Last week we learned what readers think of authors being pushed to write more and faster. But what do the authors think? Their answers often surprised me. Even when they told me what I expected, they still surprised me. Most of the authors show a different picture of multi-book contracts. They weren't pushed. They jumped - willingly. All the authors approach writing in different ways, but they agree on several main items. In popular fiction, multiple book contracts are a great help to authors. At the same time, authors have to decide whether or not to sign that contract based on their abilities. Also, many authors agree that writing to a deadline has helped them become more disciplined authors.
Being contracted for multiple books a year can be very good for authors. Why? For two important reasons - security and security. Actually, the second reason is momentum, but they are closely tied together. What good is having a new book on the shelves if readers no longer remember your name? Karen Ranney points out that authors want multi-book contracts because they are "a bit of security in an industry that's terrifying at times." Donna Simpson prefers multi-book contracts because they give her the security not just of the contract but of knowing she will have two or three books to establish a relationship with her editor and publisher. Gaelen Foley enjoys multi-book contracts not only for the security, but because they also give her the ability to write connected works and work out story arcs that range over the curse of several books instead of just one. Melody Thomas (aka Laura Renken) also likes the way multi-book contracts give her a chance to plot out series, and like so many other authors, she likes the security. For her, multi-book contracts make her feel employed. Deadlines are a fact of life in publishing, and she believes that if she can't meet a deadline, she has no business writing. Her publishers have also been flexible, allowing for emergencies. She has never been more than three weeks late and prays she never hits "a writer's block halfway through a book with only a month left before it is due. This has happened to me before and it was an awful feeling. Unfortunately this is a business and time is money. A book costs a lot to produce and through hell or high water that book better be in or an author risks her career. We are professionals not a sorority."
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As Jennifer Ashley points out, putting out more than one book a year helps an author build momentum not just with readers but also with booksellers, as well as helping grow that author's sales numbers. All this can help propel the author onto the bestseller lists. While she thinks that writing to multiple deadline can affect the quality of the books, that depends on the author. If the author has the discipline to handle multiple deadlines in a single year and still write quality books, then it can benefit the author. However, "if the author froths at the mouth, misses her deadlines, and starts to write 'the cat ate the rat,' fifty times per page, then that author should step back and take a break.." Elizabeth Hoyt also sees the benefits of multiple book contracts, including the security of knowing that you have writing income for the next year or so. "The real worry, of course, is pressure to write the same amount of books in less time. Sure, that could affect the quality. But I can honestly say I haven't noticed any diminishing of quality in the authors I read who write fast."
Eve Silver thinks that prolific authors can benefit when publishers bring out multiple books in a short time period. This can benefit authors who write multiple genres under more than one name (this group includes Eve Silver/Kenin, Jennifer Ashley, and as of this year, Elizabeth Hoyt) as well as "the author who has several releases back to back because the books are a series; a new (or newish) author hoping to build name recognition." (Examples here include Madeline Hunter, Tracy Anne Warren, Brenda Novak, Allison Brennan, and others.) She adds that as long as the author feels comfortable with the pace, there is no harm. "But a burnt out author, one who feels overwhelmed and drained, might not benefit from writing multiple books each year." It all depends on the author, of course. Some authors are successful at writing a book a year, and other successful authors publish several books a year. The author must find the balance that works for them.
What choice should an author make? According to Christine Feehan, there are many aspect to consider when accepting a multiple book deal. "How fast and prolific a writer one is. Are the terms progressive? Do you have firm dates for publication? Does pressure get to you or does it make you more disciplined?" The decision is up to the author, and both their business sense and their abilities as an author must enter the decision. Other business decisions to keep in mind include the following. Is there a publication date in the contract? Does the contract call for something like six books over a three-year period? If so, that might not be for all others. As Christine Feehan points out, "If an author wants to be assured she has long range work, then this might work for her. She would be publishing two books a year, but taking a chance that her books would be worth far more than she/he is getting in that three years." However, the author has to know her capabilities and know how to set delivery dates based on her abilities. Along these lines, Carly Phillips prefers contracts that stipulate "a 'reasonable' amount of books in a multiple book contract." Just enough books shows the publisher's faith in the author and the series, but "too many books can hurt an author." Even then, the issue isn't quality, but rather, getting tied in an unhappy situation with a publisher or getting tied to money they might exceed during the course of that contract.
