May 16, 2012

Real page-churners


There was a depressing article in the New York Times over the weekend about the rate at which novelists are expected to churn out books these days: two a year is now standard in some genres (mysteries, thrillers, romance), with maybe a few short stories and novellas thrown in good for measure. The idea is to keep authors’ names in the game by making sure there’s no ‘dead time’ between publications, and to time ‘taster’ publications of shorter, cheaper, digital works strategically before big releases. Lit fiction is thankfully not included in this trend.

Specific mention was made of, among others, James Patterson, who as the piece notes produced twelve books last year and will publish thirteen this year. The NYTs mentions in passing that he is ‘aided on some titles by co-writers’.

A Forbes piece in response to the article goes into more detail, quoting an interview Patterson gave to CNN in March:

CNN: You work with a number of co-authors on some of your books. How do you divide the workload?

Patterson: We alternate words. Just kidding. Actually, I write an outline of about 50 to 60 pages that will lay out every chapter. I then ask the co-writer to contribute to the outline. I want their opinions, and I want them to feel they’re part of the process right from the get-go. Then they will write a draft.

[…] that’s the process. I do the outline, the co-writer does the first draft, and I’ll do subsequent drafts.

Forbes goes on to illustrate that this practice is nothing new. It’s depressing, though, that the kind of productivity it enables has become a stick with which to flog those lazy, no-good layabouts who currently produce, on their lonesome, a novel every year, and often work a day-job too. Suw Charman-Anderson, the author of the Forbes piece, concludes that even in the e-reader era, a book a year is plenty; I’m inclined to agree with John Self over at Asylum, who called it a breakneck pace.

One of the most interesting pieces of the NYT article quotes Lee Child fan Scott Schiefelbein. Writing an Amazon review of ‘Second Son’, a short story in the Reacher series, written by Child and sold at $1.60 for the Kindle edition, he says there is ‘no limit’ to the number of Child’s books he would buy:

I’ll give basically anything he writes a chance… With my favourite authors, I always want to read more from them.

The piece doesn’t quote any of the 32 fans who gave the book only one star, though. Some excerpts:

I’ve read every Reacher book out there, and eagerly await the next one. But give me a break! This was an insult to Lee Child’s many fans… To be honest, after reading this, I’m not sure I’ll continue the series.

This was a very disappointing short story and the author should be ashamed to have it published.

I was so sad after reading this short story. I could not believe the author could write such tripe.
Obviously the author felt the need to get a few more bucks from his series, and succeeded in getting mine. Not another penny.

Not always a foolproof plan, then. (And as an editor, I’m thankful that Schiefelbein’s ‘I’ll give basically anything he writes a chance’ doesn’t hold for everyone.) These reviews should be a lesson to us all that more, more, more is not always the way.


Ellie Robins is an editor at Melville House. Previously, she was managing editor of Hesperus Press.