Friday, January 20, 2012

Would you rather write one great book, or three good ones?

Long title, but I've been thinking about some of the great books I've been reading lately, or looking forward to reading soon. A lot of these books are first books, where the author had years to polish and revise, or they have been from authors who took a solid year, or even more to get the book to where they are happy with it.

I just finished the Cecilia Grant book and it's exactly how Molly described it, surprising, fun, beautifully written and very different from any other historical on the market. The same with Maggie Stiefvater's The Scorpio Races, it's go gorgeous that it's intimidating to other writers out there, and so beautifully crafted, and I've skimmed her blog to find out how long it took her to write it, but can't find out and don't have the time to do any more research, but it reads like it took her three years to write it.

Joanne Bourne takes a year to write a book, Sherry Thomas takes almost as much time and I feel like their books really show this. And they have the luxury of time. I know a lot of authors that need to write more than one book a year, more than two really, especially in romance, where advances are low and building a readership means three books a year on the shelves.

And some authors write amazing books in three months, and I'm intensely jealous of them. A lot though, write competent books in three months. And a lot of readers are probably thrilled with competent. As writers, we get excited about the books that surprise us, give us something new and unexpected, something impeccably crafted. Books that get a lot of buzz in the writing community. Buzz that can push a book's sales, or not.

We all know of authors that were intensely admired by writers and bloggers, who never hit a list.

Or do we just learn to write better in less time?


Stephanie Doyle said...

Oooh awesome post. And a question I really struggle with because I think I'm still caught between wanting to write what I want... and wanting to be a succesful writer.

I can look back at my writing career - and see decisions I made that I think cost me. I feel like I'm at that place even now. Do I want to try and write 3 category books a year, and try to build momentum and try to (hopefully) gain some readers... or once again do I want to chuck all that and spend 6 months working on a historical that may or may not see the light of day?

Now I don't know if I spent a year on a book if I could ever make it as great as a Bourne book... I just don't think I'm as talented.

But certainly it would be better than the 3 category books if only because I can only give so much time to each of those category books to be able to meet the deadlines.

Wow I'm going to be thinking about this all day. Great question.

Molly O'Keefe said...

I think it's a complicated answer - for those authors who take a year, how much of that year is in a vacuum? Or is part of that year, going back and forth on edits? Because I would really really guess there's not many authors who take a year and write a great book without imput - too much time in the vacuum and you just end up dicking around...second guessing yourself, chasing down tangents, writing a million words to get a hundred thousand. Think about the Night Circus and how much of her process was in rewrites?

But I don't think that is the question - I'll be happy with competent. I don't have any more big brain is working consistently at about 70%.

Stephanie Doyle said...

I'll take 70% any day of week!

Because I'm now obsessing... I definitely think you need to start with 1 great book and be able to follow quickly with competent. Then when you hit the NYT - I would love to see authors who need to slowing down again.

Sometimes I think you get excellent - Really Good, Pretty Good (at this point I'm still a reader) then the publishing houses seem to put you in the factory... then it's Okay, Okay, Sort of not good (now you're starting to lose me as a reader.

But is that a result of time? Or is it just that sometimes you write good books and sometimes you write bad books?

Anonymous said...

The pressure to write fast, and maybe in recognizable time periods has made bestselling authors, who first couple of books are so much better than anything else they've written.
I'm thinking to two in particular that I can no longer read, but whose first trilogies are on my keeper shelves.
Writers look for variety in setting and style, but I think readers are looking for comfort and familiarity a lot of the time.
I hope I'm wrong.

Eileen said...

Depends . . . do I get paid the same amount for the one great book as I do for the three just good books? If so, I'm definitely a one book girl. I'd love to be able to take that kind of time.

Maureen McGowan said...

I've been thinking about this all afternoon and still don't have an answer. I think I'd like to write at least 2 books a year but have them read as if I spent years on them. :)

My fantasy/dream is that a happy medium exists between the two. I guess a realistic wish is to always have at least as long to revise as I take to write the first draft... Then if the story worked first time out, I'm golden, but I have time to completely tear it apart if it's not working...

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