Lucy Monroe sees the good cop/bad cop side of contracts. While there have been times she wished she hadn't contracted for so many books at once, there were other times when having the next book under contract was a huge blessing. "If the books go smoothly, hallelujah for multi-book contracts. If they don't - it can hurt both your creativity and your reputation with readers or your publisher depending on what suffers the most - the book or the deadline." On the other hand, she'd hate to be limited to writing only once book a year - she'd really, really hate it. But she also understand that some writers work under a different timeline.
While Lucy Monroe writes both category and single title romances, Karen Templeton writes primarily category romances. As a category author, it's a given that she doesn't write three books a year, she won't be able to build momentum - and thus won't be able to build a solid readership. However, she agrees that the pace depends on the writer. "A slower writer is probably going to have a harder time of it in category work. That said, I find it very sad that those authors who aren't naturally prolific feel so much pressure these days to keep their names nearly constantly in readers' faces." Karen understands that not every author can write fifty or more good books, and she thinks "it seems a shame that readers can't be trusted to keep an eye out for authors who write more slowly." Also, the when authors are forced to write faster than they should, not only does the book suffer - so does the author. Even for prolific authors, sometimes the words don't come. "Few authors will turn in work that isn't their best, given the framework in which they had to work. But I'm sure more than a few know in their hearts that some of their books could have been better, given a bit more time to cure. Repeat this 'not quite there' feeling enough times, and eventually you get burned-out authors who doubt every word they put on the page, because the more they try to force ideas to blossom, the more stubbornly the ideas refuse to do just that. Most of us need time between books to refill the tank, or to simply let the brain lie fallow. Precious few of us get it."
Other authors who are currently writing for Harlequin agree that it depends on the author. Hope Tarr sees the "job security" in multiple book contracts, and she sees the benefit in other ways. "For sure nothing keeps your butt in that computer chair like a legally-binding contract." However, one downside is that if an author feels that she is cranking them out, she will start looking at her published books and thinking how much better they could have been if she'd had more time to write it. In that case, the author should re-think her next multi-book contract." For Kate Bridges, these questions come at a timely moment as she has just accepted a four-book contract from Harlequin Historicals. She thinks whether or not an author should accept a multi-book contract depends on the author. "It's like juggling term papers in college - there are a hundred different approaches to getting to the same place." She thinks it can affect the quality of the writing, if the author lets it. "The key to writing the best book you can is to know your strengths and your limitations. Knowing your limitations comes from experimenting with different ways of writing, including biting off more than you can chew, stumbling, working night and day till you get the book right, and learning from your mistakes. That is, learning how much time you need."
For the past 25 years, Jennifer Greene, who has written both series romances and single titles, has worked primarily multiple book contracts. She sees two factors. One is authors entering the world of popular fiction without realizing that slower writers will have a harder time in the field. "But from the author's point of view, creativity is the real factor in multiple book contracts. Authors are fed the idea that they're 'better' if they're getting multi-book contracts. That's petunias. An author needs to have written long enough to know how long it takes her to write a certain length and type of book." In other words, an author who has sold a couple of books is in no position to sign a contract for ten books. That would be nuts - both for her creativity and for the quality. But once she does know her writing process, a multi-book contract can help the writing process by giving her security
Linnea Sinclair says, that there is nothing inherently wrong with multi-book contracts. In fact, they're flattering because they mean the author likes that author's work and wants to keep more of that author's book in their pipeline. It's good for both the author and publisher. However, for some authors, there are problems if the period between books was too short. Linnea trained as a journalist, so she learned to write to a deadline. However, fiction is a different animal, more muse-based. "And therein is one of the problems. The muse--well, mine at least, is a fickle critter. I had no problem turning out a news story about a zoning board meeting or the mayor's latest decision even if I had a raging headache, or even if I "wasn't in the mood." The muse, she is moody. But not for everyone. A lot of authors have no problem writing in the midst of physical or emotional cacophony. Others have to hole up to write. So how does that affect the quality of books? If an author doesn't work well under pressure, a multi-book contract in a short time span can be a negative thing. But that, to me, doesn't mean overall multi book contracts are bad. They're not the best thing for authors who have other time constraints."
