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NEW RULE: No More Binge Publishing!

29 October 2013

From Libby Fischer Hellmann:

You know how Bill Maher has his New Rule shtick? Well, I’m taking a page from his playbook. Many of you aren’t going to like this, but I think it has to be said: STOP publishing all these ebooks. I don’t want to sound negative, but it’s getting nuts out there. Ever since the self-publishing floodgates opened, “the more the merrier” has been the rule of thumb for indie authors. If you’re not making the sales you want, just write a new book and publish it. Add to your series. Start a new one. That’s the way to boost sales. I know people who are publishing five or six books a year! Which is why I call it Binge Publishing….

More books do NOT necessarily mean more sales

A few wise authors are beginning to realize the ‘write more’ theory is flawed. In fact author Mike Dennis admitted just that on the KBoards Writers’ Café, an online forum where a lot of self-published authors hang out…His post was promptly followed by advice from others urging him to market and promote differently, write MORE books, or write in a different “hot” genre. However some of the authors in the forum did acknowledge reality. V.J. Chambers was one: “You know what amazes me? Here we have clear evidence that the ‘formula’ is not a formula after all, and there is no guarantee of success in this business.

Many people still think they know how to write a great novel from day one. Some even sell a bunch of books, which I think confers an inflated sense of talent. The craft of writing isn’t something you automatically ‘get’ fresh out of the gate. It comes with practice….For example, a writer needs to learn narrative and dialogue, how to create suspense, build a believable setting, perfect the choice of language, use point of view correctly. We learn over time. If you are writing a lot of books, say six per year, you have little time to develop your craft. You’re too busy churning out “stuff.”. And, please, don’t tell me your editor will “fix” it. Like authors, the pool of editors who will take your money has multiplied too. And judging from the results, many of them don’t understand craft that well either. Like it or not, half-done books pollute the stream for everybody else….

Let’s face it. With over a thousand self-published books hitting the virtual shelves every day, the market is flooded. You’ve heard the figures: only about 10% of what’s available is read, even if it’s sold. At what point will we realize this is an unsustainable model? …It’s a problem, btw, that affects not just indie publishers, but traditional publishers as well. And some of these services are, at least anecdotally, seeing flatter yields. Take BookBub, which used to get fabulous results for authors. (I’m not talking about free books, which probably deserve a blogpost of their own—but books on sale for $.99 or more.) The number of books sold after a BookBub ad has slowed, at least for me and other authors I’ve talked to….

And yet, even traditionally published authors are being pushed to publish more than one book a year….I’ve got to wonder whether the demand for new work is so insatiable that authors need to push themselves. Do publishers and writers really think readers won’t flock to your next book if you wait a few months?…

Someone on KBoards called Mike Dennis’s thread the “Most Depressing Thread of 2013.” I don’t agree. I think it’s one of the first times we’ve had an honest discussion about self-publishing. It’s been long overdue….


Read the full story at NEW RULE: No More Binge Publishing!


~guest host Kat Sheridan



245 Comments to “NEW RULE: No More Binge Publishing!”

  1. Run For The Hills! It’s The Tsunami Of Swill!

  2. I agree. Over the last few years, I’ve frequently kicked myself because I can’t write faster. But then I remember that it wasn’t until the release of my first book in my new series, which was actually my 6th published title, that my editor told me she thought I’d finally ‘found my voice’. And from the reviews it’s getting, she was right. How long from the first book until the sixth book?

    Five years.

    The good news is that I definitely get faster with each book. But I’ll never be an author that releases a book a month. Just being real with myself, and with my readers. And you know what? That’s okay.

    • That’s where I am as well. First book took 8 years, all told, including two rewrites and extended periods of just turning the story and characters over and over in my head without writing a single sentence.

      Second book has taken about 2 years so far and will probably be ready to publish early next year. I don’t see being able to crank out more than one full-length novel every 18 months or so; anything less would be crap that I’m not going to put my name on. Maybe throw out a novella here and there, but that’s it.

      This is a long game.

      • I admit to writing lots of short stuff while throwing stories that aren’t ready into the back of my head. I can afford to write while percolating. My brainspace holds dozens and dozens of novels that are percolating and plenty of stories I’m writing full-steam ahead. Nevertheless, I write shorts more than novels, so perhaps there’s a difference there.

  3. The number of books sold after a BookBub ad has slowed, at least for me and other authors I’ve talked to…

    Hmm. So I should stop publishing my stories, so that readers will buy more of Libby Fischer Hellmann’s books instead?

    What an appealing idea!

    Somehow…I don’t think I will stop writing stories and publishing them at the pace that feels right for me. 😉

    • Maybe she could try publishing more books? Then her readers would have more to buy and wouldn’t be buying ours instead.

      Writing is a funny business. I can’t think of any other field where those involved believe that working more makes you worse at it. That’s not to say that we should be churning out a new novel every weekend, but it worked for Lionel Fanthorpe.

      • “…it worked for Lionel Fanthorpe.”

        Now THAT’s funny.

        For those not familiar with the name, Lionel Fanthorpe was famous during his fiction writing career for turning out some of the worst science fiction ever written. He’s a brilliant man with a great sense of humor, so it didn’t discourage him from a complete self-reinvention and new career writing nonfiction, which he actually does quite well. He’s also an Anglican priest, oddly enough.

    • I don’t think Libby was suggesting that “you all” should stop writing so many books so that people could buy more of hers. Spending more time on each book – both writing and marketing – is an established way to hone craft and grow an audience for a writer. Just because something can be done quickly doesn’t mean it should be. And some writers are doing themselves a disservice by rushing into print when another pass or two might make their books better. Who is going to read your fourth book if the first three are poorly plotted, riddled with typos or so formulaic that they don’t need to?

      • Frankly, most will see the fourth first. Side effect of being the newest and all that. And most writers do themselves a disservice when they try to revise what’s at its core a poorly done book. It is often better to clean it up, move on, and learn more by writing another book.

        Again, this post and thread are not about the first few books; they’re about the sixth, twelfth, and eighteenth books. By then, a writer does usually get a good handle on their craft, which is learned by WRITING, not by revising. Reading and writing is learning craft. Revising is applying craft. You have to learn in order to revise effectively, not vice versa.

        • ” By then, a writer does usually get a good handle on their craft, which is learned by WRITING, not by revising. Reading and writing is learning craft. Revising is applying craft. You have to learn in order to revise effectively, not vice versa.”

          THIS, THIS, THIS.

          All these proponents of writing fewer books per year seem to forget that the way one learns craft is not by fiddling around with a single sentence or two in a revision. It’s by training the brain to produce quality content (or as close to quality as one can get) the first time — on the first draft. How do you do that? By writing. More.

          There are people out there who could write dozens of books in their lifetime and never learn from the process, never improve. As in any arts field, some people who think they’re good at it actually stink, *and* are incapable of smelling themselves, and thus incapable of making improvements. It’s the fatal combination. They won’t get better no matter how many books they write or how many edits and revisions they do, because they don’t want to get better. They want to be amazing already. They want to not need improvement.

          I recently published my fourth novel. I told myself I could have a week or two free from writing to enjoy some other activities before it was time to buckle down and work on another book. I took one day off before I began outlining my next novel, because there was nothing I’d rather do than write another book. I’m not going to NOT write as many books as I damn well please in a year just because some authors think the slow food movement applies to the arts. My readers want more books, and I want to write more books. Gung ho.

      • What Liana said. You learn a lot more by writing five new books than you do by revising an old book five times. The former teaches you new things, while the latter is just spinning your wheels.

        Imagine telling an artist that they’ll only get better if they work on only one canvas per year, scraping and re-painting and scraping more and redoing…? It’s ridiculous for an artist, and it’s just as ridiculous for a writer.


    • That post only looks like it was meant for indie writers. It’s real target is the readers. She knew this would kick up a fuss and draw reader attention.
      With that in mind, the best way to kick up said fuss is to go with the ‘Slow down and maybe, someday, you’ll be as good as me’ angle.
      Not a bad marketing plan when you sell purple…

  4. I disagree.

    Quoting Ms. Hellmann:

    If you are writing a lot of books, say six per year, you have little time to develop your craft. You’re too busy churning out “stuff.”

    So if you write one book a year, as she suggests, you develop your craft by rewriting during the rest of the year, rather than churning out another book or two? Who’s to say you aren’t learning MORE by writing fresh material rather than messing around with the same prose?

    Some people write faster than others. I believe I write better when I don’t try to concern myself with producing the great American novel, but flit lightly through the task of first draft and several rewrites without taking it too darn seriously. Another new book gives me a chance to do it better. And the more times I climb that mountain from scary beginning to muddy middle to rushed ending the more smoothly the journey goes. I develop my writing muscles and get more experienced each time.

    This is entirely distinct from the question of whether or not readers want more. Frankly, if you have something (or several somethings) good out, your readers are more likely to stay with you if you produce quickly. But I’m simply talking about the writer’s experience.

    This reads a lot like those fusty types who think that real “literature” has to be serious, and difficult, and take TIME. But it ain’t necessarily so.

  5. Maybe it’s my mood today, but why does this strike me as advice coming from someone who doesn’t want the competition? Amazon knows what I like and if not, I will find it on my own. I don’t need him to pare down the choices for me.


    “I’ve got to wonder whether the demand for new work is so insatiable that authors need to push themselves.”

    Does he not realize that a voracious reader can read a good book in just a few hours?

    For example, I’m a fan of zombie stories. I downloaded The Remaining and happily read the first three books in the series. Before I bought the fourth, I looked up the author. He had just announced that he had signed with a publisher and that Book Five wouldn’t be out until 2015. Bummer, because before now he had been releasing a new one every six months or so. As much as I loved the series, I knew I wouldn’t remember to buy the next book in two years. I gave up.

    If he had kept producing at his previous rate, I would have kept buying. Happily. Instead, I bought Z-Burbia and read it in around eight hours, then went back for more of that author’s books. Yes, the demand is there, and if you hook me, I’ll buy everything you write. Everything else will fade, not hurting anything at all.

    • That’s how I am. I found this author that I love. I read ALL of her stuff and I’m impatiently chomping at the bit for her next novel. If she had more books out I would be in heaven, buying and reading those. I’m excited by the opportunities to snatch up a ton of books at once when I’ve found someone I like.

  6. I can almost hear the response to this: You first … You stop publishing books. Maybe you taking your books off the shelves will help others get noticed. Plus maybe if you write those books, but don’t publish them your 12th or 24th or 56th book will be your BEST! Wait until then. While the rest of us will publish NOW.

    I’m sorry, but she completely missed and simplified wrongly that very extensive discussion on this issue on kboards. Maybe because it fits her view of how publishing should go (the horror of TRAD PUBLISHED AUTHORS HAVING TO WRITE MORE THAN ONE BOOK A YEAR the horrors!).

    Basically, what I took out of her post were a few things: (1) she’s not a fast writer and grits her teeth about those who are as that gives them an “unfair” advantage over her amazing novels, which (2) aren’t getting the attention that they were and uses an unscientific statement that her book bub run wasn’t as good as her earlier ones (as if there couldn’t be more reasons for this?).

    Here’s the deal: the genie is out of the bottle and he’s not going back in and posts like hers smell of sour grapes or spitting in the wind.

  7. Well! Mike Dennis admitted it!

    So much for that. I mean, if one person finds it doesn’t work for them, clearly it’s not a “formula.” Oh, well. Maybe I can go back to photography for my money-making-hobby needs.

    • Mike Dennis is looking at his numbers from the early heyday of Select, where a free run resulted in thousands of sales. He’s comparing apples to croquet balls.

      The publishing landscape has changed radically since January 2012. You have to keep trying new things and staying nimble. Just think of how many fewer books he’d be selling now if he *hadn’t* kept publishing new material. Just sayin’…

      Also, I never put my titles into Select, and my sales this year are even better than last. 🙂

  8. NEW RULE: No More Binge Blogging!

    There are too many blog posts, nobody can find anything. If we’re not careful, people will stop using the internet.

  9. I would never go as far as suggesting writers slow down and take the time to make their books better, but I do wonder when I see people cranking out 4-6 books a year. Having a full time job and a young son and a house to keep up, I do most of my writing late in the evening and don’t have the time some people do, but even still I can’t picture cranking out a novel start to finish in 2-3 months. I take longer than that to do a revision pass, and I do multiple revision passes before I’m happy with the final product.

