by Barbara D'Amato
We’ve all heard that Stephen King and Dean Koontz, prolific writers both, were told not to write more than a book a year, and if they couldn't resist writing, write under a different name.
Her publisher told Agatha Christie not to write more than a book a year. Think of all the Christies we might have if the publisher hadn’t been so foolish.
The reasoning seems to have been that more that a book a year would:
First, diminish the value of the book. If you can write it so fast, it can’t be worth much.
Second, the public will think the second book is the first book and if they already have the book for this year, they won’t buy the new one. This comes under the heading “The Public is Stupid,” which is used as an excuse for a lot of ill-considered and paternalistic behavior.
Well, things aren’t like that any more.
Clea Simon and others have called attention to an article in the Boston Globe by David Mehegan. Mehegan notes that publishers are now urging their authors to get out at least one book a year. Not surprisingly, the issue has been a hot topic on crime and mystery writers’ listserves. The pressure to put out a book a year is apparently strongest for suspense and thrillers but strong for mystery writers as well. Sometimes a promise to write a book a year is a condition of accepting that author in the first place. Difficult? Not so good for quality? It’s good for marketing.
In the article, Patricia Cornwell is quoted as saying, “It’s no problem as long as you don’t have a life.”
Dennis Lehane said that he would not go back to doing a book a year, back to the “hamster wheel.” His novel PRAYERS FOR RAIN came out, he believes, before he really perfected it. Under pressure to get it into print, he thought too late of a way of making it much better.
There are writers who seem to have no trouble with a book or more a year. Robert B. Parker has three books out with a 2007 pub date---NOW & THEN, HIGH PROFILE, and SPARE CHANGE, which I suppose will keep him high profile. But very few people can work that way successfully. On the listserves, there has been much talk about burnout. And of course the issue of quality.
For about fifteen years I brought out a book a year. My just-finished manuscript took four years. There were family reasons, plus I was working part of the time on another project, but mostly it took longer because it’s a bigger book with more technical detail. But I, and I’m sure a lot of other writers, find this new publishing demand stress-inducing. Or as a friend said to me, “poisonous.”
The publishers say we have to keep reminding the readers that we exist.
This seems to be another form of The Public Is Stupid. The public will forget your name if they don’t se it constantly.