Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Is writing faster going to mean writing worse?

Today I read a recent article in the New York Times about writers who are being pushed to write two or more books a year instead of one. I have to admit it made me shudder. The publishers in the article pointed to James Patterson, who is apparently putting out 12 books a year, simply because he comes up with plots and people co-write the books with him. Well, good for him, but if all you want as a reader is to churn through book after book of mass-produced words, go for it.

Me? I have two problems with this. One is about quality. Years ago, one of my favorite authors, Sue Grafton, who writes the alphabet series about investigator Kinsey Milhone, published H and then I in the series, and they sucked. I for Innocent was worse than H. Grafton then admitted in an interview that she knew the books were poor, and that her publisher had pushed her into writing faster.

No more, she said. I will write at my pace, and I will make sure every book from now on is the best I can make it. The quality of J went up - noticeably. (Yes, I'm paraphrasing what she said!) This stuck with me, probably because I was lucky enough to interview her on a radio show not much later and it was part of my research. Let's be honest - why would writing faster ever make a book better? If you are a writer, you know that you need time to write and plot and deepen the characters, and then you need more time to revise and improve. I doubt that publishers are paying editors extra to fix up fast/poor novels.

But what bothers me more is the burn-out factor. In the NYT article, it says about writer Lisa Scottoline:
Ms. Scottoline has increased her output from one book a year to two, which she accomplishes with a brutal writing schedule: 2,000 words a day, seven days a week, usually “starting at 9 a.m. and going until Colbert,” she said. 
We can certainly all do that for a month or two, maybe even six. But day after day, week after week, ALL year? And still write something as good in six full-on months as the novel that took a year and went through thoughtful revisions? Maybe Scottoline can do it. Maybe there are lots of dedicated writers (some mentioned in the article) who can work at this pace, for years and years. But why? To keep the panicking publisher off your back?

As a reader, do you want two books a year from your favorite writers, no matter the quality? Or will you soak up whatever you can get? What do you think?

12 comments:

Kristi Holl said...

I am so in agreement with you, Sherryl. I remember Grafton's article too and how those hurried books took a dip. My own fast series books were not up to my own standards. A reader can tell when a writer has been rushed. I'd rather get one lovely book from a writer every few years, if necessary, than kill the writer trying to mass produce. What kind of life is that????

Pamela Freeman said...

I think the publishers are making a big mistake here, because in these days of self-published e-books, the only thing which will distinguish publisher-issued books from self-published books is the quality of writing and editing. You should get better quality out of the editorial process. If you don't, why would you pay their prices?

On the other hand, I typically write two books a year, one for adults and one for children. I find this combination works well, as after I do a draft on one of them there must be a fallow time while it either sits and matures or goes off to the editor. Those gaps are when I work on the other ms.

I don't know if I could do this with two full length adult books, however.

Pamela Freeman said...

I think the publishers are making a big mistake here, because in these days of self-published e-books, the only thing which will distinguish publisher-issued books from self-published books is the quality of writing and editing. You should get better quality out of the editorial process. If you don't, why would you pay their prices?

On the other hand, I typically write two books a year, one for adults and one for children. I find this combination works well, as after I do a draft on one of them there must be a fallow time while it either sits and matures or goes off to the editor. Those gaps are when I work on the other ms.

I don't know if I could do this with two full length adult books, however.

Write and travel said...

This article in The Writing Magazine, April 2012, illustrates the point. I used to enjoy James Patterson but haven't read him for some time as I felt his writing wasn't up to standard.

Under the terms of his new contract he is expected to write a new novel every six weeks.

'That sounds about right,' he said. 'I write three on my own and co-write the others, which means I write a long outline, work with someone on the first draft then work on all subsequent drafts, there's something like forty projects underway ... I got used to working on a lot of thing at once whn I worked in advertising so I don't feel the pressure at all.'

Maybe not James, but it shows up in the quality of the work.

Kirstie said...

I would definitely prefer a well written book than more than one but poorer. I've ceased reading young adult novels from anyone but a special few authors because of repeated disappointments.

I can't believe Patterson is expected to churn out so many novels. I'd be dubious about buying his novels based on that fact. I have never bought anything of his as of yet, and learning this has made me warier.

Although depending on the size of the novel and the author's passion for their stories you could produce two a year if they were shorter novels, or perhaps alternate between two novels one year and the following year only one. It would very much depend on the writer.

Sherryl said...

Kristi - I agree. Most writers know what happens when they have to write fast. You can only do it for one or two projects before your writing suffers.

Sherryl said...

Pamela, they will be competing against ebooks! I have already heard friends who are voracious readers complain about the quality and poor editing on many self-published ebooks. This is the publisher's key point of difference. Silly to give it away so easily, just to trade on a big name.

Sherryl said...

Write and travel - that quote is positively scary!

Sherryl said...

Kirstie, some writers seem to be going with a long short story or a novella in place of a novel (like Lee Child) but they must surely feel the pressure to produce more.
I think Pamela's strategy (one adult novel, one children's) provides a change of pace and genre, at least.

Cathy said...

I'd rather my favourite authors weren't given time pressure deadlines and release better books.

Sherryl said...

I agree, Cathy. There is plenty out there not worth paying for, so we love to feel like we get value.

anoida said...
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