    Sure there must be some out there who can absolutely nail it the first time through and move on to the next book they absolutely nail the first time through, etc., on and on, 5 or 6 times a year, but I suspect the number of writers who can pull that off is substantially lower than the number who believe they are pulling it off. Unless there are a lot of time machines out there and people are keeping very, very quiet about it.

    • I think the problem is all the writers who nail it in the first pass with a need for a good copyedit, then promptly destroy it in revision. Publishing it post copyedit at least cuts down on that. There are always fewer succeeding than thinking they are when it comes to craft, but that’s how they grow, by writing the next book.

      I revise if I’m invested in a story. If I’m not, the story hits the drawer and I move on to the next.

      Revision doesn’t actually grow craft; you have to grow your craft to revise successfully.

      I have friends who write awesome stuff on the first go and go and revise it somewhat needlessly. If they’d just edit it and move on, they would probably be much better known. I loved their stories before I even knew them. But I came out of the online fiction and fandom community which was doing this method long before indies picked it up. As always, there’s dreck and there’s sheer awesomeness.

      • I think the problem is all the writers who nail it in the first pass with a need for a good copyedit, then promptly destroy it in revision.

        Coming from a screenwriting background, I used to spend a lot of time revising, then I realized that I spent most of that time putting back the things I had taken out from the first draft.

        I think I’m still quite a way from ‘nailing it in the first draft’, but I’ve come to realize that my first draft is usually a lot better than the sixth draft, which is usually a stodgy mess with all the good stuff removed.

        I also went back and re-read some of the novels I’d loved in my teens and twenties and realized… they’re actually not very well written in the ‘agonize over every word for years’ sense, yet they sold a bazillion copies. Most readers want a good story, and don’t care whether the words are perfect. If they’re seeing the words, you’ve already lost them.

        • “Most readers want a good story, and don’t care whether the words are perfect. If they’re seeing the words, you’ve already lost them.”


          • I love a good story, of course, but maybe I’m in the minority, because I often find myself reading and re-reading sentences and paragraphs that I really enjoy. Perfection is obviously a lot to ask for, but I will abandon a book if it doesn’t seem well written. My Kindle is full of novels I never made it through.

        • To quote myself (yes, I’m that arrogant:)

          It turns out that having a book well-edited and written according to particular stylistic requirements wasn’t necessary to get it to sell well: it was necessary to get it published. And since books which aren’t published rarely sell well, editing and stylistic accomplishment were second-order requirements. Now that a book can be published without meeting them, lo and behold, books which aren’t edited and written in a particular style can sell well.

          That isn’t to say that ceteris paribus a book which is well-edited and stylistically proper won’t do as well or better than a book which isn’t. It almost certainly will. But a book which isn’t and has a good story and good characters will do better than a book which is and doesn’t.

    • James, I used to feel the same way, until I actually tried to write a book quickly. It works.

      Think of it as hours invested. At 750 words/hr (my rate), you can write a 50,000 word short novel in 60 to 70 hours. If you can scrape together one hour a day, you can be done in two months. That’s about six books a year, sans brainstorming and editing. And once you achieve a certain level of craft with regard to syntax, dialogue, setups/payoffs, and pacing, there will be minimal story edits required afterwards.

      I know that D.W. Smith is always going on and on about this, and clearly it doesn’t work for genres whose readers love length (cough*fantasy*cough) … but in a crowded marketplace the loudest, most prolific voices do beat out the lovingly crafted tiny gem whose presence is announced once or twice a decade.

      • ” And once you achieve a certain level of craft with regard to syntax, dialogue, setups/payoffs, and pacing, there will be minimal story edits required afterwards.”

        Right here. This is what people forget about in the “to write fast or not to write fast” debate. (I guess in this context it’s a “to publish fast or not to publish fast” debate.)

        While YES, every good writer continues to improve and go get “gooder” as her career goes along, at some point she becomes competent enough with the most basic elements of craft — syntax, dialogue, cause and effect, pacing — that she doesn’t have to spend as much time thinking about how to deploy these aspects of craft. She does it without stopping to worry about it, and trusts her own instincts. That leaves her time to worry about furthering her craft in other ways with this draft and this book: risk-taking, unique storyline that hasn’t been seen a million times before, interesting prose, etc.

        How long it takes a given write to hit the point where the basics of craft become second nature to her probably depends on the writer. I wouldn’t presume to say when it “should” happen for anybody. But if you’re practicing a lot — let me stress that again — PRACTICING A LOT — you’ll hit it sooner than if you think you need to only write one book every two years, because that’s what people do.

        My best-rated and most-purchased book took me three weeks to write. Several beta readers whom I know to be trustworthy told me it was pretty much ready to go, story-wise, and only needed typo cleanup. A very clean draft. I published it two months after I wrote it. My poorest-selling book took me two years to write. Make of that whatever you will.

    • Sometimes, will you nil you, a book can hit you hard, grab you by the throat, and not let you sleep or eat or do much till you type “the end.” I wouldn’t have believed this could happen to me — I take 6-8 months to produce a first draft — but it did, last month. I got an idea (of course, while I was on deadline for another project), sat down to sketch out “a scene or two, so I can get it out of my head…”

      On Saturday it went to the editor. My crit partner even liked it, and she never likes my first draft of anything.

      Moral? It can happen. I’ll never say “not me” again.

    • I do 3-4 novels a year while working a day job and parenting a small child, but it’s something I had to work up to. When I first started writing novels, I couldn’t write one in a month. These days, I have enough practice that it doesn’t take me that long anymore.

      If constant practice means I’ll soon be able to do 6 or 7 a year, well. I’m looking forward to the revenue. 😀

  10. Wow. Some strong reaction here. I personally took the article as a reminder to me that it’s okay if I can’t keep up with the likes of Elle Casey or H.M. Ward. I didn’t take it as a slap in the face to those who write fast, but reading over it again, I can see how it could be taken that way.

    It’s simple. Some authors do not have to compromise quality for quantity. They can do it all. It’s been proven. Just look at some of the indies who are taking over the charts!

    But for those of us who need time to let a story simmer before we can pull it all together, that’s okay, too.

    • Did you actually read the article?

      Starting from the title, trying to impose ‘NEW RULES’ on other writers, on to pieces like:

      Many people still think they know how to write a great novel from day one. Some even sell a bunch of books, which I think confers an inflated sense of talent.

      Because, you know, just because you sell a lot of books, that doesn’t mean you actually have talent, unlike those who spend years agonizing over every word.

      If this article wasn’t so hilariously wrong, it would just be another tiresome example of ‘Tsunami Of Swill’ thinking.

      • Well, I did say that when I reread it, I saw how it could be taken that way. So yes, you are right. And I’ll say again, just to reiterate my stance:

        It’s simple. Some authors do not have to compromise quality for quantity. They can do it all. It’s been proven. Just look at some of the indies who are taking over the charts!

        • Sorry, my post probably sounded excessively sarcastic. I just had a hard time seeing how anyone reading it could see it as anything other than an attack on those who do write fast, be they bad books or good books.

    • Stories do need to simmer, and that’s why stovetops have multiple burners. We can be boiling one while frying another and steaming a third.

  11. Yeah, do your part for the community, stop writing, so other more entitled writers can sell their books. 🙁 Next they’ll tell you no more talking or even breathing. Some people think that writing is a sacred occupation. You have to be the chosen one. And who chooses you? Them, whoever ‘Them’ are, or used to be.
    I prefer to be chosen by readers, and if I publish trash, the readers will ignore me, and that will be a lesson learned at my own expense. Crowding the market with books is not bad for the readers. I agree that it is bad for the writers, because more books are chasing a fixed population of readers. But why should the writers not be subject to the competitive forces of the market? Musicians play at corner streets with their instrument cases open for donations from passerby. Artists sell their paintings at county fairs, or tourist attractions, or anywhere they can. Even aspiring actors and actresses crowd Hollywood to get a chance at stardom, and no one tells them to go home, there are too many of you. But it is beneath some writers to compete. Not to mention competing against badly written books. This is like a produce vendor complaining that there are too many tomatoes on the market, and many are rotten. Since when quality, fresh tomatoes compete with rotten tomatoes?

    • I agree that it is bad for the writers, because more books are chasing a fixed population of readers.

      But there’s not a fixed population of readers. Good books create more readers, and encourage readers to spend more of their leisure money on books rather than… whatever else they might spend it on.

      I’ve read more SF novels in the last couple of years than in the ten years before, because publishers didn’t seem interested in publishing the kind of SF novels that interested me.

      • Exactly! Trad pub would put out tons of whatever seemed to be working at the time (Dan Brown clones, et al.) so if you happened to like something OTHER than that you weren’t served at all. And forget cross-genre! Now its like I can find so much stuff to read I don’t want it to go back to how it was.

      • Furthermore, readers can read faster than writers can write. So, if there is any durable demand for your work, in a sense, there is an infinite demand for it, since at least a few readers will always be ready to buy a new book from you. I have found that while my books vary hugely in sales and in ongoing popularity, that I have a small core of faithful readers who buy literally every book I put up within a few days of me posting it.

      • I’ll drink to that notion

    • Even aspiring actors and actresses crowd Hollywood to get a chance at stardom, and no one tells them to go home, there are too many of you.

      Good god, no! The casting couch would dry up.

  12. I think conflating first published (incl self pub) work with first work is wrong, and it sounds to me like that’s what her b**** is. My first published book was written after a decade of writing things i was embarrassed by and would never let anyone see. That decade also included writing camp and multiple uppet level writing courses in college. So i am not the casual nanowrimo participant who said that was fun! Doing it 6 more times this year!, that she seems to be implying everyone who self publishes more than a book or two per year is. I do agree with above comments that an author should take the time for a copyedit, but if you write fast, there is no reason to limit yourself.

    • It’s also worth noting that a number of successful trade-published writers have now self-published some of the awful, horrible, unpolished novels they wrote before they produced one dazzling enough to convince a publisher to publish it… and made large amounts of money when readers lined up to buy them.

      • It should also be noted that a lot of trade published authors have identified the ability to put out more than one book per year as a big attraction to self-publishing. Many of them are perfectly capable of writing more than one good book a year, and would welcome the chance to profit from that skill. But contracts limited what they could publish.

  13. Wow, talk about a sense of entitlement. I’m sorry Libby’s sales are down and she doesn’t want to compete with the writers she considers beneath her, but that’s life.

    Also, equating binge writing with binge publishing is a non sequitur. My alter ego published a novella on the 18th, I published my latest novel yesterday, and I have a short story coming out in a trad published anthology on Saturday. So yes, I’m technically binge publishing, but it has nothing to do with how long it took me to write and edit each of these pieces.

    And the speed of writing and/or publishing will have absolutely nothing to do with how many copies of each that are sold. Either I’ve entertained a reader or I haven’t. Again, that’s life. Nobody owes me a damn thing.

    • My pen name has technically been “binge publishing” this year, but only one of those titles was new work… most of it has been backlist work that is getting a fresh release after going out of print.

    • Go for it! 🙂

    • “I’m sorry Libby’s sales are down and she doesn’t want to compete with the writers she considers beneath her, but that’s life.”

      Lawrence Block got this one right, writing about slush piles, way before ebooks took off. I’m paraphrasing, but I remember he said something like, “The thousands and thousands of stories worse than mine are not my problem. The stories that are better than mine are my problem.”

      It’s something people believed for a long time–quality can get you out of the slush pile. I like to believe that’s still true, even now that the “slush pile” (so to speak) has moved to a different place.

  14. I’m perfectly happy letting people like this whine about the lack of quality all they want while I write and publish books that are supporting me and my family better than my last day job.

    I used to worry about this stuff. It would upset me and make me want to write long, drawn out responses defending myself and others who don’t worry so much about perfection but about putting out the best work possible in a limited amount of time. I’ve since decided that it’s better to just do the work and let these kinds of people toil in their own obscurity or gloat in their own unique (luck-driven) success. I’ve stopped caring. 😀

  15. “I’ve got to wonder whether the demand for new work is so insatiable that authors need to push themselves.”

    I’m sorry. My music and dance and writing teachers all taught me that the only way to get better and have a viable career was to push yourself. Writing is no different from any other creative activity.

    • Take out “creative” and you’ve got a winner. Surgeons don’t get better by not doing surgery. You don’t become a better accountant by not doing accounting. You don’t become a good trial lawyer by not going to trial.

