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Catherine Colbert

Authors urged to produce more to feed e-reader appetite

by Catherine Colbert | Dun & Bradstreet Editor

May 14, 2012 | 10 Comments »

Not too long ago popular authors could get away with banging out a new book each year like clockwork. And being a recluse — holed up alone in a mountain cabin or seaside bungalow to write the great American novel — only added intrigue to a writer’s brand. But in this day of e-readers, Facebook, and Twitter, that backward thinking just won’t cut it anymore with the book-consuming community and with profit-hungry publishers.

The prevalence of e-readers is behind the shift. Thanks to the savvy marketing efforts of Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, and Sony, hoards of consumers now possess e-readers and regularly consume electronic books and other forms of entertainment. Purchasing an author’s work is easy. This places authors in the hot seat to satisfy the voracious appetites of consumers.

To make matters worse for writers already time-crunched to overproduce and keep the assembly line humming, they are expected to be increasingly accessible. Fans expect to read new blog posts, Tweets, and Facebook updates as authors promote themselves and their work — and develop relationships with their audiences. (Is anyone conjuring up images of Kathy Bates or James Caan in Misery?)

Faced with stiffer competition from media that more easily delivers round-the-clock entertainment, publishers and booksellers are demanding more of their authors. According to a recent New York Times article from Julie Bosman, the industry is working hard to compete with other forms of entertainment, such as TV shows and on-demand movies.

Liate Stehlik, publisher of the William Morrow, Avon, and Voyager imprints of HarperCollins, shares her thoughts with Bosman. “Particularly now with social media, authors are constantly in contact with their fans in a way that they never were before,” she said. “Now it seems to make more sense to have your author out in the media consciousness as much as you can.”

To entice book-hungry consumers, publishers sometimes release 99-cent short stories about two months before hardcovers are expected to hit stores shelves and e-tailers. Book publishers, like St. Martin’s Press, are using this tactic to log higher pre-order sales. St. Martin’s Press, which counts ubiquitous Jackie Collins among its stable of talent, uses this strategy to pique interest in the author’s existing works to spur e-reader sales as consumers play catch-up ahead of the hardcover’s release.

The Little Engine That Could, aka James Patterson, is providing his loyal followers with a veritable buffet of books. While he had the assistance of co-writers for some of his 12 published titles last year, Patterson’s on the line to publish 13 books this year. That’s a hard act to follow.

Catherine Colbert

There are editors among me who’ve written quite a few books “in their spare time.” I am in awe of them. I wonder what experiences they’ve had with this. Is the process of promoting your books just the icing on the cake or is it as much work time-wise as the writing itself? Also, how much time do you spend connecting with your readers either through your blogs, Twitter, or Facebook? Patrice, Chris, others?

It’s definitely a new game. I am a slow writer, and I have to push myself to write faster. I am in awe of writers out there like Norah Roberts who has been producing several books a YEAR for years now.

So, the promotional part has really taken up a lot more of every writer’s time. I don’t know exactly how much time I spend promoting. I maintain a blog and a twitter feed separate from my FirstHealth_Fin twitter handle, and I have a presence on Facebook. I also hang out on a few reader sites and interact with readers there. As for writing, when I’m working on a project it’s every night for at least 90 minutes without fail — longer on the weekends. And I’m still slow!

The problem is not so much the percentage of the day as the pressure to produce and promote, and keep doing it.

Catherine Colbert

Thriller author Lisa Scottoline writes two books a year. Her schedule includes 2,000 words a day seven days a week. She says: “Starting at 9 a.m. and going until Colbert.”

Certainly, it’s reasonable for companies to try to maximize their profits and revenue streams. And I admit that many of us would take longer than we should to get something “perfect”, often needing to be pushed or held to a deadline. (As “An Idiot Abroad” Karl Pilkington once observed about God creating the earth, think what He might have been able to do if He’d taken a bit more time; but sometimes it’s best to give yourself a deadline so you don’t faff about.) This assembly-line approach, though, seems like a destructive, or at least eroding extreme.

It sounds to me like publishers are fabricating seemingly market-driven excuses for pushing their authors. They come across as half truths to me. For one, I don’t know why I’d be less inclined to buy a book from an author I like if I have to wait a year or two for it instead of six months. Maybe I’m in the minority on that.

It’s one thing if it’s the author’s choice to crank out high volumes of…er, volumes, but to hold all of your authors to a quota seems anathema to the product. Some writers will be more keen to look at it as a business and voraciously work to increase their output, but why put all writers in that box?

Writing fiction isn’t, after all, like building cars or making doughnuts — though I’m sure most writers could find a simile or metaphor to suggest otherwise!

(P.S. to those wondering — I am not the droid Catherine was looking for. Move along.)

The nature of the publisher-writer contract is less onerous than that. Generally there’s a deadline for a book, but I don’t think there’s a quota, which is entirely different. Writers are feeling the pressure themselves, and it’s coming from readers. The thing is, E-readers allow readers–voracious readers — to get instant gratification. Hear about a book, push a button, and presto, you can start reading a book. It’s changed the way writers deliver the goods.

It’s not all bad. Short stories and novellas are perfect for e-readers, and they let readers sample a new writer at very little cost.

Catherine Colbert

Thank you, Chris, for bringing up the topic of writing as a craft, rather than a SCHEDULED DELIVERABLE. We’re not making widgets here. Creativity can’t be forced; it comes from inspiration and a desire to bring something to life. I do know writers who can produce words with ease, ala JK Rowling. I admit, I enjoyed my first e-reading experience with Hunger Games and saw the movie. I’m looking forward to continue reading, but I’m pacing myself so that I’m not camped out on the author’s doorstep asking if she’s done with the next installment.

Thanks for the clarification, Patrice. Glad to hear it isn’t as pressure-cooker as it was sounding to me. E-readers offer some great benefits to readers, publishers, and authors alike. As long as writers don’t feel like they are making significant concessions or compromises to their work, then it’s all good.

Catherine, I like Rowling for your prolific-writer example. Your quip about the movie adaptation of Misery is a handy coincidence because Stephen King is always the first person to come to my mind in terms of a book-cranker. Ironically, I hate the horror genre in whatever format, but I became a King fan in college and have enjoyed every book I’ve read of his. He also does great stuff outside the genre, e.g. Shawshank Redemption, Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut (short story).

It’s interesting that you count Rowling as prolific–she took a long time for some of her books. An author can seem to be a fast writer if they’ve built up three books before selling the first one, so they have a head start on a series. Which is what she did, bless her heart and more power to her.

King is like Norah Roberts; both are naturally fast writers.

You’re right, Patrice. I took Catherine’s description of Rowling a bit too far — “prolific” is probably neither an accurate description of the Potter penner or what Catherine meant.

Speaking of JKR, her Pottermore online effort looks like an interesting expansion on the platform of e-reading/interacting. I wonder what the author and publisher are learning from that.

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