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A view from the slow lane

July 6th, 2011 · No Comments · Blog, Writing

I ran across a blog last week that claimed the way for authors to increase their ebook sales was to have more books to sell. It cited posts from successful indie/self-pubbed authors Bob Mayer and John Locke, who seem to believe that 3-5 books gets you to that tipping point where your book sales feed off each other.

It certainly makes a great deal of sense. If a reader likes one book, they’ll come back looking for more work from the same author. Some writers who clearly agree with this strategy left comments about how in a year they cranked out 5-6 books, launching a new release every two months, etc. Each book stirred up interest in the previous ones, and they were seeing big increases in their sales numbers. More books, more sales, more books, more sales …

That’s all well and good, but how in the world can anyone crank out a novel in two months?

Even if quality didn’t matter, how could you find the time to whip out 80,000-100,000 words in two months? Assuming you did, how could you find time to polish it, edit it, proofread it, or hell, even read it over? I know ebooks and print-on-demand technology have given us the freedom and flexibility to release a book without the delays of a traditional publishing schedule, but even if you skip the part where you query agents and publishers there are certain steps that shouldn’t be eliminated.

I started writing The Greatest Show on Dirt in 2006. I finished the first draft that year, then revised it and sent it around to some friends for feedback. After incorporating some of their suggestions, I did another revision and sent it out again for further input. Finally I started with the query process. Got a few nibbles, had a couple of small publishers ask for a full manuscript. They eventually passed and the project ran aground temporarily, then my son was born, yadda-yadda-yadda. I finally picked it back up in spring 2010, did another significant revision, which finally got the book where it needed to be. Another final round of queries, another nibble, another flameout, and I decided it was time to move on by myself.

Even still, I couldn’t just throw it out there. I know the traditional publishing calendar is ridiculously drawn out, with some publishers taking nearly two years in cases to release a title. But certain things still take time to do if you want to do them right. Even once I decided this past winter that I would self-publish, I knew I had a long road ahead. Because it’s a baseball book, I wanted the release to coincide with the start of baseball season. However, I didn’t feel I had enough time to do everything that needed to be done to get it out this spring, so I targeted the 2012 season instead. That allowed me the time to research my printing options and get a nice cover designed. I’m now at the point where I’m reaching out to some authors I know to see if they’d be willing to blurb the book. When I get closer to the targeted release date in February, I’ll start offering it around to potential reviewers.

Maybe, by delaying the release for so long, I’m costing myself sales. Maybe I’d already have moved a few hundred copies by now and word would be spreading and the numbers would be steadily climbing each month. But this is my baby. It’s something I’ve poured a lot of work into over the past five years. I’d hate to just shove it out the door and hope for the best.

It’s also something of a trial balloon. There will be other books. I’m about 95 percent done with the first draft of the next one, which I started working seriously on last fall. The seeds for that were planted three years ago, during a writing workshop for which I needed to bring something to share each week. I pumped out the first four chapters then, always meaning to get back to it.

When I finally did, I first considered what I had learned from my experience writing Dirt. I sketched out a chapter outline, which I’ve actually stuck to for the most part. I set myself a modest but reasonable goal of writing 10,000 words a month, which I’ve also achieved. And the whole time I’ve kept reminding myself that writing a first draft is like framing a house. There’s plenty more work to do once the basement is poured and the stud walls are in place.

So to all the people out there who can churn out a novel every two months, hats off, I guess. Even if I didn’t have a job and a family and a lawn to mow I couldn’t see writing that quickly. I need the scenes to fully develop in my mind before I can transcribe them. That’s just the way I work. If that means I won’t reach that magic tipping point of 3-5 books for another half decade, so be it. It’s not a race.

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