      Regardless of profession. Practice is required.

      • That’s why they call it a medical practice or “practicing law”. (Or in my case, a dental practice…) Every day you build the skills and learn to compensate for diminished function (for example, my eyesight is not what it was when I started practicing dentistry 27 years ago), and learn new skills to do things that weren’t being done when you got out of school.

  16. Why are so many authors writing so many books now? Because self/e-publishing has allowed them to quit their day jobs. What else are we supposed to do during the day?

    I’m not even terribly prolific compared to some of the authors out there, but I feel like a slacker if I don’t write at least 3,000 words a day. That’s a rough draft every month or so. Those 3,000 words take me about two hours of butt-in-chair time, which still leaves a lot of hours in the day for editing, social media, blogging, and having a life. But I guess I should throw away my work ethic and lounge on beaches all day so I don’t publish too many books in a year for this person’s tastes.

    P.S. Ray Bradbury and a lot of the pulp authors of old wrote and sold *tons* of stories because that was the way to make a living as an author. The more things change…
    P.P.S. This author has 42 titles in the Kindle Store…

    • I’m going to be pissed if you start lounging on the beach all day. I might have to start reading books by Libby Hellman.

    • What else are we supposed to do during the day?

      According to my careful study of writers in TV shows, you should be out solving crimes or tending your Hawaiian estate, and fit in a few minutes of writing when you get the chance.

      • As long as I get a Ferrari to go with my Hawaiian estate!

        • ‘Magnum’ Ferraris were actually quite reasonably priced (by expensive sports car standards) last I looked; it’s the maintenance and logistics that kill you.

          I used to live in a town with two used Ferrari dealers and a specialist mechanic who could do the routine maintenance (which involves taking the engine out of the car) for about five hundred pounds every six thousand miles, but I’d have had to have a garage to keep it in, and couldn’t have left it in the station car park when I went into London or someone would have stolen it or set it on fire by the time I got back.

          I had to settle for listening to my co-worker drive his F40 to work now and again… but now I do have a garage, I’d think seriously again about buying one if the nearest mechanic wasn’t five hundred miles away.

    • There is a reason that whenever Heinlein referred to Asimov’s writing style, he used the phrase “smoking-bearing speed.”

      Not that I am an Asimov, but yes, it is possible to produce good or even great work at a pace most people would find unbelievable. If the OP doesn’t believe it, well, then, I wish her all joy.

      • There is a funny anecdote about Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke in “Writing To Sell” by Scott Meredith.

        Meredith relates a joking imaginary conversation:

        “Scott,” Asimov said desperately, “I’m only 150 books ahead of Arthur – he’s catching up. If you can slow him down just a bit, I’ll give you the Lower Slobovian Second Serial Rights to ‘Asimov’s Guide to Cricket’ – without TV residuals, of course.”

    • P.P.S. This author has 42 titles in the Kindle Store…

      ::cracks up laughing::

  17. The “write more books” idea works best if you get repeat business. If your book “fits” the reader, you are likely to get that reader to buy the rest of your books. Finding reliable sources of good stories is the most pressing problem for the avid reader. It’s difficult in today’s market for a writer to know how many sales they make to repeat customers.

    • Once you get above a certain number of sales, I would agree, but I can tell you that I am extremely confident that I have a core of repeat readers since any book I publish will sell a certain number of copies within a few days of release, and that number is fairly constant (with the only exceptions being books that sell WAY MORE.) I’ll say that it’s quite a bit less than a hundred, if that gives you some idea of the scale. After that, the book could go on to sell reliably for quite some time, or it could peter out quite quickly, depending on the book.

  18. How do you improve your craft other than by writing books? I suppose we should all be putting our books in storage rather than selling them at least until we get to the point where Ms. Hellmann thinks we’re good enough.

  19. Thank you! This is the best laugh I’ve had all day.

  20. It’s not enough she has her own life to lead she has to try to dictate to the rest of us, too.
    I wish I was that wise.

  21. When I first read my way through here, there were 22 comments. I looked at my other monitor to do some stuff and then looked back here. Now there are 55.

    You think this struck a nerve?

  22. I clicked over to the article to see if it was as… interesting… as the quoted bits here. WOW. A few observations:

    “The two agents who turned it down were polite, saying things like “it’s not what we’re looking for.” I realized later that was code for, “girl… go learn how to write!”

    I love how she telepathically determined what these agents actually meant. 😛

    “If you are writing a lot of books, say six per year, you have little time to develop your craft.”

    Hello? That IS practicing your craft. You practice by doing and applying. Now, does that mean all of the resulting stories should be released? Depends on the author, but someone who is writing that much tells me they are doing a heck of a lot of practice.

    What an interesting phenomena. We had publishers telling us to slow down, forcing writers who are naturally faster and more prolific to adopt several pen names to keep up. Now we have other Indies saying the same thing?

    Whatever. I’m writing. No one is going to take that away from me. *I* am in control of my writing. No one else.

    Thank goodness the reader’s ability to read a lot outpaces any writer’s ability to write fast enough to satisfy. That means there are always readers browsing for new good reads.

    “There’s an old story in the mystery community about a woman who had a full time job but was writing a novel on the side. It took her about a year, so she went part time to see if a less demanding job could help her write faster. It still took her a year. So she quit her job altogether, thinking she could write even faster… but it still took her a year. The point is, it often takes that long to figure out what your book is about, what you’re trying to say, and how to say it”

    Or maybe this writer needed to develop better writing habits and squashing the excuses. You know, more Butt In Chair, Fingers On Keyboard time.

    Too much of this article seems to be dancing around the old myth of slower=quality and faster=garbage. I then saw it pretty much said outright in the article comments. Yeash. Every writer is different. Some write faster, and faster does not automatically make it “binge” writing. Some write slower, especially discovery writers. So what? One side or the other is not automatically superior to the other.

    Sorry, but this article just had me rolling my eyes. Excuse me while I go write and practice some more, refusing to allow someone else tell me its wrong.

    (P.S. Nice to see Bob Mayer go into the comments to say a few blunt words. “I’m a fan of reality rather than the way I wish things were.” Hah!)

    (P.P.S. Right now I can hear Dean Wesley Smith once again screaming to writers to stay off KB boards. LOL!)

    • “Whatever. I’m writing. No one is going to take that away from me. *I* am in control of my writing. No one else.”


    • “If you are writing a lot of books, say six per year, you have little time to develop your craft.”

      Hello? That IS practicing your craft.


      But how am I going to get better at cooking if I keep making so many meals?!

  23. Well, I’m no longer of her party. That one book per year deal was always the trade publisher’s plan. It nearly ruined me, because I write a series, and people had already forgotten book 1 when book 2 finally appeared. I find I can write 2 books per year and still give them careful attention. My books have not become worse.

    But the self-publishing marketplace is indeed becoming frightening, not so much because so many people publish garbage, but because they give it away for free. Let’s face it, there are lots of people who are quite happy with free garbage. And those same people get very angry when I want 7.99 for a new release.

  24. The only true test for a writer is the readers. If you’re writing six books a year and your readers are clamoring for the next book, more power to you. I’m publishing my first book in December. Plan to publish two books a year but that’s fudging a little. How will I gauge my success as a writer? A growing reading audience. I’d say if your reading audience isn’t growing, you might consider slowing down.

  25. Restricting supply to increase prices always seems like a good idea, unless you’re the one being restricted.

  26. The thing that makes me shake my head about these “fear of productivity” posts (and made me slam my head against my desk when I read that thread on KB):

    So writing less is going to sell more books for you?

    The answer is, obviously, NO.

    Nobody has ever recommended rushing your work. And that’s not what all these “binge” publishers are doing either. If they are publishing swill — if they are so clueless they aren’t proofing their work for instance — they’re going to do that whether they publish a lot or a little.

    The only comment to make about the idea of whether to publish a lot or a little is this: it’s not a shortcut. It’s just better to do it than not.

  27. There a couple of things about this post that are dangerously wrong. As in, believe them and you will endanger your career.

    Like it or not, half-done books pollute the stream for everybody else.

    Either the “everybody else” refers to other indie publishers or it refers to all writers. Either way, this would change the shape of the sales distribution curve for books.

    In the first instance, the sales-to-titles distribution curve for indies would be significantly different from the current shape of the curve for legacy publishing where there is much less of a distinction between the “polishedness” of books. If “half-done” books were “polluting the stream” for indie books, the curve would be flatter for indie books. It is not.

    In the second instance, the sales-to-title curve would be flatter now than in the past. It is not. We see the same thing we’ve seen for the last 50 years (at least). There is a very steep power law curve.

    Let’s face it. With over a thousand self-published books hitting the virtual shelves every day, the market is flooded. You’ve heard the figures: only about 10% of what’s available is read, even if it’s sold.

    If you are worried about the sheer number of titles being published, you’ve already lost. The vast majority of those titles simply disappear from sight. The dynamics of the market are changing, but it is more due to the behavior of readers than the availability of titles.

  28. “The craft of writing isn’t something you automatically ‘get’ fresh out of the gate. It comes with practice….” followed by “If you are writing a lot of books… you have little time to develop your craft. totally lost me.

    Isn’t writing a book practicing your craft? Whatever.

  29. William Faulkner wrote As I Lay Dying in six weeks, writing from midnight to 4 a.m., then sending it off to the publisher without changing a word.

    Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 in nine days on a rented typewriter.

    Those boys should have slowed down.

    • Cool anecdotes.


    • Though a novella, James Hilton wrote “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” in only three or four days. It’s a damn good story and well written, too. No skimping on quality there.

      • I seem to recall a (possibly apocryphal) story that Harlan Ellison wrote 40,000-word story in an afternoon sitting in the front window of a book store.

        Tell HIM he wrote crap.

        I dare ya.


        • I think I saw a video in which he was actually typing away in that window. It was weird and fascinating, just how I expect Harlan to be. 😉

        • Ellison wrote quite a number of stories (although I’d heard they were shorts, not novellas) while sitting in the front windows of bookstores. They taped each finished page up in the window as it came out of his typewriter, so the people watching him through said window could read it.

          And yeah, I’d pay money to be watching when someone tried to tell Ellison he was cranking out crap when he did that. [smirk]


  30. There seem to be two issues. The first is “there are writers self-pubbing bad books.” The second is “it takes time to write a good book.”

    The first is true. There are some bad books being self-pubbed. But as others have said, the market takes care of itself. Enough bad reviews will kill sales. I’ve seen writers who had promising starts self-pubbing in 2009 have terrible sales today because readers didn’t like their books.

    I debunked the Tsunami of Crap on my blog, years ago. It’s a baseless meme that keeps getting repeated. Books don’t compete with other books. Readers always tend to want more, even if they hoard rather than read.

    Libby is right that good writing isn’t easy, but unless she is reading all 1000 books being self-pubbed every day, she can’t judge what is good writing and what isn’t. In fact, the very term “good writing” is open to a lot of subjective opinion over what constitutes “good.”

    I wrote SHAKEN in 9 days. I wrote Haunted House in 13 days. Combined, they have over 600 reviews, averaging 4 stars. I’m pretty sure some readers consider them “good” books.

    Conversely, while I did self-pub many of my early, never-published titles, I didn’t self-pub all of them. A few of my early works will never see the light of day, because they aren’t good enough.

    While I can accept that there are some writers who think they’re good enough, but aren’t, I’d wager that the majority of writers do understand that there is a learning curve, and want their work to be as professional as possible before self-pubbing. In fact, I’ve seen a lot of first-time authors hesitant to self-pub until they are absolutely sure their work is up to par.

    While I haven’t done any polls or studied any statistics, I’d guess that what Libby is complaining about–poorly written books self-pubbed before they’re ready, again and again and again–doesn’t happen often. Anyone who publishes six titles in six months and gets bad reviews and the resulting poor sales will take themselves out of the game either through attrition, reader apathy, or personal frustration.

    And while there is something to be said about having the legacy gatekeepers demand high quality and forge better writers as a result, the reverse can also be said. In the heyday of the pulps, many writers learned on the job, while being paid. There is a precedent for improving as a writer while selling.

    My two cents…

    • “In the heyday of the pulps, many writers learned on the job, while being paid. There is a precedent for improving as a writer while selling.”

