Prolific Publishing for Success and Money: Or What I Learned By Trying

Had I Found the Blueprint for Success?

Last year, I read every book on writing and marketing that I could find. I subscribed to a handful of webinars, ‘attended’ email training sessions, and became a rabid devotee of any author with great branding and a promise of how I could succeed in publishing. Even though most of what I heard was not new to me, I felt like I had discovered a blueprint to success. All I had to do was publish prolifically, be helpful, and give away samples of my writing. Although the adjective “prolific” made me a little nervous, I decided to give the approach a try.

The journey hasn’t been all s’mores and champagne for me.

Attribution http://www.123rf.com/profile_bowie15 via  123RF Stock Photo

Attribution http://www.123rf.com/profile_bowie15 via 123RF Stock Photo

Initial Doubts Blasted by One Strong Outlier

I felt the first doubts about the method when I tried reading several works produced in the paradigm I was eager to emulate. It struck me that while some of these authors are doing well for themselves from a monetary standpoint, and were often quite the social media darlings, I didn’t feel their writing was good. The stories were competent in the way that food at a national restaurant chain is predictable: it won’t make you sick, but it won’t inspire you, either.

There are outliers, of course, and not everyone who publishes abundantly writes formulaic books. My friend Hunter Shea is very prolific, and offhand I can think of at least three new books he released in fairly quick succession (THE MONTUAK MONSTER, ISLAND OF THE FORBIDDEN, and HELL HOLE). Hunter’s work is consistently high-quality and fun to read, but for each one of his books that I enjoyed, there were at least two by other prolific authors that fell flat and ended up on my “didn’t finish” pile.

Despite my doubts, and with Hunter as a positive example, I remained determined to try publishing frequently. I started by drawing up a five year writing plan. In it, I scheduled myself to produce four new works a year. Each publication would have a free introductory “hook,” and at least one of the four publications would be novella-length or longer. I’d churn out works like my name was Krispy Kreme and the stories were 2AM hot donuts! Such was the plan, in any case.

What Happened When I Tried

I did manage two releases in six months (MIXED MEDIA and SPILLWAYS), but I discovered that having an excellent editor means I’m called on my authorial laziness, plot sloppiness, and continuity misfires. To be blunt: I do a lot of rewriting during edits. Getting MIXED MEDIA and SPILLWAYS right was a time consuming process, but I stayed on schedule – barely. At this point, I should reveal that both of those works were already drafted and “just” needed editing.

Long term, my personal slush pile couldn’t be my only source of material. I needed to be able to produce new works at a rate commensurate with my publication goals. To this end, I decided that I would experiment with writing a new work in a compressed timeframe. I blasted out the rough draft in a few weeks, which is amazing given that the only time I have to write is my hour-long bus ride to work. It wasn’t any worse of a first draft than most, but it was also not dazzling. I employed no challenging points of view, nor did I craft within a non-standard form. When the overarching goal was to publish at a frenetic pace, literary merit felt like a “nice to have” rather than an imperative. Under those conditions, my writing devolved to chain restaurant quality. I won’t publish a work that isn’t my best, and I’ve spent multiple editorial cycles improving the story. It is finally worthy of my readers, but getting it that way meant I missed my publication deadline for this piece by two months. So much for writing a “fast” story!

It was an interesting experiment. I think that if I were a full-time writer, I could have better luck with making quicker production turnaround, but my boundary conditions are decidedly not those of a full-time writer. For now, I’m done with attempting a frenetic publishing pace. I can’t honor my literary calling when the focus is on growing my shelf space rather than on the joy of creation.

Author Fatigue is One Thing, But What About Readers?

In a blog post Ania Ahlborn points out another possible downside of rapid-fire publication: reader fatigue. I can’t think of anything more fatiguing than reading masses of sub-par novels… well, other than writing masses of sub-par novels! I love that authors I enjoy have multiple books, but sometimes a year or more will pass between when I read those works. This, for me, is even true with series. There are so many voices to experience, and because my reading time is just as scant as my writing time, I’m apt to drift between genres and temporarily abandon even my favorite author.

Conclusion

I’m glad I tried the approach of fast publishing. I am pleased with the works I produced last year. SPILLWAYS, in particular, contains my best writing, with stories that challenged me as a writer. It is also my least read work – so far. I think that is partly because I am waiting to do a strategic campaign to advertise it, but it might also be a symptom of reader fatigue. If you are curious, you can read MOON SICK, the first story in the collection for free. All you need to do is sign up for my author newsletter at http://www.oddskybooks.com/odd-literati. After you subscribe, you’ll receive a follow-up email with a link to download the story in the format of your choice.