An anonymous author points out the potential dark side of multi-book contracts. Yes, the contracts can make the author feel more secure, but "publishers are under no obligation to buy the books you deliver. If your editor doesn't like a proposal, she'll reject it, and you have to propose another to fulfill the contract. Signing a contract does not ensure the books you write will be bought, it just gives the publishing house first dibs." If the editor is expecting one thing, and the author delivers something else, this can result in a frustrating back-and-forth process. "Some editors allow you to write what's "in your heart" basically, but others want you to write what they think will sell based on their perception of who you are and what you write (or what they want you to write). This can be disastrous for a new author who is eager to please (and publish another book) because it's very difficult to write a book based on somebody else's idea. Can the quality be affected? Yes, if an editor pushes an author to deliver a book before it's really done." In today's market, "branding" is very important, meaning that the more the author can crank out books, the more likely she will gain name recognition and thus increase readership. But if the books are written too quickly and aren't good, then the "brand" that's built might be the reputation for writing bad books, and readership will drop off. "I have read first books by new authors and been impressed, only to read their second or third offerings and been greatly disappointed. With a first book, you have all the time in the world to refine and sell it. Subsequent books are written on deadline, so the creation and editing processes are abbreviated, and it shows. Of course this hurts new authors because readers won't pick up that author's next book, readership fails, and sales fall. With the competition in this business so great, it's three strikes and you're out, so a promising new author is out the door (i.e., dropped by the publisher) before she's even had a chance to build a readership."
What about pressure from publishers?
When readers lose faith in an author, or when the author starts writing another type of book, the publisher often gets much of the blame. But Karen Ranney says, "It's a contract the author and the publisher both sign. It's not the Bad, Mean, Ogre Publisher who is making the starving author toil away in a darkened basement, dressed in rags, and fingers bleeding all over the keyboard." She points out that if an author doesn't think she can deliver in the timetable discussed in the contract, she should say so when the contract is being negotiated. It's "the kiss of death" for an author to say she'll deliver a book in six months, and then be unable to do it - after all, that plays havoc with the publisher's schedule. On a similar note, Hope Tarr says, "As the author, you are in essence the CEO of your firm. You decide whether or not to sign that contract and the submission deadlines are deal points to be negotiated like any other." Elizabeth Hoyt says she doesn't feel pressured by publishers to put out more than a book a year. For her, the pressure is internal. "I just can't build a career writing only one book a year. And hey, I'm 42. I started writing relatively late in life (35.) Some days I wonder if I'll have enough time to get all the ideas in my head down on paper."
Most of the writers we contacted did not feel pressured to write more. Not only doesn't Carly Phillips feel pressured, but she used to beg for chances to write more often when she was writing category romances. Nor has Donna Simpson felt pressured. It's her choice, as a career novelist, to write more. Jennifer Ashley has never been pressured by her publishers to write faster. Instead, she says that her publishers might feel pressured by her to put out her books faster. When she does get into deadline binds, it's because of unforeseen personal circumstances, and in those cases, her editors are very understanding and don't rush her. They would rather she turn in a good quality book than one that will need heavy revisions because she wasn't really finished. However, she does know of authors who have felt the stress of multiple deadlines in a year. This often happens when an author throws in an extra deadline, such as an anthology piece, or when something unplanned is thrown in, like a book tour. Eve Silver both agree that they have not been pressured to write faster than they want to. Elizabeth Hoyt admits that she'd be writing the same number of books per year (two to three) whether she was under contract or not, and she feels fortunate that she has been contracted for that number of books.