      Yes, exactly. Why shouldn’t we earn while we hone our craft? I’m one of those authors who puts out five or six full sized books a year. I’m lucky to have an editing team I trust, as well as the ability to write fairly quickly. Just because I’m fast doesn’t mean I’m shoveling out crap. I’m nowhere near stardom, but I’m happy to support my family of four on what I make as a full time writer. If I only put out one or two books a year we’d starve.

    • “Anyone who publishes six titles in six months and gets bad reviews and the resulting poor sales will take themselves out of the game either through attrition, reader apathy, or personal frustration.”

      …unless they use another pen name to publish more books.

      • If they’re selling that badly, it probably doesn’t matter. If I see a book that interests me, I don’t go and check reviews on the author’s other books, I only care about that one. And while people who read an appallingly bad book which makes them want to gouge their eyes out with a spoon may remember the author’s name and vow never to read another, few of us remember who wrote merely bad books. I’ve read some clunkers of self-published SF, but I couldn’t tell you who wrote any of them, because I just deleted them and moved on to the next book on my Kindle.

        A writer in those circumstances is far more likely to just give up, because they’ve spent thousands of hours writing, only made $10, and are sinking in a sea of bad reviews.

        • Authors who spend thousands of hours writing don’t worry me. They’ve tried their best and failed, and in my book, they deserve only praise. What I would find annoying is fake authors who use paste and copy from passages of other authors books (including classical writers) to build fake books. It would just add to the pile of crap some artificial crap. When there is a system, there’s always people to find the flaws and use them to their profit.

          • Yeah, they’re the ones who get piles of one-star reviews but keep publishing, because they only expect to make a few dollars on each book.

            Most writers who actually try to write something people want to read do eventually get discouraged and give up if they don’t find readers who want to read their books.

    • Let me jump into the fray and add my two cents’ worth as well – At the end of the day, does it matter whether it took the author one year or one week to publish his or her book? I don’t think it does since each writer is different and writes at a different pace, with some producing very good work in a very short space of time. To me, I don’t think this is really an issue.

      I also believe that writers who publish crap product just because they know they CAN publish something that adds to the Tsunami of Crap will quickly suffer the fate of no sales and will move on to the next hot thing like lawn bowling.

      However, I think there’s something else to be taken away from Ms. Hellmann’s post that affects all GOOD writers and that is that the strategies that once worked for the first flux of Kindle Millionaires don’t necessarily work as effectively now. BookBub, which is arguably still the advertising behemoth, is becoming increasingly difficult to get a listing on; the 99 cent price pulsing strategies aren’t as effective as they once were and the “sure-fire” KDP Select freebie-post day bumps don’t carry the same oomph they once did.

      If I’m going to take anything away from Ms. Hellmann’s post, it’s that as indie authors, we need to think outside the box in order to continue to grow our readership audience and to fight for our small piece of the readership pie. As indie writers, we need to have our ear to the floor in the lookout for new strategies to market ourselves and not rest on our laurels. As many very smart writers have said on other posts, as indie writers, we’re in complete charge of our writing careers. The self-publishing industry is evolving at a phenomenal rate and we have to evolve with it.

      Maybe that’s the message we need to take from Ms. Hellmann’s post. I’m just saying…

  31. Many writers and readers consider 50,000 words to be a novel (though a short one at that). So say a writer wrote only 750 words a day for 365 days. At the end of a year, he/she would have written 273,750 words. At that rate, a writer can complete nearly 5 1/2 novels a year writing a mere 750 words a day. It’s really doable.

  32. Now that I think about it, maybe Isaac Asimov and Julian Simon should have slowed down their productivity.


    • Wow great comments from the PG regulars. As a newbie I read her article and could just imagine her saying “I’m talking to you!” I then came here and all you wonderful writers set the record straight. Practice is what makes the writer. Write more not less.

      • Go Geoff! Write on!

        • Thanks J.M. Ney-Grimm!

          I know there are many ‘Libbys’ out there but as long as there are writers who congregate to hash out the truth about the writing life, as you all do here, newbies have somewhere to go and know they are on the right path.

          aka Geoff Kataggi

    • Asimov wrote 500 books in his career (Wikipedia).

      Since, as we all know, you can only write one book per year, that means that Isaac Asimov lived for 500 years or more. Therefore, he must have been a vampire or an alien.


      • So how did Asimov write 500 books, you ask? Simple: he cheated.

        Over 100 of the books Asimov listed as his were anthologies (mostly of science fiction, a few in other genres). Those anthologies were compiled and edited by Martin H. Greenberg, sometimes working with Charles Waugh. All Asimov did was write an introduction to the book and a short note on each of the stories, amounting (perhaps) to 10,000 words in all. This work certainly entitled him to have his name on the cover as co-editor, but to say that he wrote those books would be a barefaced lie.

        Even Asimov was not equally fluent in all the genres he worked in. He could knock off one of his popular science books in two to four weeks, but a science fiction novel (so he said) took him seven to nine months. It wasn’t the actual writing that took the extra time, but inventing sufficiently interesting ideas and working out their consequences in the story.

        Jim Henshaw, the screenwriter, defines creative writing as ‘trying to remember things that haven’t happened yet’. (Apparently this definition is not original with him, but he doesn’t say where he got it from.) The more involved the things are, the more time and effort it takes to ‘remember’ them.

        An extreme example: Robert A. Heinlein took three solid days to write one line of Space Cadet. It took that long because he had to work out the trajectory to send a manned rocket from the Earth’s surface into geostationary orbit, ten years before anybody put a rocket into any kind of orbit. And he had to work it out by hand – the public had no access to computers in 1947. (And that does not count the years he spent beforehand learning the necessary physics.)

        Of course, few novels call for that kind of rigorous research. And nothing requires it. Even in science fiction, you can fake it, like the writers of Buck Rogers, which was (for a time) enormously successful. But over the years, the fakery became more obvious and less defensible. Many people still read Heinlein today, but you would be hard pressed to find anyone who still reads Buck Rogers. Faked work doesn’t last.

        So while it is very seldom worth a writer’s time to spend months or years obsessing over details of prose at the sentence level, there are some things worth obsessing over. Calculations of the type, ‘I can write X words per hour for Y hours a day, and get Z novels finished in a year’ always leave that factor out. It takes additional time to come up with good ideas, and to develop them well.

        • I didn’t know that about Asimov, and I think it’s interesting. But you are still leaving him with ~400 books, at that rate. That’s pretty impressive to me.

          Heinlein’s research also sounds impressive. Sometimes, something comes up like that, where you just have to do research (I hope I never have to work out physics like that, haha…)

          Anyway, all I’m trying to say is that it’s possible to write more than one book per year. It can be pretty easy, actually. Of course, different things take different amounts of time for different writers. That’s a given.

          I find hard SF very impressive, and I’ve read some of it that I’ve liked a lot. But I don’t agree that soft SF can’t have a lasting impact. “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” both seem to be doing pretty well, for instance.

          • Of those ~400 books that Asimov actually did write, some were very short (like his introductory science books for kids), and some of his stories and essays appeared in more than one book. By his own calculations, during his peak years he wrote something like 500,000 words a year. That’s a very respectable total, and more than most writers can manage.

            My issue, where I have one, is with the people who seem to think that’s a minimum, and that you can gauge a writer’s productivity solely, or even chiefly, by words written per hour. See Marie’s calculation above, showing that a part-time writer should be able to write 5 1/2 novels per year. That assumes no writer’s block, no days off, no books longer than 50,000 words – and what is most important, no time for planning, outlining, or trying out different ideas in the course of the story. Oh, yes: and no second drafts – ever. By that kind of calculation, Asimov was a mere piker and should not have had the gall to call himself a writer. There’s something seriously wrong with that kind of thinking.

            As for hard vs. soft SF, I have nothing against the soft stuff, and actually prefer it a lot of the time. But Star Trek and Star Wars were able to succeed partly because they had earlier hard SF writers to steal (or buy) their ideas from. The list of established SF writers who did scripts for ST:TOS is long and impressive. Once the ideas and tropes had been worked out – honestly worked out, not faked – they were available for other writers to use. But a book that does nothing but recycle other people’s existing ideas is hardly worth reading. What gives it a chance to endure is the original stuff added by its own author.

            • I’m with you there. That kind of thinking can be motivating, so it’s often a good thing. But it certainly doesn’t produce a realistic estimate of how much you should expect to write in a year.

            • That assumes no writer’s block, no days off, no books longer than 50,000 words – and what is most important, no time for planning, outlining, or trying out different ideas in the course of the story.

              When I’m on a roll, I write around 1500 words an hour. So a first draft of a novel, if I was working full time, could take as little as a week of eight hour days. Even if I was releasing a novel a month, that would leave three weeks for revision and thinking about the next one. And, the more I write, the less revision I need after the first draft, because I make less mistakes that I need to fix.

              Personally, I wouldn’t try to write a hard-ish SF novel a month, because it does tend to require more thinking and fact-checking than some genres, but there are plenty of other genres, or SF sub-genres, where you could do that.

        • “So how did Asimov write 500 books, you ask? Simple: he cheated.”

          Cheat: To deceive by trickery.

          Four hundred books. Five hundred books. Some too short, some too long. Ten million words published. Eight million words published. Trivial arguments.

          Long ago, in letters to the editor, IASFM, a fan addressed an issue to Janet Asimov.

          From my memory (maybe not so green):

          “Dear Mrs. Asimov, please don’t let Isaac play the typewriter anymore. I’m going broke.”


        • Asimov himself never claimed he wrote those he edited or introduced however. He stated that he edited and/or introduced them. I had never heard the 500 figure because I went through my Asimov reading Asimov himself. He claimed the 400 and made no effort to limit himself by too long or by too short. I don’t blame him.

      • I vote for alien!

  33. When I started the thread “Writing more books isn’t ALWAYS the answer” on Kindle Boards back a couple of weeks ago, I had no idea it would result in over 300 replies on that forum. And now that Libby Fischer Hellmann has chimed in with her opinions, it’s generated even more response.

    I’m self-pubbed (formerly trad-pubbed), and while I may disagree with some of the comments on this site, I can say with great confidence this is something that has long needed to be aired. I’m very pleased to see so many people contributing their opinions on all sides of this important topic.

    Keep ’em coming!

  34. One of the things that always bugs me about the “writing fast = sucky books” argument: We don’t all write only novel length works.

    I’ve written over 181k words this year (roughly 1500 words per day), and written on 119 days out of 302 (thus far). I’ve only completed 1 title (a novella), and should be finishing a novel length work by the end of the year.

    I released two other titles that included stories I wrote in past years.

    In the meantime, I have several other projects gaining new words as I’m in the right mood to work on each. I usually hit a point on each project where I settle down and write until they’re done. I’m hoping to hit “done” on enough of them to release one title per month next year.

    I’ve released anywhere from 2 to 9 titles per year, obviously not all novel length. It doesn’t take as long, in actual time or word count, to write a novelette or novella, and hey, readers like to buy those lengths too. 🙂

  35. Dear Ms. Hellmann,
    I’m one of THOSE authors. I write six or seven books a year. My readers love them, my publishers love them, reviewers love them. I’m okay if you do not. My career will continue to be just fine without your stamp of approval.

  36. Part of me wonders if Ms. Hellmann is motivated toward this point of view at least a little by jealousy.

    Because I’ll admit it: I do not write fast. I write very, very slowly. And I wish to God I did write fast. I can only hope with time and perseverance I can develop a better writing speed, but until then it seems I’m more in the Tolkien school of writing. I’m terribly jealous of all of your fast writers!

    • Slow writers unite!

      I’d start a Slow Writers Guild, but I don’t have the time.

      Why everyone feels they have to educate the newbies by telling them how it must be, whatever ‘it’ is, is beyond reason.

      No one else is listening – but the poor newbies are milling around, quite confused.

      To start: pick a few people’s advice to try out. If their advice results in good writing, keep them. If not, throw the bums out and find better mentors. ‘Good writing’ = writing that pleases the author.

    • Sarah, don’t feel bad. I bet you do more work than writers who can type twice as fast. Just do your best.

      QUOTE: Oh, oh, I just gave you the secret to being a “fast” writer or a “prolific” writer. Just spend more time writing.

      I am the world’s worst typist. I use four fingers, up from two, and if I can manage 250 words in fifteen minutes I’m pretty happy. I tend to average around 750-1,000 words per hour of work. Then I take a break. I am not a “fast” typist, but I am considered a “fast” writer because I spend more time writing than the myth allows.

