Why Bother Writing Lots of Books Quickly? – Part 2

pina messina

This is Part 2 of the post.  Click here to jump to Part 1. -t.

Today we return to the myriad ways prolificacy benefits an author.

There has been a fair amount of reaction to the first part of the post, especially on the social networks, much of it sliding into two ancilliary subjects:

  1. Fast writing = crap.
  2. My life/my process doesn’t allow fast writing.

Both of these arguments aren’t really arguments at all.  They’re 1) a mindset and 2) a choice.  Or, really, they’re both just mindsets.

They’re damned invasive mindsets, too.

Many authors recognize the fallacy of both arguments when presented with raw statements like this, but sub-consciously, they cling to them.  They demonstrate this when they spend one hundred words or one thousand words arguing against prolificacy, for the argument always boils back down to these two stances.

I get it.  I do.  If you don’t think of yourself as prolific, any discussion about the benefits of prolificacy prompt a range of emotions; resentment, anger, envy, jealousy, guilt, self-loathing, other-loathing…and denial.

It’s possible you’re just not ready to hear the message yet.  I spent the first fifteen years of my writing career blindly faithful to “write it and your readers will come”.  It took near-disasters, soul searching, research and reading to even consider the idea of writing to market without my hackles lifting.

For years I also believed that fast=crap, too.  I thought I had off-loaded it, but deep in my soul I was still clinging to the old ways of thinking that are built upon the belief.

As I mentioned in the introduction to the first part, this is not the post to dig into and pull apart the fast=crap ideology.  I will write that post, but not today.

I’ve wandered onto that smoking lava field for a few seconds only to point out that if you read the first part of this post from last week and your gut is tight and your first instinct is to say “yeah, but…!”, then you may have underlying beliefs that are tripping you up.

Try reading both parts of the post with your biases turned off.  Consider the points.  If they’re not for you, then you can shrug and move on.

Who this post is for.

I mentioned this last week, too, but many writers slid past without absorbing it, so I’m drawing attention to it this week.  This post is for you if:

  • You’re already a prolific author, or
  • You would like to be prolific, or
  • You are even a little bit curious about writing faster, or
  • You’re an indie fiction writer who wants to improve their bottom line.

What Does Prolific Mean?

I neglected to define prolificacy last week, not through oversight, but because the definition is elastic and contextual.  I’ll see if I can narrow it down, though:

A prolific indie fiction author has a streamlined, high-efficiency work process that allows them to write, produce and publish multiple books per year at a maximum sustainable rate.

Anyone can knock off a book in a week.  Anyone.  All it requires is a Georges Simenon approach:  Rent a hotel room/cabin by a pond, lock out every possible interruption, and write your ass off for 18+ hours a day.  Sleep is optional.  So is the medical checkup prior to undertaking the challenge (although Simenon visited his doctor before every book he wrote).

I’ve plotted and written a book in seven days.  It was 53,000 words, which is squarely inside the definition of a novel.  I plotted for two days, then wrote 10K+ on each of the remaining five days.

I could do it again if I really had to, but certainly not straight after finishing the first book that quickly.

A prolific author turns out books fast and consistently, at a maximum speed they can maintain over the long haul.  This is important.  There is a sprint speed that is good for short bursts (a book in 7 days), and a sustainable marathon pace that allows you to live a life while you’re doing it (a book every four weeks, say).

What that speed is depends on you, your life, your commitments.  The pace can change according to seasons, age, inclination, health, and other life rolls.  Physical fitness will impact your pace, too.

Notice that the length of the book and how many words an hour you write are not part of the definition, although both will impact how many books you produce each year.  These numbers are far too subjective to use as a measuring tool.  Neither is the number of books per year defined exactly.  This, too, depends on subjective variables.

With this definition in mind, let’s look at the remaining benefits of being prolific:

Lots of backlist lets you do very interesting promos.

You can package books into bundles, discount whole series, build series boxed sets, create spin-off stories/series and more.

I mentioned last week having four books of a series in a single Kobo promotion.  The promotion was a three-books-for-two offer.  With the first four books in the series, I had a lot of readers pick up the first three, right there and then.  Later sales spikes in the series proved they came back for the rest, too.

Capitalizing on that style of promotion is only possible if you have a lot of books.

Lots of backlist lets you promote and/or relaunch your backlist.

I have books released years ago that I can mention in my newsletter and watch the sales spike for a week or two, because for many readers, those books are new and interesting.

Mining your backlist generates “found” money.  You do nothing for that money but a little promo—in my case, a laid-back mention in the newsletter.

You can also do the full Chris Fox style relaunch, with a complete rebranding of a book/series and a formal launch with full-on promotion and advertising.  It’s work, but it generates money for books that have already been written (while you continue to write more).

It is possible to live off your backlist, too.  There are several indie authors who systematically promote and advertise already-released books and series, with long delays between new releases.  Sometimes the releases are a year apart, although in this case, you’re using the time you’d spend writing new books to promote and advertise older ones, instead.

