymore's character was reading this book in Fifty First Dates.

Mark said...

Having more than one will only count or help if the books come from mainstream commercial publishers. Two from a vanity press or an ebook publisher matters little. Tom Wolfe took 11 years for A Man In Full and his competition was left in the ditch. They weren't happy about it either; John Irving for one. Wolfe talks about it in Hooking UP.

Simon Haynes said...

"I'd never heard anything like this before. Could Miss Snark, or a snarkling with publishing experience, tell me if this is a real effect or not?"

I've had two books released in the same series to date. When the second came out, stores ordered a whole lot of the first. Now the third is coming out they're ordering a whole bunch of the first two. They know they can only hook new readers into the series if all the books are available, and they also know they have to commit to all three if they're going to put the third on the shelf. Luckily, sales have been good enough for them to do so.

With a standalone book there's no incentive for stores to order more copies in. Readers don't NEED that earlier book, even if we WANT them to. When you're a mega big name like King, no problem - backlist sells, but struggling unknowns like myself need all the help we can get.

Writing a series might keep your earlier books in the market, and that's a good enough reason for me.

On the other hand, if the first book tanks it's pretty much bye-bye series.

So, I look to Terry Pratchett for the ideal model ;-)

katiesandwich said...

Interesting discussion. I don't think I could write my best without spending at least two years on a book, maybe even three depending on the story. I'm just a lowly unpublished, so my opinion is pretty worthless, but from what I've observed, I do think that for a new author, ten years between novels is a bit of a stretch, though. Yeah, established, super talented authors can do it, but not me...

Also, at a conference I went to, one agent said that though the writing does trump all, she'd be more interested in a super talented author who can produce books often enough to make a good career of it than a super talented author with only two or three books up his sleeve in that many decades.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you for mentioning Spanbauer! He's my favorite writer on the planet, and a fucking amazingly sweet human being. We (in the Northwest) are lucky to have him. The best first kiss in the canon of American lit is described in "The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon," when Shed and Dellwood Barker touch lips. And the book's first line: If you're the devil, then it's not me telling this story.

It's the only book that's ever made me cry. Not just cry... I sobbed. Damn--the man can write! ("Moon" was nominated for a Pulitzer or the National Book Award; I forget which one.)

Anonymous said...

I wish I could remember where I read this, but I remember somebody saying how publishers finally started realizing that pushing their authors to produce faster was counterproductive because the authors would end up turning in inferior books so now publishers are now more likely just to leave their authors alone. I used to be a graduate student, and I had to deal with all these obsessive-compulsive professors who wanted more and more product from their students and in increasingly shorter periods of time. In fact, their desire for this was so strong, I swear that some of the professors I had were so in love with deadlines that they would rather have something in on time and bad, rather than waiting a little while and getting something of much better quality.

I wish I could write faster than I do. However, from my experiences in grad school, I learned the painful lesson that quantity and quality are often mutually exclusive. So I've just accepted the fact that I can only write so fast. With the writing of mine that has seen print, I think if I would have had to work under the same insane deadlines that I had in grad school, these stories and articles wouldn't have seen print because they would have been gibberish. Well, they're probably gibberish anyway, but they would have been unpublishable gibberish!

Jeffrey Dean Palmatier

TMack said...

Thank you and amen.