      – See more at: http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?p=9789#sthash.QJJWBHsQ.dpuf

    • I’m part of the Slow Writers Guild, too, Sarah and Alicia. I used to be faster, just zipping out the plot, but now I ponder what my POV characters are thinking and feeling, what my non-POV characters are thinking and feeling, what my off-stage characters are…

      You get the idea.

  37. What this sounds like to me is misidentifying the problem, and the problem is the need for curation, standards of quality, you know… those “gatekeepers” that many people having been rejoicing at the absence of, since ebooks and self-publishing started hitting their stride.

    How is a reader going to wade through all the trash? Or even find the particular brand of lightweight entertainment they’re looking for? “Literary” as a category for example, is not even used anymore in some places. I guess because it either means pompous and unreadable, or everything that doesn’t fall into a particular genre gets dumped into it and it ends up meaning nothing.

    I suggest we still need gatekeepers i.e. publishing houses large and small, that establish real credibility and reputations for publishing reasonably well-defined types of work or quality of work.

    The older problem of few writers getting published has now been replaced by the problem of the avalanche of everybody getting published.

    Whatever one’s notion of quality or standards might be, somebody has to wade through the billions of words now being published and decide what makes the cut. More diversity among the gatekeepers is a good thing. Those gatekeepers should be making choices based on more than short term profit. But a world without gatekeepers is like a world without cops.

    • The readers are the new gatekeepers and they manage to find what they are looking for in the morass of options. When they find something they like, they spread the word. That’s how it works now, and that process can be greatly beneficial to authors hoping to be noticed in the sea of words. Which is why I always preach write a great book that people want to read. Quality is still and always job one, followed closely by job two in the digital age: quantity. Keeping the books coming keeps your readers happy and engaged with you.

    • Cops, contrary to popular opinion, don’t act to prevent people from doing bad things. (No, seriously, they don’t have any duty to do that.) They exist to apprehend people *after* they do bad things. Your analogy is inherently flawed. In this case, the “cops” are the market – the readers. And they are performing their duties as they always have. They punish people for publishing bad books by… not buying them.

      Even when TradPub was in full Iron Lady Gatekeeper mode, it was far from a rare occurrence for a book to come out and be marketed and supported and have a huge initial print run and then… fail spectacularly, because the readers didn’t want to read it. (When this happened to a Tom Clancy book it nearly destroyed the publisher.)

    • “How is a reader going to wade through all the trash? Or even find the particular brand of lightweight entertainment they’re looking for?”

      It’s working out pretty well. They get recommendations from other readers, and give their recommendations when other readers ask them. Entire social networks are growing up around the concept — not just Goodreads, but more similar networks, to say nothing of the very active circles of reader-friends on Facebook and Twitter. And all those book bloggers.

      If that fails, those recommendation algorithms on Amazon are so accurate they’re creepy.

      • It seems to me that when a writer asks, “How are readers going to find good books to read?” they actually mean, “How are readers going to find MY books to read?” whether “my” equals “the ones I wrote” or “the ones I published” or “the ones my agency clients wrote” or whatever. Those are two different questions.

        Readers have no problem at all finding good books. As a reader, there are more good books out there than I’ll ever be able to read in my lifetime, and more are published every week, if not every day. Running out of good books isn’t a problem. To find them, I get recommendations from friends, I read review blogs and reviews on Goodreads, I get a couple of publisher newsletters, I meet writers at conferences and conventions or hear them speak and think, “Hey, that person sounds cool, I’ll try one of his/her books.” I have a huge to-read pile of paper books, a humongous number of to-read e-books, and more on my to-buy lists on various sites. Finding new books to buy isn’t a problem either.

        Finding one particular writer’s book might be a problem, for that writer. For me as a reader, it’s not a problem because I don’t need any one writer’s books, and if I never hear about them, or never encounter the book or the writer in a way that makes me want to try them, I don’t consider that a problem.

        As a writer, it’s kind of the same situation, just reversed. There are more readers out there who might like your book than you’ll ever be able to contact, no matter what kind of promo you do, no matter how much word-of-mouth you get. There are still people encountering Lord of the Rings for the first time, even after three hugely blockbusterish movies released a decade ago. If your books are available, if they’re good, if they’ll appeal to some large number of people, and if you have them widely available, then people will keep finding them. Someone who’s had your book sitting next to the bed or sitting on their e-reader for six years might decide to read it tomorrow, love it, blog about it, tweet to their twenty thousand followers about it, give a dozen hard copies as gifts this Christmas… who knows?

        But actually, the question is, “How will people find MY books RIGHT NOW?” Sorry, can’t help you. Some books take off right away and some don’t. Sometimes you can trace the take-off to some particular event, or some action the writer or publisher took, and sometimes you can’t. (And I’ll bet some of the times everyone thinks the take-off was because of some event [“Obviously because of that blog tour I did the week before,” says the author] it’s actually because that one person with a lot of friends and followers and a huge blog audience finally picked the book up off their nightstand that week and read it. You never know.

        And that’s the problem — it all comes down to, “Damn if I know.” There are all these things writers scramble around doing for promo and marketing, and sometimes they get a sales surge after and sometimes they don’t, and we really don’t know what works or what doesn’t. And as Marie has said somewhere around here, what matters most is the book, and we have no way of measuring that either. We don’t know. And people can’t stand not knowing, so they start making crap up. Like, “All you people publishing your crap are hiding my awesome books from their rightful readers!!” Or whatever entitled whine someone is inventing this week. [shrug]

        We don’t know. Keep writing, keep studying the craft, keep writing, keep reading, keep writing, keep publishing, keep writing, keep your books as widely available as possible, keep writing. If your books are good (whatever that means) they’ll eventually take off. If they’re not, maybe your next one, or your fifth next one, or your twelfth next one will be, if you keep writing. But for the foreseeable future, we’re not going to know what makes a book take off, and that’s just how it is.

        If you can deal with that, you’ll spend a lot less of your royalty money on blood pressure meds. If you can’t, well, good luck to you.


        • You said it so well.

        • I think there are some good responses here.
          To clarify a couple of points: I don’t personally think I have written a “good book” yet, though I aim for it and pursue it by practicing… so that attack is just based on an incorrect assumption. Most of what I consider “good books” come to my attention by first being published by a publisher. Very few of any of the books I have read got to me by the word of mouth of anonymous strangers. That certainly doesn’t mean I haven’t missed any great books, but that will happen no matter what.

          And about cops… it is not true that prevention isn’t their task. They catch drunk drivers before those drunk drivers kill somebody. The mere presence of cops, regulators and other gatekeepers reduces crime to some extent.

          If I am to take word of mouth as anything more than the undiscerning opinion of strangers — I need them to build a reputation backed by good choices. This applies whether it is an individual reader, a blogger, a reviewer, a pollster or a publisher. I don’t disagree that widening who that person can be is a good idea. But they still need to create some credibility beyond giving something 5 stars or voting with their purchase alone.

          Lots of stupid wars and pet rocks and silly clothes have been sold. I recognize the folly of trying to combat that directly. I just think it is also folly to think everyone’s opinion has equal merit.

          • If I am to take word of mouth as anything more than the undiscerning opinion of strangers — I need them to build a reputation backed by good choices.

            I’ve seen this argument (against non-professional reviewers) a lot, and it seems to be based on the assumption that people who buy books based on the reviews of strangers just read Joe Blow’s review saying, “Great book! Read it!” and think, Wow, this Joe guy loved that book, so I’d better read it!

            Seriously? That’s not how it works.

            If someone writes a good review, I don’t need to know them. If it’s a really good review, I don’t even have to have read enough of their reviews to know that their tastes are similar to mine. A good review says what you liked about a book, with reasons and examples, and what you didn’t like about it, with reasons and examples. I can read a good, well written review of a book and get some idea of whether I’ll like it, by analyzing the data given. And maybe some of the things a reviewer dislikes about a book are things I love to read, or vice versa. I’ve read ravingly squeeful reviews, but the reason the reviewer gave for loving the book was information that made me stay away. That’s cool — that was a useful review, even though I disagreed with the reviewers final judgement.

            If I’m not sure, I go looking for more data. If I read five well-written, thoughtful reviews about a book — and often if I’m feeling iffy after reading one, I’ll go looking for well-written, thoughtful one-star reviews, to see what these people who put some effort into writing their review didn’t like about it — then I can usually get a pretty good idea of whether I’d like it or not.

            We’re not blindly taking some stranger’s word that a book is good or bad. And frankly, I don’t give any more weight to a professional reviewer than I do to some random person who writes reviews on Goodreads or Amazon or their personal blog. It’s all about the data — what did they like and why? What did they dislike and why? I collect data in reviews, then make my own judgement. A lot of other people do to.


  38. The fallacy in many of the arguments here is that Libby calls for no more binge publishing, not writing. For God’s sake, keep writing, get as much practice as you can, but don’t publish crap. And before someone jumps in here to say, “Yeah, but who gets to define crap?”, I know it when I smell it. If you can’t smell it, too, maybe you’re not ready to publish.

    • Honest question: Did it occur to you at all that some people might take that phrasing as rather paternalistically elitist and you didn’t care, or did it not occur to you in the first place?

      I’d pose the same question to the OP, but she has blocked my comments on her post except for one tangential one.

    • Whether something is crap is subjective once past the “obvious” stuff (misspellings, etc. technical aspects). There probably are people who think everything I put out is crap for one reason or another.

      That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop writing and publishing because of them.

      I have some readers who want more. THEY want me to write faster and release more work.

      THEY are whom I write for. 🙂

    • How do you know whether it’s crap without publishing it?

      You can’t even say ‘well, if it’s full of bad grammar and spelling mistakes’, because James Joyce fans would lynch you.

  39. How do you know it’s not crap if you don’t publish? You get feedback. Join critique groups, enter contests, send it out to agents and editors, just to get feedback. Just because we can short-cut time to publication, it doesn’t mean we can should short-cut learning craft. Because with only a few exceptions, most of us can’t churn out a good book the first time. It’s not about the getting words down on paper part of the process, it’s about learning the craft. When you learn the craft, suddenly you know how to identify and fix most of the weak areas in your book. You have the tools to do it.

    • Of course, the problem with this is that we’re not talking about first books. We’re talking about sixth and twelfth and eighteenth book. In short, we’re talking about the fact that reading and writing improves your skills at writing. Revision APPLIES your skills at writing. It does not improve them.

      You don’t know it’s crap by getting feedback unless you actually know that the reader’s taste matches your audience. I was unable to make valuable use of beta feedback until I knew what I liked as a reader and what I was trying to create as a writer. I only gained that well after posting/publishing 300,000 words of work (I write mostly shorts). I had been writing a long time before that and had honed my skills in the interval. Posting informed me of my audience and what target I was actually hitting. Then I could make use of feedback.

      If you decide later your old work sucks, sure, pull it down, but you don’t know at first and you can’t trust most “beta” readers to tell you accurately unless you accurately know your tastes align. And it isn’t until 10 published titles that you really have visibility, so I’d advise not judging until after you find out in truth what is and isn’t selling and is and isn’t liked.

      I hit multiple audiences and had good betas who gave me feedback that would have been invaluable if I were a mature publisher, but when I was not, many of them advised changes to make things “not crap” that would have destroyed various aspects of what has become my style. I am a poetically inclined writer of literary-style, character-driven speculative fiction. Most of my readers are not squarely in the bullseye of that, but I cannot afford to revise to the outlying sides. I have to revise to INCLUDE the outlying sides without losing my bullseye. Early feedback was conflicting and always tried to remove the bullseye.

    • Join critique groups, enter contests, send it out to agents and editors, just to get feedback.

      They can help, but they’re not the people who read our books.

      I sent a story to critique groups with a comment saying I wasn’t sure about the opening, and got responses from ‘this opening is horrible and slow and boring, cut it out’ to ‘this opening is wonderful, I’d hate to see you cut it out’. I critiqued a story a few weeks ago which I thought had some good ideas but not much of a story, and I didn’t really understand the ending, and the writer later wrote back to me to say ‘thanks for the comments, but, after I submitted it to the critique queue, I sold it to a magazine without making any changes’.

      My latest self-published short story had been sitting on my laptop for a couple of years unfinished, and I sat down last month and forced myself to finish it to get it out of the way. I thought I’d written better, but it made more money in one day last week than all the other books in the last six months.