In all these cases, a solid and deep backlist makes the job easier and increases passive income levels.

You can afford to give books away.

The merits (or not) of free or permafree shift constantly.  “Free” was once the premier promotion strategy.  Currently, it’s good as a loss leader into series, or as a reader magnet for your newsletter.  In the future, free books may have more—or less—use as a promotional tool.

If you only have a few books released, free is simply not an option.  You’ll lose money.

With a lot of books, it becomes a useful tool that has positive impact on your revenue, when used intelligently.

You always have something to talk about.

A deep backlist that you maintain and keep up-to-date means you always have something to talk about on your blog, on social media, in your newsletters, at conferences, etc.

Updated covers, re-launches, deals and promos, discounts, bundles, giveaways and downloads are all news you can share, and none of it has anything to do with your latest release.

Because I have so much going on with my releases and backlist, I have a weekly newsletter—and every week there is at least two news items about my backlist to share, often more.

Also because of my extended backlist, which covers a lot of subjects and eras, quite often there are news items or other blog posts and articles I can tie into a book I’ve already written and give that book a little boost.

Every blog post I put out is fed into the social networks, so I’m constantly feeding that beast with relevent content, not empty memes and postcards.

Creativity begets more creativity.

I wrote about this in my definition post, “Why Write More?”  The more you write, the more you want to write and the faster and greater number of ideas you’ll have for stories and characters and situations.

If my notebooks of clippings and ideas about stories, rough sketches, test chapters, outlines, character profiles and series ideas were analogue, they’d fill several filing cabinets.

They’re digital notebooks, these days (I moved to electronic over several years, capturing my old hand-written notes and uploading).  The digital notebooks are too big to open on mobile devices.  They’re for full desktop, high-capacity PCs, now.   I will never get to write all the stories I’ve thought of over the years.  I just won’t live that long.

As I mentioned in the definition post, my capacity for creativity seems to increase the more I make the muscle work.

I want to write faster, so I can get more of those really cool ideas into a form I can share, but the ideas come faster and faster every year.  I can afford to pick and choose the best of them.

I’ve had some novel concepts sit stewing for years before I could fit them on the schedule.  Man, I had fun writing those books!

You improve faster.

I’ve actually seen this idea phrased as “fail faster”, but there’s really no such thing as “failure” in writing, unless failure is used as a euphemism for quitting.  There are books that find an audience and books that don’t, and the quality of the prose itself has very little to do with it (E.L. James, Dan Brown….).

Larry Brooks, in Story Engineering, speaks of six core competencies in writing:  Concept, Character, Theme, Structure, Scene Execution and Writing Voice.  Any one of these can be improved.

If you’re only writing one book a year and obsessing over making it perfect for nine months of that year, you’re just stirring a pot of unchangeable ingredients (that are possibly burned, over-cooked or over-seasoned, with no way to reverse the damage).

As soon as you move onto another pot, though, you bring with you all the skills you learned and improved with the making of the last pot.  This pot, you get to begin with fresh ingredients.  It is absolutely going to be better than the last book.

With four books a year, you will be a significantly better writer by the end of it.

If you’re writing, say, a book every 30 days, that’s twelve books a year.  How much better will you be by the end of that year, compared to one book a year, or even four?

Deliberately practice with each book.

Improvement requires deliberate practice.  I don’t know about you, but I find the idea of writing a two thousand word “piece” (and oh, how I hate that artsy noun!) immortalizing a flower in a vase a complete waste of time.  The practice you do when it’s “just practice” doesn’t carry a lot of weight.  It doesn’t embed itself.

But if you practice with each book you write, and know that what you write will be out there for readers to see, then the practice itself takes on gravitas.  You deeply absorb the lessons, and you’re already incorporating them into your writing.

With each book, you can decide to focus upon a single, sometimes tiny, element.

“This book, I will tighten up my dialogue tags.”
“This book, I will stop saying ‘but’ so often.”
“This book, I want to include more sense of smell and touch into my descriptions.”

And so on.

You can be more ambitious, too.

“This book, I am going to nail the three act structure.”
“This book, I want to include the most popular tropes of xxx sub-genre.”
“This book, I want to use an unreliable narrator.”
“This book, I’m going to use first person POV.”

The more books you write, the more practice you incorporate, and the more you improve.

Plus, you get feedback on how effectively you’ve practiced from the only people whose opinions matter;  your readers.

Iterative Improvement

With each book, you learn what not to do—not just with the writing, but the editing and production, promotion, packaging, all of it.

I’m a great proponent of checklists, that I tweak with each book.

Even if checklists make you break out in hives, you will still remember lessons from the previous book and carry them over to this one.  The more books you write, the faster those lessons stack up and the greater the impact on your effectiveness as a writer and indie author.

Gets rid of imposter syndrome.

I don’t think there is an author out there who hasn’t tussled with imposter syndrome early in their career.

It took me five published books before I felt comfortable telling people I wrote novels.

When you have a lot of books out there, you start to feel like the real thing.