The only pressure Gaelen Foley feels is pressure from herself to write faster. She feels that her publisher has only done what they could do to help her writing career. "They offered me opportunities that required me to write faster, but nobody ever put a gun to my head. It was all up to me whether or not I wanted to do it. So I tried it!" She admits that it was hard - she missed a lot of birthdays and two Christmas and worked seven days a week for a few years. But the massive effort paid off, getting her onto the New York Times print list for the first time. It also improved her writing life by making her get organized and helping her discover what she was really capable of. "What I learned is that when the pressure's really on, it forces you to home in on what's at the core of your story. It also makes you a lot more mentally tough, which you need to be with all the challenges we face. I have so many ideas for books I want to write that I only wish I could write even faster. Life's too short, and like the saying goes, I don't want to die with my music still in me." Kate Bridges' family has also suffered on occasion. In the past, she accepted rushed deadlines because she didn't know herself as a writer yet. In those cases, it was her family that suffered the most because she worked through weekends and missed birthdays and fun events. Now that she knows herself better, she doesn't have a problem turning rushed deadlines. "I've missed some great spots in the schedule and great promo opportunities, but I don't regret any of it, because there are always more great spots and promo opportunities coming up." For example, in the four-book deal she just got, she declined the first deadline, and Harlequin juggled the delivery times to suit her. But her family still suffers on occasion. She says that she always feels pressured, but it's a good thing. "If your book sales are doing great, the publishers want more and more."
Christine Feehan has never been pressured to write faster. In fact, she's not a fast writer - instead, she's slow and steady. She also makes sure that she has enough time to finish the book the way she wants it to be finished. She'd rather ask for more time than turn in a book she didn't want her name on. "I feel very responsible for my own career and the decisions I make, so I don't allow outside pressure to influence a decision that will make an impact on my life or that of my family." She adds, "I don't know any authors who have felt pressured to accept a multi-book contract but I do know a few who wished they hadn't, not because they couldn't deliver, so much as when three years go by, as a writer your career and even what and how you write may have changed."
Sometimes life can get in the way - and contracts can accommodate that. Linnea Sinclair's first two contracts with Bantam were three-book deals. However, her current contract is a two-book deal because she can sea her health suffering, and life has thrown lots of curve balls at her. "Am I happy with bumping down to a two book deal? Yes and no. I realize I need a break. But personally I want to have as many of my stories out there as I can. Writing is like breathing to me. I have to do it." On the other hand, she's not as young as she used to be, so her energy flags more quickly. She does feel pressure to write more books, but not all of it comes from her agent or editor - much of it comes from her. Then she gets letters from fans asking when her next book is coming out. What can she do but write as many books as she can?
Melody Thomas' next book, Passion and Pleasure in London, is due out on August 26th, and her last book came out in September of 2007. This is the longest time she's ever had between books in recent years. "At the time I signed that contract, I needed more time. My editor didn't want more time than that to pass because people forget you in this business. An author who can produce at least two books a year will do better and have a chance to make a living in this business than one who writes only one book a year. If I could write more than two, I would but I can't". Her books end up longer and more complicated than she expects, but knowing this, she plans for the extra time in her contracts. She has known of an author, from another publisher, who was pressured to write a 100,000 word book in four moths. That author had a difficult time. Though she met the deadline, the schedule was difficult and stressful. Her goal is to be more prolific. "Prolific writing is income. Readers become familiar with your name. Prolific writers seem to have bigger print runs and a chance to make lists. These issues are all important to a writer's survival in this business." At the same time, she wants to enjoy life and spend time with her family, so her ultimate goal is to find balance and harmony between her career and the rest of her life.
Jennifer Greene admits that the pressure to write can be a problem. "In commercial fiction, I believe the head honchos tend to think of authors as 'necessary but annoying' - if we just weren't there, they could sell the product like toothpaste and not have to deal with us. Hey, I'm not always happy to deal with us either." She writes relatively quickly, so this hasn't really been a problem for her. "But writing, even for the fast and prolific, can never be like washing a floor. If you keep pushing when you're exhausted creatively, you really will burn out. No one can push in a creative field without taking time to refill the well...and this is extra hard for a successful author, because publishers don't want any 'stoppage' on the 'assembly line.' A hiatus will hurt an author. But it'll hurt the author a whole lot more if she suffers serious burnout that could have been avoided if she were less pushed to the wall."
An anonymous author admits that she was pressured to write. Her editor chose delivery dates, and she had to write to those deadlines. Because the editor rejected several proposals before agreeing on one she liked, the time to write that book grew shorter and shorter. "Many sleepless nights and weekends were spent on trying to meet the deadlines. It's stressful, especially if you're an author who needs to mull things over as she writes. This happened to me three times. I'm not happy with the books I ended up producing and the fact the books got good reviews and my readership didn't slump made me feel very humble and grateful (and lucky)."