      Only readers know whether a story is crap.

      • “Only readers know whether a story is crap.”

        Any writer who can’t tell if something is crap, especially their own work, isn’t much of a writer. It’s only ego and hubris that allows someone to think everything they write is worth publishing.

        • I don’t think everything I write is worth publishing, but no, I often think my work is horrible when it’s not or like it until the cold light of day shows me it needs to be drawered and redrafted.

          En brief: writers can usually tell when something is crap but rarely if it’s their own. There’s too much love/hate with stuff we’re invested in and too much detachment to the stuff we’re not. There are writers that hate everything they write but have a huge readership. :shrugs: I hate everything at some point or another but I have to love it overall before I’ll publish it in a book.

          Nothing in this whole world is without exception. Writers work differently, but sometimes I write something that I’m not the target audience for and I can’t tell if it’s good or bad. And sometimes a reader that normally loves my work hates it because I strayed outside of their target, but I have other readers who love it. So yeah. Everything’s subjective, and a writer is wise to mistrust their own judgement, more to base that judgement on the wrong other person’s opinion.

        • Many of the well-established trade-published writers I’ve met on the Internet have said that, at some point, they sent off a story they thought was crap, but it was published and the readers liked it.

          So I guess they’re not much of a writer.

        • Any writer who can’t tell if something is crap, especially their own work, isn’t much of a writer.

          No. The writer is always the last one to know when a work is good. Or not. You must get feedback from real readers.

        • So even though both are bestsellers, neither Dean Wesley Smith and Neil Gaiman know how to write then?

          DWS freely admits that he is always convinced his latest work isn’t any good. He also maintains that writers are the worst judges of their own work.

          Neil Gaiman on three occasions (one of the Anansi Boys) has apparently called his agent and said the book was too bad to finish writing.

  40. If it’s elitist to decry publishing crap, call me an elitist. I’m kind of shaking my head over the outraged reaction to something that anyone who cares about books and finding good books to read would think is fundamental. Is not publishing crap too high a bar for some of us to aspire too? Really? When someone gets defensive about the crap quotient in their writing, I suggest they read Libby’s blog again. It’s probably aimed at you.

    • I think the issue you’re running into isn’t people getting defensive about crap; it’s about them saying your definition of crap and Libby’s definition and the writer’s definition even doesn’t always and often flat doesn’t match up with the reader’s.

      Additionally, you learn to smell it by writing and posting or publishing. Simply throwing it at random readers and writers is not likely to match you to your target audience. So we are more disagreeing with your method of identifying what is good and isn’t and how to learn to do so.

    • Dre, I can see you’re very invested in your stance, but in my experience, it just doesn’t hold water. I’m a slow writer. I try to make my books as good as I can. I have one that went through a good critique group, won several awards, was backed by two multi-published writers, was picked up by a well-known agent, was under serious consideration by one or two publishers… but didn’t sell. It hasn’t sold well as a self-pubbed book either.

      Why? I don’t know. Maybe it hasn’t yet found its target audience. It’s somewhat literary and highly character-driven without a lot of *stuff* happening, so many readers might find it slow. But it’s the kind of thing *I* like to read, and obviously there were a number of “experienced” readers who liked it and felt it was a “good” book. So how does such a book fit into this argument?

  41. Seems like the ones critical of this post, are the ones who need it the most.

    • Are you honestly suggesting J.A. Konrath, who actually weighed in here, stop writing and publishing so quickly? That’s just the well-known example.

  42. Liane, I haven’t presumed to define crap. I’m just questioning whether it’s good for publishing and career writers who care about books when people defend their right to publish it. Seriously, if you can’t look yourself in the mirror and say, I’m proud of this book, maybe you should get more feedback before publishing. Leaving it to readers to decide just pollutes the swimming pool for all of us who do care about putting our best work out.

    No book is ever going to be perfect, but does SP automatically mean we should lower our standards? I hope not because that’s not why I’m self-publishing.

    • If we can look ourselves in the mirror six or seven times a year and say, “I love this book,” are we good to go? Or does volume always equal crap?

    • Ah, but that’s the problem, isn’t it? Many of the authors under fire for publishing fast are proud of what they’ve written. It’s someone else trying to tell them they shouldn’t be.

    • Actually I am quite proud of my work. Nevertheless, you were the very one who said upthread that only the readers are a test of a whether a book is actually good or not. My response is not to publish crap and neither was anyone else’s. There was even a digression pointing out the difference between spam and a learning writer who wrote something good but not best.

      My response is that the OP and your own comments are implying that fast publishing results in crap. That is not necessarily the case.

      If you want to talk about new writers, fine, but that wasn’t the OP addressed either. And new writers, sadly, are not developed enough generally to KNOW whether their work is crap or not. So it’s rather a moot point.

    • Actually, Marie said pretty clearly that QUALITY is job 1.

      And one person’s “crap” is another person’s fresh, edgy story. Or the author who speaks into the reader’s head the way the reader thinks, grammatically speaking.

      Look, no author is ever “done” in terms of learning their craft. There’s a spectrum, and we’re all traveling along it. I think the fallacy is to draw a line randomly on the spectrum and then declare that anything on one side is crap, and anything on the other is good. We all write things that work in some ways and fail in others – and sometimes we don’t even know which is which (thus the “crap” stories that publishers buy/readers love).

      Very quickly into the writing journey, it all becomes a matter of taste.

  43. Mark, if you think you’re another Harlan Ellison, I’m eager to read your work.

  44. Readers are the final arbiters of our work. But how are they going to find good books if they have a million books to choose from, many of them thrown out there to see if they’re floaters or not. I’m just saying get feedback from other sources first, if you’re in the early phase of what I hope will be a long writing career for all of us.

    • My sole response to that is choose those people wisely. They tend to kill what makes your writing yours because a new writer has rarely developed the ability to discern the difference between valuable and worthless feedback.

      • My sole response to that is choose those people wisely.

        Absolutely. Valuable feedback is of the first utility, but better to have none than poor. Keep writing and keep studying the writing of writers whose stories please you, in order to learn from them. That will aid a writer far more than random feedback.

    • But how are they going to find good books if they have a million books to choose from, many of them thrown out there to see if they’re floaters or not.

      You seem to be pretending there was some Magic Golden Age when every book on a book store shelf was just lovely, and no-one could fault it.

      Last time I looked through the horror section of my local book store, 90% of it was trade-published Twilight knock-offs. How am I supposed to find good books when the shelves are flooded with that crap?

      • People need to stop writing songs, and clovers need to stop growing so we can find the four-leaf ones faster….


  45. Look, l got a lot of worthless critiques, but when there was consensus, I learned to listen. When I admired the critiquer’s craft, I gave their advice more weight. When I got feedback from a well-known agent, who still rejected my book, I resolved to make it harder to reject my work next time. I kept writing, getting feedback, studying craft. My first book’s going to come out next month, and the readers will tell me whether I’ve written a story they enjoyed reading. I don’t know another process that would work for me.

    • Dre, remember that some writers come out of the gate with strong sales on the first published story. You might, and I hope you do. But, if sales are not initially as strong as you want them to be, don’t assume it’s your writing. Many talented writers writing good stories must build an audience of readers over several years with the release of subsequent works. The first year or two of sales can be paltry and yet mean nothing about the quality of your stories and storytelling. Just sayin’. 😉

  46. What I’m reading, anecdotally, is self-pubbers complaining about falling sales. Maybe some of the tradpub author’s can speak to this, but is it usual to lose your audience in this way? This is really scary stuff and should alarm all of us. Also seeing reports that readers are waiting for free offerings on books by authors they like instead of buying now. I’ve said before I’m going to be selective about giveaways and more targeted to my core audience. I’m pricing it at $4.99. We’ll see what happens.

    • A huge part of the “falling sales” whine is that the ability to leverage KDP Select into huge sales is pretty much gone. The people who were publishing with Select in the heyday are bemoaning that fact.

      Also, Dre, I strongly recommend (once you have a few titles out) having a low-priced title so that readers can find you, buy effortlessly, then fall in love with your writing and buy all the rest at full price. 🙂

      You may not agree now, but let’s talk in about a year~

  47. I’ll go out on a limb, and say that this post is fear based. As others have already said, writing seems to be exempt from the more practice=better model, and I’m also noticing a strong movement of people trashing self-publishing and its supposed negative effects. To me this is nothing more than a fear based, self-preservation reaction. Who cares if you write 1 book/year or 12 books/year if you’re building a strong readership?

    • You’re not out on a limb, Adam. She’s scared of the competition for eyeballs. Thing is it’s not really a competition. She was traditionally published first, so she’s assuming that since she was “chosen” everyone will read and love her work. Now, she’s afraid of the low sales she’s seeing, therefore all the writers who weren’t “chosen” are stealing her sales. But as Anthea says above, writers are having a harder time gaming the system. The readers are voting with their wallets about what they’ll read.

      As the late Frank Herbert wrote, “Fear is the mind-killer.”

  48. “If the public likes you, you’re good.” – Mickey Spillane

  49. Ok, this thread has gone on long enough for me to mention Corín Tellado. Over a 60 year period, she published roughly one novel a week. Between 1946 and 2006, she published over 4000 novels. Ok, they were fairly short, but still. And she was enormously popular. She was probably the most popular Spanish-language writer of the 20th century.

    Let’s settle this by saying that when you exceed that output, you’re binge publishing.

    [Requisite Wikipedia link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cor%C3%ADn_Tellado ]

  50. Cripes, Wills! I read that stuff in high school Spanish class, in magazines like “Vanidades Continental.” She was mega-popular. I never knew she was that prolific.

  51. “If you are writing a lot of books… you have little time to develop your craft.”

    I interpreted this differently from the consensus. I saw it as taking the time to learn the craft by studying books on writing and reading books you admire. While I believe you can learn by doing (I’ve written 40 books, published 35 mostly by the Big Five but some independently), I also believe that you can learn by reading books like Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us by Jessica Page Morrell and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King and Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit.

    I read one book on writing every few weeks but I still manage to produce.

    • I can see that approach, but reading and writing is not an either/or. Revising and publishing seemed to be the either/or she was referring to. I could be wrong though.

    • I have a huge shelf of craft books I return to over and over – AND I can generally write at least 1-2k words of new fiction a day, in addition to working another job, being a mom, all that stuff.

      I also attend writing workshops, listen to guest speaker writers every month, and read for pleasure (as well as analysis).

      Writing “fast” doesn’t mean people are ignoring the craft. Where does that idea even come from? 😉

  52. Kathlena, I have set my expectations extremely low for the sales of my first book. Nos. 2 and 3, too. What I’m looking for is a growing sales trend over a period of time. I have no expectations for how long that will take, based on everything I’ve read. I’m truly in this for the long haul. I do have a marketing/promotion plan that is ever evolving. Nobody knows my writing, I’m not even on Facebook, so if ever a challenge test case for discovery existed, I’m it. But I also know, if I keep holding myself to a higher standard and telling my stories, I will find my readers.

    Anthea, the pricing is based on what value I place on my book. It’s 94,000 words, so I don’t think that’s unreasonable. I will do giveaways, but right now I don’t see the real benefit to authors from sites like Goodreads. I don’t expect to get anything good for free, so why should readers? I’ve never downloaded a free book, and I’ve never bought a book for less than $3.99. What I pay attention to are reader reviews on Amazon and B&N, and certain reviewer sites. Writers deserve value for their work, so I’m just philosophically opposed to not paying them. I kind of understand the free strategy, and more power to you if it works. I want to do targeted giveaways through my website, but I have real reservations about doing it anywhere else. In the long run, I just don’t see giving our work away as a good thing for writers.

    • I’m with Anthea. Talk to us in a year when you’ve had the wake-up call. It’s not about what value YOU put on your work, it’s how much READERS are willing to pay to sample an unknown author–and $4.99 is about $4 more than they are willing to pay on average to test the waters. In the digital age, you need to play the digital game. If you are unwilling to do that, more power to you, but your strict thinking isn’t going to get you where you want to be. Never downloaded a free book? Why the heck not? You might discover an new-to-you author you LOVE, risk free. I’ve given away hundreds of thousands of free books and had hundreds of thousands of subsequent sales as a result. I gave away book 1 in a series and went on to sell 1 million of the subsequent books. How is that harming my career? It’s doing wonders for my bank account. Free books have elevated my following to the point that my last three books hit pretty high on the New York Times list. I’m very glad I didn’t come into this with rigid ideas about what I would “never” do. I’ve learned to never say never about anything. Good luck and let us know how you make out.

