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Faster for the Master — Author Edition

A Christian speed metal band used to emblazon their logo with the words, Faster for the Master. As if musical MPH was virtuous. The successful  Amazon Kindle author could probably adopt that saying for their own. Only, in their case, the Master is the market and the faster they write, the more the market is “pleased” with their service.

A fast-fingerswriting friend of mine recently signed a contract with Amazon for a YA Urban Fantasy trilogy.  But unlike the tradpub business, which has been known to stretch trilogies out for years (and stretch thick novels into trilogies), Amazon wants my writer friend to crank out all three novels in one year. That’s right:

Three novels in one year!

Apparently, it’s a sign of the times.

In his article, Why zombie ebooks are killing it on Kindle, Simon Owens provides some insight into the real success behind some Kindle authors. He uses novelist Jeremy Laszlo as an example. Like many authors, Laszlo became disillusioned with his slog through the submission process, eventually writing off traditional publishing altogether. After researching some successful indie authors, and using Amazon’s self-publishing tool for Kindle, Laszlo dove in and found a niche: writing zombie novels. But the author had been learning something other than just finding a popular niche market. Fellow zombie novelist, Bobby Adair, illustrates what is becoming a key to the success of indie authors: Cranking out stories.

Adair wrote his first zombie novel in six weeks. After tinkering with pricing and promotions, within two months of releasing his first zombie novel, he released his second. Apparently, this is the “model” many indie authors are discovering: Faster for the Master.

Owens summarizes:

Obviously, this model only works if you’re willing to write a series, and more importantly, write it quickly. If you were to release a free book and not follow up with a sequel until a year later, by then most of those readers will have forgotten you. This means pumping out a new book every two or three months. Many of the authors I spoke to said they’ll often have at least three books in a series completed before releasing the first one. Often, all three will be published on the same day, allowing the writers to hyperlink to the sequel at the end of each ebook. (bold mine)

For someone like me who takes well-on a year to crank out a book, this is intimidating. Even disheartening.  Sure, there are some changes I can make to my approach and some trade “tricks” that could make the need for speed seem less intimidating. For one thing, I could approach the books in a potential series as being not nearly as dense (both in the length and literary sense) as I am used to. Viewing each book in a series as a single TV episode rather than a full-length theatrical release seems helpful. Lowering my expectation of “quality” could also help. Kind of like seeing myself as less a culinary expert and more of a burger-flipper at McDonald’s. Whatever the case, being a “successful” indie author would seem to dictate changes are in order, at least for a writer like me.

Still, this approach seems contrary to much of the professional advice many of us were weaned on. Like Malcolm Gladwell in his best-seller Outliers where he discussed the now famous 10,000-hour rule— which is suggested to be the amount of time it takes to achieve true mastery of any field—and quotes the neurologist Daniel Levitin:

“In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concern pianists, chess players, master criminals, and what have you, this number comes up again and again.”

That’s right — “fiction writers.”

Of course, many successful indie authors have paid their dues honing their craft. Nevertheless, the need for speed, compounded by the accessibility of publishing tools, undermines the notion that mastering your craft is essential to being a successful writer. Now, it seems equally as important to know your genre and the current model for reaching your audience, as it does becoming seasoned in your skills.

Apparently, the 10,000 hour rule no longer applies to contemporary indie authors. Rather, to stay relevant, the contemporary indie author must be committed to “pumping out a new book every two or three months.” Which, for many of us, is the difference between comfortably mediocre sales and “success.” (It’s also probably why a Google search for “How to write faster” yields over 28 million hits.)

  • We don’t expect a new movie from Pixar every three months.
  • We don’t expect a new album from Radiohead three times a year.
  • We don’t expect a new novel from George Martin quarterly.
  • But we DO expect “a new book every two or three months” from our favorite indie author.

Oh well, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Which means my new slogan is: Faster for the Master. Still, I’m left to wonder if THIS “master” is really worth serving.

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{ 10 comments… add one }
  • Kessie December 8, 2014, 8:27 AM

    Well, this works in theory. Just get on Amazon and read the reviews of these speed-written books. A lot of them are 3 and 2 star hot messes.

    I last year released two novels and a novella. All of them had been drafted in previous years, and only needed revisions before release. I couldn’t do it any faster–the critique and editorial process is too important. No point releasing books fast if they’re going to be garbage. Besides, lots of readers are willing to wait a year or more. How long until the next Game of Thrones, again?

  • Kat Heckenbach December 8, 2014, 8:34 AM

    Yeah, this is one of the most bothersome trends to me. Quantity over quality for success. And I’m a pretty fast writer. The problem is, I can’t just write full-time in order to pump out books in order to make money so I can write full-time…

  • Mirtika December 8, 2014, 8:57 AM

    Any writer may write as slowly as he or she wishes. Or is able to. That annual novel/book might hit it big , do okay, or sink like stone. Writing fast or slow never guaratees a thing for books. We know this, right?

    I think their point is that if you want to maximize your chance to finding and snagging an audience, do a series, do a popular niche/genre, and crank out product. This is not news. It’s been said for a while now….series, volume, speed, niche. The Liliana Nirvana technique relies on that: hold off publishing until you have several works, then drop them within a short period of time to get that rise in rank and snag of readers. Boom. Boom. Boom. Five books in a month.

