Monday, April 23, 2012

Terry Pratchett's Volume: High

A couple weekends ago, I attended an event hosted by the Pikes Peak Library District called the Mountain of Authors. It is exactly that: a mountain of traditionally published authors and self published authors all crammed together to listen to panels, talk about writing and publishing trends, and sell books. There must've been about thirty authors plus attendees.

One of the panels covered the e-publishing revolution now dominating all discussions. It was interesting. Agent Sandra Bond, publisher Mike Daniels, and bestselling author Barbara O'Neal talked about what the publishing world looked like nowadays. But one of the most revealing things was something that O'Neal said was important for all writing: finish a lot of books.

In publishing there's a term called 'the long tail.' Basically, it boils down to your backlist making the money for you as an author. Agent Rachelle Gardner has a fantastic post on volume and the long tail here. And she's got another one talking about why writing a few books before looking for publication is a good idea here.

Now, I'll be honest. I always expected to have to write a few books before anything would be published. I made the assumption that, like short stories and poems, the very first one generally doesn't get picked up. Practice makes perfect and all that. However, I did not consider the idea of writing of multiple books to be a good thing publishing-wise. Just never occured to me to think about it. And after reading Gardner's posts, listening to O'Neal talk about buying back her backlist (which is quite extensive), and seeing the piles of books at the Mountain of Authors...I'm convinced that writing a lot of books out of the gate is the way to go.

Terry Pratchett also helped convince me. (Which is useful, as he's the mentor of the month.) Along with Stephen King, James Patterson, Dean Koontz, Laurel K Hamilton, and Nora Roberts, Pratchett has one of the longest tails in the industry. It's pretty easy to visualize what the tail looks like too: dominate a few shelves of space at the library or book store. (What's important to note about the domination of space is that there are multiple titles - not just large quantities of one title.)

And the majority of Pratchett's books are about a world floating on the back of a turtle. Who'd'a thunk it?

But don't go thinking that you have to write a series in order to write a lot of books. After visiting the Terry Pratchett website and counting up the titles...I count 71 books - Discworld isn't everything. Sometimes as many as four books came out in a year. That's a lot of books.

He's still going too, in spite of Alzheimers. There's a new collaboration with Stephen Baxter called The Long Earth which will be out soon.

Does the thought of writing a lot of books intimidate or inspire you? Can you think of any authors who got picked up after writing only one book? How many books do you have in mind for your career?

6 comments:

  1. I've got too many books inside me to be intimidated by writing a lot. I have 2 first drafts and a final-draft-in-progress, plus ideas for two more in the mainstream world. And a first draft, a second draft and half a draft in the mystery world (each for a different series). The only thing I'm intimidated by is how little time I seem to have in any given day to get them all out of me. It's like being pregnant with septuplets without the nine month deadline.

    I don't know if Harper Lee or Margaret Mitchell tried other things first, or later for that matter. (Of course, there's the rumor that Capote actually wrote To Kill A Mockingbird, which would make it one of many and not a first book.)

    Here's a question back atcha: Would you rather have a lot of books that do okay, but don't make a big splash (like Barbara O'Neal or Elizabeth Berg) or one knock-it-out-of-the-park-stays-in-print-for-fifty-years-blockbuster like TKaM or GWTW?

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    1. That's actually a very tough question. I, of course, really dig the idea of writing a legendary book like Mockingbird or Gone with the Wind. (And, for the record, I don't personally think that Harper Lee or Margaret Mitchell sat down and said, "Okay, now I'm going to write one of the greatest novels ever written.") However, that is something entirely out of my control.

      What I do have control over is my output - both quality and quantity - and how I treat others. I would count myself a flat-out super-success if I was a quarter, an eighth, as productive and inspiring as Elizabeth Berg or Barbara O'Neal, in both their books and in real life.

      Side note: I was going to say, as well, that I want to write forever because I enjoy the process so much...and that brought me to the idea that Mitchell and Lee might've been intimidated by the level of success they hit out of the gate. Did that shut them down? If I do have a "legendary" novel in me, I would be really disappointed if I was too scared to write something else after it - and you wouldn't know until that happened. Thoughts on that?

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    2. I agree that neither woman said, "I shall write the next great American novel." 'Cause that would be, well, like Oliver. And working with what you have control over. You'll be more than fine in that area.

      I think that level of success could be mega-scary. And I can see myself being totally freaked. Which goes back to it being a good idea to have a couple (or five) in your back pocket before the first one is a hit. Since you already have book 2 and 3, you can take some time to adjust. Seek therapy. Be dope-slapped by your writing buddies. I know you'd do that for me.

      Although I see you having more of a J.K. Rowling response to uber-fame. You'll just eat it up and keep on trucking. Right?

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    3. Jenny was made for fame :-)

      I like this idea of having three books ready to rumble. But the reality is that once book one goes through editing, so much changes that a pre-written book 2 and 3 are useless.

      Trunk novels are cool, but by the time you go back to them, you're (hopefully) a better writer. I don't want to revisit the six (gulp...) novels I wrote before. It's easier to write something new anyway.

      I do think it's good to know how to write more than one thing. And to know how to just sit down and get it done, no matter what's going on around you.

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  2. I don't find the writing more books thing intimidating; I'm actually looking forward to the writing part. It's the other stuff that gets hard: the promo stuff, social networking, traveling, oh, and then there's the editing. And life and family.

    Sometimes, I think it's different for debut authors today than even five years ago. We're expected to do a LOT.

    But back to your topic, it's the one bit of advice I hear a lot: write more. So I'll go do that now :-)

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    1. Life and family? What is this you speak of?

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