      • Marie, I agree with you that staying flexible and learning all the time are key. And I’m very admiring of your success. But I have to say that free doesn’t work for every writer and every book.

        I was late to try Select and its free days. The algorithms had changed by the time I jumped in. But the book I tried it with was downloaded only 500 times and I sold zero copies in the month following the free promotion.

        I had no sales traction when I ran the promotion, and gained none following it.

        I did finally get some traction in May 2013. Seventeen months after I entered indie publishing world as a newbie.

        Why then?

        I don’t know.

        I’d been trying different things. The free promo, Goodreads giveaways, guest posts on blogs, maintaining my own blog, commenting on the blogs of others, tinkering with my keywords and so on.

        Was it any one thing? Was it all of those things taken together? Was it that the number of titles I had available had finally passed some significant threshold? Was it simply a fluke? Hard to say.

        But ever since then, my books have been selling steadily. In small numbers, yes. Really just a trickle. But selling. Month after month after month.

        • J.M,
          Please don’t misunderstand me. Free offerings worked to gain me some exposure. My books did the rest of the work. If the readers weren’t connecting with them, all the free promos or 99-cent specials in the world wouldn’t matter. When people tell me they gave away a bunch of books but didn’t sell any others, I always urge them to take another look at the one they gave away because it’s not doing what it should be doing to advance your efforts. The best news in the digital age is that you can go back and fix it and republish it and give it–and your other books–a new chance to catch on. It all comes back to the books. That’s the only thing that you can fully control, so keeping most of your focus there is always going to be beneficial. Hope you continue to see an upswing in sales.

          • I fully agree that the book’s the thing. But some books take a while to find their audience.

            Some books, by their nature, have a smaller audience than others.

            And, yes, we can go back and fix things. In my case, over that first 17 months, I tweaked the covers. Twice! And I tweaked the cover copy. Three times!

            The books themselves? Not everyone likes fantasy with a thoughtful slant. But those of my readers who left reviews say very positive things.

            • Then keep doing what you’re doing. Sounds like you’re on the right track. But you know there’s more to changing up the book than changing the cover. You an also edit and repost the book itself if need be. Always an option.

              • You can also edit and repost the book itself if need be. Always an option.

                Very true.

                Like many of the fine folks who have weighed in here, I prefer to focus on writing the next book, rather than re-writing the last one.

                And there is another concern. Given that the readers who posted reviews have enjoyed my published works, altering them seems a dicey business! Better to leave well enough alone and move forward.

                Thanks for your encouraging words, Marie.

                • The people who have already read it aren’t going to buy it again and re-read. If you can make it stronger, do it. If you gave away 500 copies and no one bought your other books, take another look at the one that was free. I would!

                • I am a rereader of books I love. I would hate it if my copy changed from the book I loved and that IS an issue with ebooks.

                • Then don’t download the updated versions. People do this ALL the time.

                • Yes, I’m a huge re-reader. Certain favorites – Beauty by Robin McKinley, The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold, etc. – I re-read at least once a year!

                  Although, my understanding is that changes to ebooks I (as a reader) “own” won’t appear on my copy unless I download the book again. Nonetheless, I confess to uneasiness when contemplating changes to one of my books that’s been out for some time.

                  On the other hand, Marie has infinitely more experience than I do in the publishing world. Not sure I’ll follow your advice, Marie, but I certainly appreciate your generosity in giving it! 🙂

                • Can’t reply downward, but it’s actually not that simple, Marie. Smashwords books are fine, but B&N and Kindle auto-sync with the latest version. I hate this as it means that all my books are held hostage if my payment method is not current (even though I don’t owe them money), but it’s the issue when dealing with proprietary systems. More than one reason I prefer buying from Smashwords.

                  I have a great deal of experience with the glitches that come from updating books as a reader and a publisher both. I HATE it when authors update my books more than a simple typo fix.

                  If you want to release a new edition, then release a new edition. Don’t kill the old one.

              • For a different perspective on this, here’s a story. This happened to me a couple of months ago as a reader. Had a book auto update and boy, was I pissed. The formatting had changed and it messed up the book a bit, and I never did figure out what part of the text was different because I couldn’t reread it when I wanted to, but I made sure the auto update was off from that point forward.

                As a writer, I’m sure updating a bad book is better than the alternative and I can see the benefits if it catches new readers in a way the old book didn’t. But again, as a reader, I hate this enough that I don’t trust the author who did it to me and I won’t buy another of her books without a DRM free version that I can store on my computer.

                • This. Except I can’t figure out how to turn off syncing on my desktop apps without leaving internet disabled. All I have to do is get online for anything while Nook or Kindle is up and presto! All my books synced. I hate this with a fiery passion, but it’s the author I would skip if they changed my book on me.

                • My DRM free books reside in Calibre so there is no auto updating. The specific book I was talking about was on my Kindle and it never occurred to me when I was in the manage your Kindle screen on Amazon that turning the auto update on would be a bad thing. I learned quickly that it can be a very bad thing. I was so mad I almost went and changed my 4 star review to a 1 star but then my sanity returned. I would have regretted it if I’d let my temper win, but I was so irritated by the whole thing.

                • Tell me more about this auto update!

                  Do all ereaders have it?

                  Every now and then a typo that slipped through in one of my books comes to my attention. Those I do correct!

                  But when I check the fix on my own kindle, deleting the book from my ereader, then downloading the book from the cloud again, I get the old version with the typo still present.

                  I was disappointed about this, because I wanted the readers who had purchased the book to have access to the version without the typo.

                  It sounds like you know more about the issue than I do. (Guess I don’t really understand how the autosync works!)

                • With the Kindle, there’s a choice in the manage your Kindle section of your account that lets you turn auto updating on and off.

                  “Automatic Book Update
                  Opt in for automatic book updates to receive new versions of your books when we have confirmed that improvements were made. In order to retain your notes, highlights, bookmarks and furthest reading locations, ensure that all your Kindle devices and reading apps have the “Annotation Back Up” setting turned on.”

                  If you don’t have that Annotation Back Up setting turned on on the devices you access your books from, updates can delete any notes or bookmarks you’ve made. A real PITA if you actually use those things (I do).

                • Ah! Sounds like it’s a control you change in your account on the Amazon site, rather than a setting on the device itself. Thank you! I will look into this.

                  Although, bottom line, a reader who prefers to avoid autosync (and I can see there are good reasons for that) won’t receive my typo fixes, and there’s nothing I can do about it. Let go, J.M., let go! 😉

      • Yeah, I used to say I would “never” self-publish, Marie! I’m SO glad I changed my tune on that. I’m not selling as well as you are (yet) but I’ve already sold way more than I would have if I’d gone with a publisher, based on the averages I see trad-pubbed authors sharing on their blogs.

        • I said NEVER to self-publishing once upon a time, too, but that was back when you had to print 10,000 books on your own to make it worth it and then try to sell them from the back of your car. Times have changed–thankfully! But I try not to use the word NEVER anymore.

  53. Wow. I had no clue this was going on and I’m 100% sure that Kris just nailed the reason for all this stuff the OP was worried about: http://kriswrites.com/2013/10/30/the-business-rusch-unintended-consequences/

  54. I have read through all the comments here and there is only one sentence that really grabbed me and spoke to me and the type of books I’m trying to write. Tom Simon wrote when discussing Asimov: “It wasn’t the actual writing that took the extra time, but inventing sufficiently interesting ideas and working out their consequences in the story.”

    THIS is what takes me so long. When writing the mystery and thriller genre, there are readers who expect to be surprised in spite of the fact that they’ve read hundreds of books in the genre. You try to put your main character into terrible trouble — but then you must figure out the consequences of that and find a way to get her out — and it needs to be fresh. How can you come up with these new ideas at the same rate you type?

    Then there is the issue of research. For my current WIP, I spent two months traveling in Thailand and the Philippines, and every day I still do tons of research to find out how to make poison-tipped darts, what WWII slang was like, or what the tides are in the Babuyan Islands. At 125,000 – 150,000 words and tons of research, I can’t write 5-6 books like this per year.

    There are all kinds of books and all kinds of authors and readers. Some books and genres require fewer hours pacing the floor trying to figure out how to get a character out of a Houdini-like fix. Some authors have a tremendous gift for creating voices and characters with whom readers immediately fall in love, but these characters are very similar to their authors, and the authors aren’t required to stretch their brains as much, so they can write faster. This doesn’t mean that one type of book is better than the other. I would venture to say it took lots more original ideas to write the Harry Potter books than it took to write the Twilight books. Both sold millions of copies and were very popular with readers.

    We’re different. So are our methods of writing. Let’s celebrate that. Let’s try to have as much empathy for the different paths authors chose as we do for our different characters.

    • Some authors have a tremendous gift for creating voices and characters with whom readers immediately fall in love, but these characters are very similar to their authors…

      While I appreciate what you’re saying, and I do have a couple backburnered novels that require a huge amount of research I don’t really want to do because I currently feel inadequate to the task, I wanted to address this sentence.

      Usually the authors who have a tremendous gift for characters are writing characters who are quite different from each other or they wouldn’t be praised for their characterization. Not all of those awesome characters are like the author.

      I have only ever written one character who is like me in my life. All the rest of my characters are so unlike me I could never do what they do. Most writers who write phenomenal characters that I love and do it quickly (M.C.A. Hogarth who commented here is a good example) do not write a bunch of characters who are all like the author.

      Some writers write quickly and some don’t. As you said, we’re different and that’s good. But please don’t make such a blanket statement without exception about a process you right off the bat said wasn’t yours. Not all writers who write quickly do it because they’re not stretching their brains. My 300K+ years are always because I AM stretching my brain and have to work it out on paper and explore it. I’m fascinated. I haven’t actually added up my word counts for the year, but I have little doubt it’s going to run over 500–700K when all the poetry and WIPs and finished shorts are included. Plus, I’m headed in for Nano. This has been the hardest stretching as a writer year I’ve ever had.

      • Releasing six books a year means two months per book, or an average of 350 hours per book if you’re working forty hour weeks. If you spend 50-100 hours putting the words on the page, that still leaves 250-300 hours for thinking and research. In many genres, that’s plenty enough.

        Also, a lot of profilic writers write series. That means characters and research can be re-used between books, saving a lot of time. If I write an SF book about the crew of the Big Momma, I don’t have to spend weeks thinking up characters, because I already know them, and what happened to them before the first book they appeared in, and what happens to them in the few centuries after that book.

        In fact, I keep writing new characters into my stories and thinking ‘you know, I should really write more with this one’. I could build three or more series around the characters in Fade To Grey, which I released a few weeks ago and was just meant to be a one-off short.

        • This. I perennially write in “storyworlds.” It DOES make a huge difference. Your worldbuilding grows, but it doesn’t start from scratch and neither do your characters.

  55. Marie, I think you need to read what I said, again. I don’t believe I used the word never as far as giving away free books. I will do it, but selectively. As far as not buying free books or lower priced books, this was the strategy you chose and I’m glad it worked for you, but do we all have to be crabs in the barrel? I’ve studied the pricing issue from a lot of different sources, you’re at one end and there are others who disagree. I have a different marketing strategy, so what? If there’s one thing I’ve learned after 23 years with my own consulting business, it’s that.marketing is ongoing and you never know what will work. There is something else I know from my business experience, and that is if you base your selling strategy solely on low pricing, you don’t build a loyal customer base. You’re a commodity.

    • Marie Force has sold approximately a gajillion books, so I think it’s safe to assume that she is (a) building a loyal customer base and (b) not solely relying on low pricing, but using low pricing strategically to turn lots and lots of non-readers into impulse purchasers who read her stuff, love it, and buy everything else she has published.

      • Marie Force is still a too “young” author for us to have the distance, but look at Joe Konrath : he was famous since 2009-2010 for selling cheaply his ebooks and doing massive giveaways, and he still has a quite loyal readership.

        Even his ebook Jack Daniel stories for which he wrote a blog post titled Steal this ebook in 2010 is still selling (he made it available to torrent sites).

        Of course other marketing strategies are quite defendable. Every mileage can vary.

