Saturday, September 11, 2010

TUTAW: Quantity Matters

The Ugly Truth About Writing is...quantity matters.

Very few authors write a single best-selling book that sets them up for life. I can't think of any. I suppose J.K. Rowling would have qualified if she'd stopped writing, but then again, if she'd stopped, would Harry Potter have taken off like it did? If I remember correctly, it was the third book where everything went viral. I had to go back and purchase the first two as paperbacks. Even Tolkien wrote four books, and I don't think those were as popular while he was alive as they are now.

Long ago, I worried about writing The One Great Book. The One everyone wants to read. The One people will wait in line for. The One bookstores sell out of. You know. That One.

TT: Sorry for all the sentence fragments and dangling prepositions there. I'm making a point, even if it gives GrammarCheck a fit.

A few years ago - shortly before I submitted Star of Justice to MLS, actually - I realized I don't need the One book. I just need to write books.

I figured this out when I read a book I liked and googled the author to see what else he'd written. That was Neil Gaiman, author of Stardust. He also wrote the screenplay for Mirrormask, one of my favorite movies. He also wrote Coraline (the one with the people behind the mirror with black buttons instead of eyes). When I get some money, you can bet I'll be buying more of his books. The guy has an appealing grasp of creepy with the irony only the British can infuse in fantasy.

It occurred to me that's how authors make money. You write lots of books in the hopes that a reader who likes one will buy others you've written. So your first book doesn't have to be a best-seller. Neither does your second book. Or the third. They just need to be good enough to spark interest and build trust with your audience. A trusting reader is a faithful reader.

TT: I posted about this last year in the aptly named "Trust." You can find it under the label "Writing Tips."

Allow me to reference Seth Godin again. If you acquire a faithful fan base willing to support you, you must provide them with items to purchase. One item won't do it.

I love Anne McCaffrey's writing. I have about 15 of her books on my shelf, and I regularly reread them. However, I bought all of them about 20 years ago. That doesn't help her pay the bills today. At least, I don't think it does. It would be cool if it did.

TT: I've mentioned in an earlier post "When Did I Stop Reading?" why 20 years ago is my general marker for reading/writing life events.

I have a file drawer with approximately 20 potential books in it. Some are stand-alones. Some are series. Some are short stories that might end up being novellas or novels. They would take me at least 20 years to write, assuming I don't get ideas for others in the meantime.

The bane of the perfectionist is seeing the work before I get into it. I call it "pre-exhaustion." I get tired just thinking about doing it.

I can't afford that attitude as a writer. I can't really afford it as a person. Putting myself out there in written form is as much a journey as the discipline of FV.

I decided all I had to do was start. Taking one turtle step at a time, I wrote a book. It worked, so I wrote another. It also worked, so I'll go for a third. That's the whole plan. Just write one solid book after another until I die.

I have to stop writing now. I'm feeling a little tired.

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