Should I Publish LOTS?
Recently, The Huffington Post published an article titled "Dear Self-Published Author: Do NOT Write Four Books a Year." In it, the author stated, among other things, "no one" can write as many as four books a year and have them actually be good; that "Our most highly esteemed, widely applauded, prodigiously awarded, read and revered authors know this to be true"; that "first tier" authors aren't told to publish lots, but to publish quality stuff; and implying (fairly explicitly) that if you do achieve success in conjunction to publishing lots and focusing on marketing, it isn't something to be proud of and isn't even warranted.
This is a load of crap. A lot of it. Like, there's a massive poop truck on the highway of life, and the author not only crashed into it headfirst, she refused to be pulled out of the piles of dung that nearly drowned her, and instead insisted on staying there because "this is the only right way to live a full and happy life."
First of all, how does the author define success? Undoubtedly in some way that fits her purpose - a tautological argument. "What about James Patterson?" "Sure, he writes LOTS, but he doesn't win awards, does he? His work is dreck." "What about Stephen King? He's won just about every award there is, including the Bram Stoker, the Edgar, the British Fantasy Award, and a little thing called the National Medal for the Arts." "No, no, everyone knows he just writes hacky stuff for the masses." The definition will shift to exclude the authors -- the huge number of them that don't fit her premise.
Beyond that, her argument is ignorant on its face at best, outright stupid at worst. See this study of the world's bestselling authors: http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/celebritymoney/article-2200999/Jamie-Oliver-JK-Rowling-50-biggest-selling-authors-time.html
MOST of them have several things in common:
1) Recognized as the top in their field, and multiple award winners.
2) Extremely prolific OVER TIME (meaning lots of books for their entire career).
Should people learn their craft? Of course. Should they hold off publishing until they've learned their craft? It goes without saying. And, indeed, it often does go without saying: I suspect that many people who encourage authors to publish as many books as possible don't mention improving craft because they assume that's already been done, the same way that a marketing class for doctors won't start with "get your M.D." -- not worth talking about it, because if you're in the class in the first place, the assumption is that you belong there. But to equate "lots of books" with an automatic "they don't know how to write" is like saying increased ice cream sales cause higher crime rates: correlation is not causation. And even if causation is there, it isn't always because of the end product, but because of something that necessarily happens first: maybe it's milk that causes the increase in crime, rather than the ice cream itself. (For the record, it's the heat that causes the increase in the crime rate.)
I will note, also, that the author of the piece I'm talking about spends quite of a bit of time tooting her own horn, and the horn related to her own book -- which at the time of this writing is sitting comfortably in the five hundred thousands as far as Amazon's sales rankings go -- which I would calculate puts her at roughly one sale every few months in the largest bookstore on the planet. I hate ad hominem attacks, but please understand that I'm not attacking her, I'm attacking her method: she says she follows her own advice, and also states that that is the way to success and greatness.
Well, the proof is in the pudding. Or, as the case may be, in the big pile of poop the author is now not only living in, but blogging from about the Awesomeness of Turd City.
Additionally, anyone who cites an author who writes one book after eleven years (and has written a total of three in her career) does not understand how the publishing world works. It's fine and dandy to write one amazing book. But do you want to be able to do this full-tme? To not only write, but write for a living? Then one book is not going to be enough for almost anyone - to conclude otherwise has as much validity as saying "The key to success is to write a single, seven-book fantasy series for kids. After all, that's what J.K. Rowling did, so it must be the only way to do it." Not a great way to go into publishing, since you're setting yourself up for a rude awakening when your seven-book series never even gets PICKED UP, let alone making you buttloads of money.
In sum: the best way to succeed is to:
The reason I footnote writing is because it not only is a critical part of the process, but people who PRACTICE INCESSANTLY are more likely to WRITE A LOT. I.e., you learn your craft, and for most of us the volume will come as a necessary side effect. The reason I double footnote marketing is because the author of the HuffPost piece states that publishing houses nurture and encourage their writers to write "good" work, the kind of thing that will be enjoyed and become a classic.
This, again, shows a stunning misunderstanding of how the publishing industry works. Would publishing houses like all their work to be award winners, to win accolade and achieve the highest level of literary recognition? Sure. But ask if they are pushing for that over sales. No way. And any publishing house that does is not going to be a publishing house for very long.
Write. Write, write, write. The more you write the better. And doing so is the best chance at success. But without publishing after you've learned your craft -- practice a lot, publish a lot -- you have less and less chance to achieve your dreams.
Michaelbrent Collings is an internationally bestselling novelist and screenwriter. You can find him on Facebook at facebook.com/MichaelbrentCollings, on Twitter @mbcollings, or you can sign up for his mailing list here.