I find some of this incredible, so I’ll highlight a big chunk:
In the heyday of pulp fiction, writers churned their books out at a great rate, usually to earn enough money to live on. Prentiss Ingraham wrote more than 600 books, 200 of them on Buffalo Bill. Occasionally, he wrote a 35,000-word book overnight. This was before the days of laptops and I hate to think of his writer’s cramp.
Writers whose progress is slow usually grind their teeth on hearing these statistics, but comfort themselves with the thought that the more prolific the writers, the more likely they are to produce rubbish.
Alas, this is cold comfort when they remember Joyce Carol Oates, considered one of the world’s finest writers. This brilliant and (to rival writers) perpetually infuriating woman has turned out more than 100 books in 45 years, many of them big, fat tomes. Other prolific literati include Georges Simenon (500 books in 70 years), John Updike (at least 60 books in 50 years) and P. G. Wodehouse (about 100 books in 75 years).
Apart from the truly manic fringe, what makes authors prolific? Sometimes the market demands it. Best-selling genre authors are expected to produce a new book at least every second year or so. Thriller writer James Patterson subcontracts other authors to compose first drafts from his outlines, which means he can produce several books a year.
And I thought I was doing well for my 1,000 words a day.
The first thing that comes to mind with all this is – quality. Is it possibly to write so much, so quickly, and for it to be of decent quality, knowing how thorough the rewriting and editorial feedback process can be when done properly? I guess most readers won’t even notice how the speed of a novel affects the final product, and I’m sure many writers’ minds work quicker than others. Also, there are market pressures for all of this, as the article states. Readers want more of the same thing and they want it now.
As an related aside, I do find it amusing when some reviewers say “the book could have done with more editing”. An editor (not mine) commented on this at Eastercon recently – it’s ridiculous for people to say that, because have they any idea just what work went into that manuscript in the first place? That an editor could have reduced a novel by half to have some clown still say it needs a good edit (when they might also mean, for example, that they didn’t agree with the pacing).
No. People are only ever presented with the end result, and just connect with that.
So no matter how slowly a novel may be written, no matter rigorous the editorial process can be, no matter how many years are spent working on it, most readers will only see it on an equal level with something that is churned out quickly. Few people see what goes on within the book factory.
P.S. As you can see, any of you struggling writers who take more than a year to finish the manuscript, you’ve got to be quicker than that…