Discipline - No, Not the Kind Involving Whips
Some authors have found that learning to write to a deadline has taught them to become more disciplined authors. According to Karen Ranney, beginning writers are more likely to see writing as an art. They might work on their first book for years before it's accepted. Then they sign a contract and suddenly realize they have to write their second book in nine months. But "a seasoned writer knows that writing is occasionally an art but it's mostly discipline. The Butt-In-Chair approach doesn't disappear when you've made the bestseller lists. If anything, the discipline increases."
Linnea Sinclair believes that writing under pressure refines you. It's like thinking on your feet. "Too much pressure, yes, can make you careless and sloppy. But lack of pressure can also lead to unending games of Bubble Pop on the computer. Again, writing is a personal thing. There's no one right way to write a novel so an author's reaction to pressure is an individual thing. The key is recognizing what you as an author need to work most efficiently."
Multiple deadlines make Jennifer Ashley her get up in the morning and write. "If I didn't have several projects to work on I'd fritter my day away, thinking I had such a long time to write my one book (la la la). I'd think about writing and daydream about my characters, but nothing would make it to paper." When she first started publishing, she didn't know how many books she should write a year. Then she learned how fast an author's books disappear from the shelves - especially if she's new - and how quickly readers can forget your name. She realized that she had to get on the ball and write more. Writing several books a year helped her develop good writing habits, "such as writing a certain word count every day instead of playing ten games of spider solitaire and emailing all my friends. It made me learn how to sit down and get it done--and do the best job I can in the process. Challenge makes me try harder and do better. I have stories constantly burning in my brain, and I'm happy to write four or five of them down a year. What else would I do with my time, clean my house? (ha ha ha, that would never happen)"
Like Jennifer Ashley, Eve Silver has a busy writing schedule. She had three releases from three hours in 2007 and four releases in 2008. This schedule made her more disciplined. Besides writing the books, she has had to schedule behind-the-scenes obligations such as revisions, page proofs, and marketing. This taught her to become extremely focused, to keep a regimented schedule, and to guard her time. Time is now too precious to waste. "As to becoming a better author, well, that's up to the readers to decide. I delve deep to try and make each book unique. I wrench a little bit of my heart out and put it into my work, and I hope that readers will enjoy my stories." She thinks that if she had to slow down and write one book a year, the pace would be too slow for her as she is now accustomed to writing more than that.
Elizabeth Hoyt "Left up to my dawdling self I'd probably put out a book a year - which I don't want to do. Writers need to write, and a contract with deadlines is a great incentive to get your butt in the chair." Deadlines have also taught Christine Feehan discipline. "In order to write more than one book a year and do the research, you have to really sit down and work." Currently, she writes eight hours or more a day. Before being published, while she wrote every day, she didn't keep to such a strict schedule. Now, she would be bored out of her mind if she wrote only one book a year. Her quantity hasn't actually increased, however. Before becoming published, she wrote more books a year than she does now, but that's because when she wrote for herself, she didn't have to edit or polish the books, just get the story out and go on to the next one. So publishing multiple books a year has taught her not just to write for longer hours but to work on perfecting each story. "I hope my skills and my craft grow with each book. It's important to me to always strive to write a better book. I think many authors are very much like that, needing the discipline and the fun and adventure of writing more than one book, but the truth is, writing (as well as reading) is very individual. What works for one person doesn't always work for another." Both Donna Simpson and Carly Phillips have also found that writing more has made them become more disciplined. Donna Simpson sometimes finds herself working on two, even three, books at the same time. She can't imagine writing only one book a year - she'd call that "retirement." Carly Phillips loves finishing one book and starting another. "The more I write the better as far as I am concerned although it's getting harder to write faster."
