Mark Terry

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Writing Myth

August 25, 2009
I'm not sure it's a myth, exactly, but for today, let's call it a myth.

And that myth is: let's write one novel a year and make a living doing it.

Sure. It happens.

But I don't know many of them. Even some of the big names that publish one novel a year seem to write several a year. And probably more to the point, I'm seeing a lot of bestselling authors that typically publish one novel a year spend about 8 or 9 months out of the year promoting their novel.

I just wrote a very long article about the reliability of at-home glucose meters that spent a lot of time figuring out how the standards for these types of consumer electronic health devices are developed. And at one point I noted that the last time the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) and the FDA, et al, took on this task, it took 7 years to come up with a standard. Partly that's because it's a consensus organization and the standards require a consensus.

It's also because almost all of the doctors, engineers, lawyers, CEOs, professor, etc., involved in this, are doing other things. There aren't many people involved in this whose full-time job is to determine what the standards for at-home glucose meters are. A lot of times they're physicians who are seeing patients, conducting research, teaching, running corporations and serving on dozens of committees of all sorts.

And when I think about that, I wonder why so many writers think they can write 5 pages a day then spend the rest of their time watching TV or contemplating their belly button lint while the dollars and euros and yuan pour in.

I know in my writing life I write all sorts of crap and I do it all the time. Novels, book proposals, market research reports, editing journals, newsletters, magazine articles, online articles, etc.

And I know some pretty successful novelists and many of them write short stories and screenplays and magazine articles and a variety of other things to bring in cash. Maybe some of it's because they can. And some of it is because they need to. And some of them write 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 books a year (or in the case of James Reasoner, about 10 a day, but he's an outlier). I know one bestselling author who continues to practice law despite all the money his one novel a year brings in.

So... what are you writing today?

Mark Terry


Anonymous Christine said...

I think of James Patterson--a bestselling novelist, to be sure, but he does at least two novels a year, the Maxx Ride YA series and the numbered series. I may be missing some of the other stuff he does each year.

So, yeah, it's a myth. Writing is a full-time job if you want to make any kind of money at it at all. And when I say full time job, I'm including the marketing, the tours, the extra pieces that need to be written...we could go on and on.

8:16 PM  
Blogger Natasha Fondren said...

Well, just fiction, but I'm living on a small budget and I have to write 20K-25K a week or I'm going to be broke, um, next January or February or so.

6:52 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Welllllll, Patterson might not be the best example. He no longer writes his own novels. He's very open about it. He says he's the "idea person" and the other person writes the books, whatever that means. It's not clear to me if he actually writes the Maximum Ride books or not, although he claims it's his favorite.

Patterson sort of falls into a new category of writer, one who's franchised their name--while they're still alive. This has been going on for a while with dead bestsellers--VC Andrews, Robert Ludlum, for example. Patterson's made an art out of it. Janet Evanovich does a little bit of it, although to-date she's still writing the Stephanie Plum novels herself. Clive Cussler's doing this a bit, as are a few others.

6:54 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

So you're in my shoes for nonfiction. I don't mind it most of the time, but it's a treadmill, running to keep up. Sometimes I'm aware of it. But then again, most jobs are like that, aren't they?

7:05 AM  

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