      • David,
        You’ve hit the nail on the head–conversion of impulse buyers to long-term customers. And that’s definitely been part of the overall strategy. Thanks for the kind words. I love the word “gajillion.” It has such a nice ring to it!

  56. David, I didn’t say Marie only bases her selling strategy on low pricing, alone. I assume she writes good books or she wouldn’t be selling the way she is. I’m saying it can’t be your only selling strategy and if everyone else is doing it, it makes your product a commodity. Once my father discovered free books, he’ll never buy another book again. Everything I’ve been reading lately seems to indicate free isn’t working as well as it did. So I’m trying my own strategy. And if the fact that I don’t download free books or buy $1.99 books is offensive to people, well, I don’t shop at Walmart either, because I think it’s destructive to the American worker. I feel the same way about sites that ask authors to give their product away for free.

    • I don’t find your refusal to download free or very cheap books offensive at all. In fact, it’s evidence of my belief that there are bargain-hunting readers that will mostly download free or cheap, and there are readers that will almost always pay more.

      But here’s the thing. If you exclusively price higher and never run discounts or do free runs, then you will never appeal to the bargain-hunters. You might counter by saying you would prefer to cultivate an audience of higher spending readers. That’s fine, and there’s a certain logic to it.

      However, I think that approach misses something. With strategically employing lower prices or free (e.g. by running a limited-time 99c sale or doing a free run for a few days), then you can tap into that bargain-hunting audience and use it as a springboard up the charts – at which point you raise your price and benefit from being now-visible to those higher-spending readers you are targeting. Readers who may never discover you otherwise.

      • David, I think you might be “preaching to the choir.” Because Dre did say this:

        I don’t believe I used the word never as far as giving away free books. I will do it, but selectively.

        It sounds like Dre plans to use just the variegated approach you recommend.

        But thanks for the refresher on your thinking. I purchased your Let’s Get Visible and found it very helpful. Indeed, it may be that your advice about varying one’s keywords is what finally gave me sales traction. (I was trying too many things at the same time to know which one or ones worked!)

  57. Alan,
    Thank you for noticing my youth. At 47 I don’t feel so young anymore! I’ve been published since 2008, sold close to 2 million books and am a four-time NYT bestseller (twice in the top 10). While self-published I also have lucrative contracts with Harlequin and Berkley and will have eight books in mass market paper next year. I think all of that combined might make me a grownup in this business. If it doesn’t, I’d love to hear when I’ll be grown up so I can enjoy my youth a while longer.

    • It’s not about volume or age, Marie. What I was meaning, is “young in success.” Your independant success story is still young, as is Hugh Howey’s, for instance.

      Konrath was really from the first ebook wave after 2009/2010 takeoff, even more ancient than Amanda Hocking. As you know, even a year or two can make a huge difference in digital, especially, with a takeoff of a media (ebooks) which is so recent.

      I do not deny you were already a success with Harlequin in your trad published career.

      • While your point is well taken, Alan, I think you’re missing the most important element of the equation: the readers. If a reader connects with an author in a big way, the author often has that reader for life–IF the author continues to deliver on the type of book that hooked the reader in the first place. You’ve probably also got her mother, her sisters, her daughters, her cousins, her coworkers, her friends, etc. If you keep doing the thing that made them love you initially, you will continue to be successful. I’ve been at this long enough to know that staying focused on my readers and giving them what they expect from me is going to ensure my career lasts for as long as I want it to. I can almost guarantee that at this point because I am driving the bus here–no one else–so I can promise things that even three years ago none of us could promise because the gatekeepers could cut us off at the knees before we could deliver on those promises. The success might be “new” by some people’s standards, but the thinking behind it is as old as time: give the people what they want and they will continue to be faithful and loyal to your brand.

  58. Marie, do you really believe that what worked for you is going to work for every author? Today? The market has changed. We have to be open to new strategies. Some will work, some won’t. But they won’t be the same strategies that worked two or three years ago. If you do believe it will work for all of us, please tell me why because I’m willing to consider your opinion, too.

    • I will toss in my 2 cents here that all she suggested is after you have enough books that you price ONE as a loss leader. That method still works. Just for an anecdote, as a reader, I hate being burned on an author that writes a great book and ends horribly, so I personally demand knowing that they can write a good ending. That means I read something of theirs that was published in an online magazine or a free short story or a free book or on rare occasions a $0.99 book. Once they’ve proven to me that I won’t love their books and hate the ending, I’ll buy everything they’ve got that I can afford and is inside my preferred genres. If they’re good enough, I’ll buy even outside my genres.

    • Yes, Dre, I really believe that what worked for me COULD work for every author, because the number one thing that worked for me was that readers connected with my books and gave me tremendous word-of-mouth exposure. That’s not to say that free books didn’t help because they did, very much so, and they continue to help to this day. But if readers weren’t connecting with my books, all the marketing in the world wouldn’t have helped me. Beyond the books, some of the same strategies I used two years ago ARE still working for me. I just did the third BookBub ad for a book that’s been free for more than a year and had gangbuster downloads and excellent conversion to books 2, 3 and beyond. I still mess around with pricing from time to time and still do the number one thing that helped me from the beginning–I write books that my readers want to read. That’s still and always the intangible piece of the puzzle in all creative arts. There is no formula I can give you that yields those results. But to dismiss what I did and where I am as “flukes” of a more hospitable market is to greatly diminish the truth of the matter–my books keep them coming back for more. Nothing else.

      • Marie, you keep putting words in my posts I didn’t write. I don’t believe I’ve discussed your work as a writer at all. I also don’t believe I’ve commented on your success being due to the “flukes” of the marketplace. What I said is that we can’t rely on the same market conditions because it’s not the same market today. It was easier to get discovered years ago because there was less competition. This bland observation has nothing to do with the quality of your work. So if you can find anything I’ve posted that’s specifically negative about you as a writer or your books, I apologize. Because otherwise, you’re just making a straw argument against a non-existent opponent.

        • You didn’t discuss my work as a writer. You inferred there was no way an author today could do what I did two years ago, and I don’t believe that is true. As I said above, the thing that worked best for me were my books. That is just as possible for any other author as it was for me. Nor do I believe it was “easy” to get discovered a couple of years ago. There were still more than a million other books on Kindle, to name one retail platform, competing for readers when I began self-publishing. It’s never been “easy.” I really hope the point of what I was saying doesn’t get lost in you thinking I’m putting words in your mouth: The books are what matter. The marketplace is what it is, and there will always be flux and flukes and all other sorts of factors. If you are writing the books your readers want from you, you should do fine.

          • I don’t believe discovery is easy, believe me. I’m fully expecting my freshman effort to drop into the pond and sink. So I don’t believe there is a magic bullet to success. What I do happen to believe is that if I keep writing good books people enjoy reading, my readership will grow. Regardless of pricing. I also believe in promotion. What will work for me as a romantic comedy writer, however, may not work for someone else, so I believe that one strategy doesn’t work for all. We each have to find our way, but just because our way is different, it doesn’t cast a reflection on how anyone else did it.

            • Dre,
              As a new author with no audience at all, pricing is one of the best tools in your arsenal in the discovery game. The ability to play with pricing is one of the best aspects of being independently published. I think what several of us are saying is don’t rule that out as one of your best options before you’ve even published your first book. Sure, we’d all love to think our books are WORTH a certain price and to us they are priceless. But a reader on a limited budget with no idea who you are is much more likely to take a chance on a new-to-them author for .99 than they are for $4.99. Ask yourself if you’d rather have 1,000 sales at .99 or 2 sales at $4.99, especially if even 25 percent of the 1,000 readers go on to buy your next book at 2.99. That’s how you build a readership in the digital age, with price pulsing and experimentation.

          • Not only that, Marie, but there were also FEWER e-readers in those previous years. The market for ebooks was smaller then. I’d be curious to know what the ratio of product (ebooks) is to ereaders now.

            • A very good point. There’s a lot more people reading on electronic devices now than there were even a couple of years ago.

            • Kathlena, 24% of Americans possess dedicated e-readers and 43% possess dedicated e-readers or tablets.

              One of two Americans read at least one book (or ebook) a year. So, we can assume half of the american population of readers read on e-reader.

              For people who prefer erotic, romance, sf or thriller, I suspect it’s more : perhaps 70 to 75% of american readers of SF, thrillers, eroctic, romance do it on dedicated e-readers or tablets. That’s huge, friends.

              My source : a study of Pew Research.

      • Same here, Marie. All that worked for me too. At first I thought it was a fluke, then I realized it was (a) writing books that readers enjoyed; (b) presenting them well (cover, blurb); (c) writing fast (I go at the 4-bks-a-yr pace); (d) pricing strategy, including, yes, KDP Select “free” days. That’s what gave me my first boost, and that’s what pushed me up over the “hump.”

        People write at the speed they write. I’ve always written fast, whether it was marketing copy, a paper for grad school, or, now, fiction. And yes, I edit thoroughly before I publish. Quickly-written books aren’t necessarily worse, slowly-written books aren’t necessarily better–or vice versa.

        And you bet, once you get some traction, the more (quality) stuff you have out there, the better!

  59. Speaking from the POV of an author who just self-published, I feel the pressure of “Faster, Romance Author, Write! Write!”, and it’s none too pleasant. I kinda sorta have a career going on, and unless there’s someone out there who wants to take on an adult dependent so I have more time to write, I’m going to have to make do with the two hours of writing time (a day) I have available. So obviously, there’s no chance of me ever being a high producer.

    The rapid-fire production of books-to-make-bank isn’t too dissimilar to the way all of those old content farms functioned. The money-savvy article writers focused on quantity rather than quality, churning out article after article and hoping that at least some of them would stick. Were the articles readable? Of course. But they were not memorable. I see that same “just passes muster” quality in a lot of books that come out today. They aren’t bad, but they just aren’t that good either.

    Writing fast and furious just doesn’t fit into my own personal view of how things should be accomplished. As a ghostwriter, I’ve had to churn out pap before. Now I’m in it for the glory — not the cash — and that makes all of the difference, IMHO.

    • The reason I turned to self-publishing romance under a pen name was to get *away* from that pressure, oddly enough. When I was with a publisher, the pressure to produce more and more as fast a possible nearly broke me. I didn’t write a word for months after I finished my obligations to them. I have a day job and pen name and publish when a story is ready, without an editor breathing down my neck.

      We writers can’t seem to catch a break no matter where we go.

  60. David, I agree with what you’re saying and I do plan to do targeted giveaways. I go on sites like Goodreads and it gives me a headache. I don’t have time to read samples to find good books, so I rely on trusted review sites, Amazon, and periodicals. I don’t think free is working as well as it did, so while it can be a tool, and yes when my next book comes out I will probably play with pricing on book 1, we have to find other means of visibility than pricing. Anecdotally, people are getting frustrated because pricing strategy isn’t working for them. I suggest building brand awareness with targeted pricing and promotion, along with finding new distribution channels as another way.

  61. We update my books about six times a year–whenever a new one comes out. Never had a complaint or a question from a reader and I’ve been doing that for years now. Updated links inside the books sell more books.

  62. I only edit the work itself when there’s a typo. However a newer author who offers a book for free, gets 500 downloads and no sales of other books might want to take a look at the content of the free book. At that juncture, her concern needs to be focused on potential new customers who might try the book. Converting them to the other books is the goal.

    • My concern is that in gaining “new” readership with such a method, they may lose the old who feels betrayed. Again, I’d say to publish a new edition and let the old one go. If you really hate it all that much, disable/unpublish the book.

    • I think you have to weigh the consequences, and with a fairly low number of downloads/sales, I think it’s worth the risk to go ahead and change things if you’re determined to do some rewriting. Personally, I’d just write another (better) book and put that one free instead and return the other book to paid, but that’s clearly just a personal opinion. The whole point is to have a better book that will draw people in and having more books is always nice. My bad experience with an auto update was specific to changes that affected the text and formatting of the book. And I update links, the occasional typo, and back matter just like everyone else and assume it will be fine with my readers.

      • And I update links, the occasional typo, and back matter just like everyone else and assume it will be fine with my readers.

        Never disputed this practice. I do it too. I only dispute the suggestions on revision as there was a strong implication that all your readers have to opt in to those. Nope. They have to opt out unless they’re with Smashwords.

        • I didn’t think you were disputing it. I was just explaining how as a reader and a writer my own opinion on this practice kind of crosses both sides. 🙂

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