Builds in Sick & Play Pay

I talk about Sick & Play Pay a lot in my weekly logs.  Full time indie authors don’t have sick pay or vacation pay building up that they can tap for the occasional day or week off.

If you get sick enough that you can’t write, or loved ones get sick and need care, or you desperately have to have time off, then your release schedule is impacted…unless you’re ahead of your production schedule.

This is where maintaining a sustainable marathon pace works beautifully.  You can kick that pace up a notch for a while, to get ahead of your production schedule, so if you are bed-ridden for a bit, nothing dire happens.

How much sick & play pay you need is a personal choice and it can fluctuate.  I’m comfortable with a week’s lead time, most of the time.  At the moment, however, I’m working to get six weeks ahead of my production schedule, because I have family coming to Canada for Christmas and would like to not have to stress about word counts while they’re here.

You might want to stash play days for an upcoming vacation.

You might want to build up a two-week lead just so you feel relaxed about your schedule, especially if deadlines (self-imposed or not) tend to cripple you.

Contrariwise, if you believe you’re a person who works best under deadline pressure (cramming exams and assignments, etc), then writing fast to meet your proposed release schedule will work very well for you.  It works even more powerfully if you publish your schedule so readers are aware of it and you risk letting them down if you miss a deadline.  Then it has real world consequences that will keep you focused.

Or you can build up banked time to give yourself room for other projects and not affect your book release schedule.

You don’t get bored.

One of the best reasons to be prolific is that you get to write multiple books and series in different genres and sub-genres.  You can never get bored when you know that this book will be done in two weeks and then you’re on to the next one.

Even if you decide that this book is now absolutely horrid and boring you to tears, you can grit your teeth for a week and get ‘er finished.  Kick it up to sprint speed and you can be done in days.

You can finish a series inside a year, or even multiple series, if they’re short.  You can switch between series, so you get a change of pace with every book (which is what I’m currently doing).

You can write under multiple pen names, if you want to dip into very different and incompatible genres, and neither set of readers will feel deprived, nor will Amazon ding you for missing the 60 or 90 day windows.

You can afford time to indulge, every now and then, and write a “from the heart” book that taps into all your personal touchstones, but may not fit any market.  Plus, because you’ve written so many books before this one, you’ll be able to craft this one and make it sing, and perhaps even shape it to find a market.

Who knows?  With your growing skills, you may write a personal book that actually speaks to readers and finds a market all by itself.  But if it doesn’t, you’ve still had fun and your other books will support your career.

All of the above can be summarised as:  You’ll have more fun writing.

Increases income.

The most prosaic reason for last.

At the base is a simple math equation.

If you sell 1 copy of 1 book a day, for $2 profit, that’s $14 a week profit, or ~$60/month.

If you have a 100 books, and you’re selling 1 copy of each book a day for $2 profit per book, that’s $1,400 a week and $6,000 a month.

That’s a comfortable living for most folk.

Not every book you write will sell even a book a day, of course.  Some will sell very few copies unless you push them, while other books take off and sell hundreds for no reason you can discern (because nobody knows anything).

However, the equation still stands.

Some books won’t sell.  Others take off.  They average each other out.

Therefore, the more you have out there, the more you make.  With each additional book you publish, your “base” revenue increases.

All the promos and funnels and other strategies you can employ when you have a lot of books out there will just add to that base.

Increasing revenue increases your revenue, because once your bills are paid, the excess revenue can finance more advertising, better covers, bigger promotions, ambitious book launches, additional formats (audio, print, foreign sales).

More revenue gives you the flexibility to take advantage of sudden or unexpected promotion opportunities.  (Bookbub finally said yes, for example.)

You can attend conferences and conventions and pay for expensive product tables, bring in stacks of print books and process digital payments.  You can pay for professional signage for those tables and not look like a local author afraid to make eye contact with anyone.

You can hire assistants and virtual assistants, contractors and peripheral experts who free up time for you to write even more.

You can employ fulltime staff to take over entire areas of your business.

You can buy better equipment and tools, which increase your efficiency.

All of these scalable strategies will feed right back into your bottom line by increasing your sales.

To Summarise.

When you’re prolific, you have choices and opportunities that the one/two book a year author does not.  You have greater flexibility and you can steer your business with strategies that take advantage of that flexibility.

Prolificacy gives you elbow room to experiment, test, tweak and adjust, and still pay your internet bill.

Prolificacy gives you the resilience to bounce back from mistakes, illnesses and other life rolls, cope with market fluctuations and wholesale changes (algorithm shifts, anyone?), and keep tucker on the table, too.

It is entirely possible to become prolific.  It is not a genetic gift.  It is a mindset and a deliberate choice.  It is a daily habit, a philosophy, and a business strategy.  It is the key to having fun writing fiction, too.

The Productive Indie Fiction Writer encompasses this philosophy/strategy/choice, and the myriad tools and tactics you can employ to become and remain prolific, and reap all the benefits that accrue as a result.

Or you can choose to write a book or two a year and hope they find their audience.

It’s completely up to you.


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