    Works for MAC–they put out a new line every few months and some special stuff in between and they get makeup junkies all excited about the new colors/textures/pizzass, and they jump on board. OPI puts out seasonal nail polish colors. They train us to keep looking for what’s around the corner, fresh, new. Fashion designers put out their spring and fall main lines but there’s still summer resort wear and winter wear. Keep giving people stuff they wanna buy, keep the momentum– be it lip gloss, fast food salads, shoes, or books.

    But no one is telling anyone they have to do it. Some of us don’t and can’t write quickly. It’s just not part of the equation. So you accept it, deal, and do what you can.

    However, as far as the 10K rule: If an author is sitting down to write 10 hours a day, 5 days a week, that’s 50 hours a week x 50 weeks (2 week vacation), so that’s 2500 a year. In four years they meet the 10K hours.

    (And I don’t pull this outta my butt. Janet Dailey made a trad name for herself decades writing 12 hours a day and cranking out a lot of books a year. Romance category authors were expected to do 3 to 6 or more books a year to build a readership and keep them coming. I saw many a romance author with wrist splints doing their draft in a month rotine.)

    And I”m assuming many indie authors were writing before they were SPing–many wrote for years, maybe a decade or more, while waiting for trads to give them a nibble. Who knows how many hours that added up to? Maybe the 10K rule applies after all. We don’t see the number of hours already in the reckoning before book 1 is out there on Amazon. But surely by the time they’ve been at it for 4 or 6 or 7 years, the 10K is surpassed. They’ll get better. The readers will be happier.

    Unlike plumbing or something non-scholastic, a lot of folks were writing creatively from youth, learning story elements in classes. Weren’t you writing as a teen? Earlier? Doesn’t that count?

    But there is a fundamental flaw: One doesn’t need to master anything to sell it. One just needs to offer something the consumer wants. If the book is “good enough” for the reader, it’s good enough to be put up for sale as a product, if not the finest of art. I think we’ve all seen really crappy books sell astonishing numbers.

    If it’s about art: you take as long as you need, even if it means there’s no money.
    If it’s about earnings: you do what it takes to up the chance to make income.
    With no guarantees either way makes one a living.

  • D.M. Dutcher December 8, 2014, 9:58 AM

    Well, a lot of the writing advice given existed back in the day when we didn’t have unlimited movies to watch for $7.99 a month. Creative work has been devalued hardcore, and people are trying a long tail approach to make money on it. Sort of a return of the pulp magazine/novel model.

  • Tim George December 8, 2014, 1:00 PM

    The route that is working right now is figuring out a way to make your novel episodic. If self-publishing that allows your first installment to be marketed as a short (less than 15,000 words) but tie in to what ends up being a full-length novel. Jason Gurley used that route and ended up with a Traditional pub contract for Eleanor. It has already sold well over 20,000 eBook copies before he took it down to make way for a traditional hard and paper contract.

  • Jill December 8, 2014, 2:11 PM

    I do better writing when I write quickly because I get past my inner editor that shuts me down. If you’re an experienced writer with a dictator for an inner editor, you might find relief in writing books very quickly. Working quickly subverts perfectionism, in any case. I wish I could it.

  • David N. Alderman December 8, 2014, 2:36 PM

    I think it all depends on the author. I have the ability to put out much more published works than I currently am, but I sometimes have a hard time finding the motivation and/or the right focus. That’s why I’ve started reevaluating a daily word count for myself to make sure I’m writing more. When I participate in NaNoWriMo, I can belt out 100,000 words during the month if I really put myself to the task. It doesn’t mean that 100,000 words is stellar though, and it usually needs a lot of clean up. But if some authors find success pushing books out the door in a cycle (write book in two months, hand book off to editor, write new book while editor is editing, release edited book while editor is editing new book), then by all means I think it’s a great idea.

  • Amy December 8, 2014, 7:28 PM

    A lot of writers are getting around the “writer faster” issue by putting out shorter works. Short stories, novellas, serial novels, and anthologies have become the order of the day. Writing stays at basically the same pace, but publishing happens more frequently.

  • Heather Titus December 8, 2014, 7:30 PM

    There’s no way I could crank out a book every two or three months. Sure, I can write the book in that time, but my first drafts are usually so scrambled I have to do intensive rewrites and edits before they’re anything close to publish-worthy. Maybe that will change–after all, the book I’ve almost finished is only my fourth “real” novel–but I still can’t see myself doing that, not unless I wanted to totally give up everything but writing.

  • Samuel Choy December 8, 2014, 9:56 PM

    * We don’t expect a new movie from Pixar every three months.
    * We don’t expect a new album from Radiohead three times a year.
    * We don’t expect a new novel from George Martin quarterly.

    True, but

    * We expect our favorite television episode every week.
    * We expect our favorite YouTube channel to make a new video regularly
    * We expect people we follow on Twitter and Facebook to post several times a day
    * We expect to be able to catch up an an entire season of a show on Netflix

    Another thing, even though Pixar, Radiohead, and George Martin are superstars and can thus take longer than we can to produce, we have higher expectations of them than our favorite indie author.

    That said, my writing was been remarkably unproductive this year, and I believe the sales of my existing book show it. However, the discouragement from low sales tends to increase my lack of production, which in leads to low sales. A vicious cycle.

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