I have been wildly drafting away on the second book in my ongoing fantasy series lately.
Although I spent a good portion of this year creating a prequel novella to the series for promotion efforts, and a rough draft of a completely separate project so I can start to diversity my writing partnerships, I am determined to release book two within a year of book one.
Adding to the pressure of my own personal goal is the knowledge that a book a year is a snail’s pace by modern publishing standards.
The biggest authors seem to write at a pace that is inhuman—authors like Stephen King and Chuck Wendig write 2,000 words a day, no matter what.
For perspective, that is over 15 percent (almost 400 words) more than one would have to write each day to complete NaNoWriMo.
But not all authors write at this pace.
At the Writers Digest Conference in August, Emily St. John Mandel, author of the National Book Award Finalist Station Eleven, said her writing pace was one book every two years, and a great burden of pressure dissolved from my shoulders.
So okay, different authors write at different paces. What is the ideal pace for you? There are a number of factors to consider.
Traditional vs. self-publishing
The traditional publishing industry used to recommend that authors aim to release about a book a year. But the industry is changing.
Now, more often you hear a recommendation of one book every six months for traditionally published authors.
On the self-publishing side, where the competition for readers is fiercer and authors have more control to move at their own pace, you’ll more commonly see a recommendation of a book every one to four months. Some even say simply, as often as you can.
Does this sound intense to you? I hope so. It took me a full five years to write my first book.
But I’ve learned a few things about my process along the way, thank goodness. Now, six months is pushing myself a bit, but within range. My writing goal for 2017 is to release the third and fourth books in my series.
But don’t rush!
The dichotomy of writing is that, as much as it is a business, it is still also, always, an art.
Never, ever sacrifice quality in your chase for frequency.
Getting new releases out will only help you grow a fan base if those books continue to deliver on what made readers love you in the first place.
If your content becomes ridden with typos, shallow characters, undeveloped settings or plot holes, it won’t matter how often you release new content.
So write fast. But slow enough to maintain quality. No problem, right?
The series factor
I started writing fantasy because I love how limitless it is. I get to make up all the rules, and as long as they are consistent within the world itself, nothing else matters.
Unlike a mystery or thriller, there are no real-world parameters to research;for example, the gun type has to match the bullet used has to match the injury, and so forth.
Magic works how I say it works, thank you very much.
So imagine my distress when I sat down to write book two and found that I was now boxed in by the very rules I had, myself, created.
Writing book two in a series requires even more attention to detail than the first book, and book three will require even more than book two.
Real talk: This takes time. And it matters.
Have you ever seen two mega Harry Potter fans debate the minutiae of how knuts and sickles work? Be prepared for your most avid fans to discuss your book with the same passion and detail.
You might not have as many of these fans as Ms. Rowling, but the ones you do have…well, don’t you want to reward them for that, rather than disappoint them?
My greatest downfall as an author is that I can think of ideas for books so much faster than I can develop them. You can relate, I’m sure.
My eagerness to tackle them all right now is compounded by the knowledge that most authors tend to see a notable increase in readership and sales around book eight to 10 (according to my publisher, general word of mouth and my own observations).
I would like to hit this sweet spot as fast as I can.
Yet, if you don’t do it right, it won’t work. So I try to put my blinders up and just focus on making the best book possible out of the one in front of me right now.
The rest will come with time and persistence.
Publishing is a war between art and business
Regardless of writing pace, the best authors seem to find a way to be comfortable in the discomfort of straddling both sides of publishing, both the art and the business.
We all have to find our own sweet spot to balance these pressures.
To find yours, consider your goals, long and short term, and pay attention to your inner voices about what allows you to create your best work.
How do you balance the pressure to produce with managing your writing quality?