Hope Tarr's current schedule is to write three Blazes a year and one single-title historical. She thinks that she has benefited, both in terms of her craft and in terms of learning time management. But she is quick to point out, "It's not so much the quantity for me as the variability, namely I really like balancing writing an historical-set with a contemporary-set book. I find writing both types energizes me, fills up the creative well whereas too much of the same tends to drain it." Kate Bridges also learned that she can become bored, but her case was different. The discipline was already there before she signed any multi-book contracts. When she first realized she was destined to be a fast writer, she started to worry that her books couldn't be as good as they could be because she had written them so quickly. Her speed scared her. Because of that, she slowed her pace, accepting a contract with a longer time period. And that was the most boring year she could ever imagine! "After two hours of writing per day, I'd shut off my computer and tell myself to take it easy, think about the plot and the characters. I laugh when I think of this now. In the end, I wrote most of that book in the last 3 months of that year, and ever since, I've told myself to never again second-guess my own instincts." Also, she never turns in something she doesn't like. If she needs more time, her editor will give it to her. There's always something special to her about each story, and she doesn't start writing the story until she figures what it is
Author Michelle Hauf says "I think some readers may think if a book was written quickly it can't be good. But really, that writer was probably very focused, working eight or more hours a day, and putting in much the same time as a writer who may take a year, but has a more leisurely writing schedule." She currently writes for Harlequin, which expects authors to produce a lot of books per year. She used to take about nine months to one year to write a book. She never thought she'd make the pace a Harlequin, but writing to that schedule made her realize that during that nine months to one year, she "was really just wasting a lot of time. Not focusing, spending days without even writing." She agrees with the Elmore Leonard quote cited the Boston Globe article Top Writers Feel Heat from Publishers' Presses - "'If it takes you more than six months to write a book, you're not working."
However, Karen Templeton thinks that for naturally prolific authors, their ability to write and publish so rapidly can be a two-edged sword. "Yes, perhaps releasing three books in rapid succession is a good marketing tool, for the new author, to rapidly build reader recognition. But it seems to me that later on - unless an author is writing for different markets, with different readerships - there's a very real risk of over saturation. Bombard the reader with too many books and she starts to pick and choose, thus spreading out an author's sales over several books instead of concentrating them on a single, much-anticipated release every year or so."
Jennifer Greene believes that "writing is a muscle like any other. Waiting for creative brilliance is like waiting for Godot - it never comes. You have to park your behind in the chair and do it, no excuses. Discipline is not a dirty word." As to whether some authors prefer to be prolific, she thinks most authors would prefer to write at whatever their natural pace is. "Another issue is when an author changes fields, like going from contemps to historicals or to romantic suspense. In those cases, the author will have some "learning curve" time. "No two books ever come out the same way. Some books flow like a river, where another story will give us hell--for no apparent reason either way. What has troubled me most about multi-book contracts is not having the time to deal with the recalcitrant stories...discipline isn't a problem for me; I'm a fan of serious discipline. But some stories, I wish I'd had the option to put aside for a few months. They weren't 'ready' even though they were in the schedule. An author can work with that--working with the problems of any given story is part of the fun and challenge. But I do believe that there's a right time for some stories, and multi-book contracts can't allow for that at all."
Marianne Stillings points out that writing is a very personal process. "What works for one author won't work for another. Authors who can write quickly aren't necessarily more disciplined or better writers, they just have a style conducive to that kind of process." She's very disciplined, but she has other obligations that keep her from writing as much as she'd like. Many authors with jobs and families can relate, and these authors find it very hard to write more than one book a year. Marianne thinks it takes just as much discipline, maybe more, "to write when you're being pulled a hundred different ways." Eventually, the author will find what works for her. She also thinks that authors do become better writers by writing more, but this would happen whether they were writing a book a year or three books a year. Unlike some writers, she doesn't get bored if she isn't writing more than a book a year. "What bores me is knowing in advance what's going to happen in a story. I'm a 'seat of the pants' writer. I don't plan much in advance, but let the story unfold organically from what's come before. While I'd love to have the time to write more than one book a year, I don't think I could. When I'm writing a story, I'm focused entirely on that story, its characters, the plot. It takes me about ten months to write a book, so I guess I write two books about every three years. That's pretty much my limit and I'm content with it. I feel I can do the book justice in that amount of time, and give the reader a good story for her time and money. If somebody is willing to pay money for my book, and spend several hours out of her life reading it, then it's my job to honor and thank her by giving her the best story I can. In the end, that's what writing is all about."
Overall, the answers aren't always what I expected. As Karen Ranney said earlier, publishers don't chain the writers in the basements and make them writer more and more. Yes, sometimes writers take on more than they can handle, and sometimes, they'll admit that some of their books could have used a little more time. Yet the majority of authors would be bored out of their skulls if they were forced to write only a book a year. Many thrive on the pressure, finding that it makes them more disciplined authors.