What about you? Have you tried writing at a multi-book per year pace? Do you read everything by your favorite prolific authors as soon as the books hit Amazon’s Whispernet (or the newstands)?
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6 thoughts on “Prolific Publishing for Success and Money: Or What I Learned By Trying

  1. Interesting post, Aniko. I’ve always been a little wary of the advice to write and publish quickly no matter what. Some people can do it, and not sacrifice quality as a result, but personally I can’t – and I don’t think I’m alone in that! I too absolutely hate it when I feel that an author has rushed a book out before making it the best book it could be. And I too don’t necessarily hurry to buy and read new books even by my favourite authors – there are so many books out there to read, and I feel that restricting myself to just one or two authors would be very unsatisfactory.

    All of this ties in with a wider conviction of mine, namely that there is no sure-fire way to achieve commercial success. You might be able to influence the outcome – a bit. I think that an awful lot is down to sheer chance, and that conventional wisdom on this matter is ultimately just guesswork – not necessarily wrong, but not straightforwardly right either.

    An example: I have an author friend who, last year, released a novel. For some reason that nobody is sure of (she did hardly any marketing) it did very well in the first three months or so of its publication and climbed quite far up the Amazon charts, both in the USA and the UK. Conventional wisdom would have it that, amongst other things, her other books would also experience an upswing in sales. It didn’t happen. Nor did she achieve enough momentum to climb even higher in the charts – eventually, sales just slowed down.

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    • Mari, hello!

      Thank you for taking the time to write a thoughtful reply. I hope that one day we can meet in person. I know we’d have a wonderful conversation!

      I don’t know of many people who can produce publishable, quality works at breakneck speed. Hunter is the only contemporary example who came to mind. I know I can’t do it, at least not with the time constraints of my current situation. I love writing, but writing with the main goal being able to publish on a schedule changed my attitude. I still loved the activity of writing, but it felt less about the joy of creation and more about simply meeting an arbitrary goal. I believe you are correct when you say that commercial success comes down to luck. I have read many, many wonderful books that probably never broke into the top 100 of any lists. I have started (and not finished) many books that sell very well, and yet probably linger at the top of various rankings. I think that if I write what I am meant to write, the readers who are meant to connect with it will find the books. It’s a bit of a mystical viewpoint, but given that there is no real “controlling” the outcome, I may as well go ahead and have faith that what is true and well done will find its audience – someday.

      I love your books. I look forward to everything you publish. I know I’ll get a great read, and I know that you put your heart and truth into the work.

      As ever,

      -aniko

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  2. First, thank you for the mention and your kind words. Over the past few years, I’ve been on a pace of writing 3 books a year (though making one of them a novella helps ease the load). It isn’t easy, but I absolutely love what I do. It’s been like riding an incredible high…for 4 years. But everyone has their pace, and the key is to try all kinds of methods until you find your sweet spot. It used to be that it took me the better part of 2 years to write one book and I couldn’t imagine writing any faster. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll go back to that pace. But for now, this is what’s working for me.

    You are an absolutely wonderful writer. Your voice is pure poetry, and that takes time.

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    • Hunter, hi!

      You are welcome. Your novels are a testament to the joy you feel when writing. The stories are well-formed, the characters authentic, and the plots are always fresh. I imagine that with the breadth of your collection, reader fatigue is probably not an issue because you’d have a very broad assortment of readers interested in your various themes.

      I think I’d be able to write more if I had more time to write (which is, no doubt, a tautology). As it is, most days I leave the house for work before 7 AM, and get home just at 7PM. Then there are dogs to walk, dinner to prep/eat, and few scant hours to spend with Mr. Aniko before the cycle repeats. Someday, I hope to work part time. Maybe then I’ll join you in the Three Book a Year Club!

      Thank you for the compliment on my writing; that means a lot to me.

      May you always love writing as much as you do now,

      -aniko

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  3. Hi Aniko,

    Wow. I stumbled upon this essay at just the right time.

    I recently quit my job in order to write full time. I’m not a fast writer. I need time to concentrate, and also time to let my mind wander. I am currently producing a podcast of short humor – I write one story a day, five days a week. A good part of my day is spent trying to think of something new to write about. I’m sensitive to the fact that the quality of writing sometimes varies more than I’d like, so I try to wait at least a day or two before recording them. That gives me a little more time to find a better turn of phrase or to punch up the ending.

    I would like for every story to be my best work, but I don’t want to miss a deadline. I think it’s important to stay on schedule – especially now, at the beginning. My hope is that the writing will become more polished and consistent with practice.

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    • I do believe that writing becomes more consistent and polished with practice. I also believe that deadlines are necessary to give us the impetus to face down that blank page. The danger, there, though, is setting deadlines that are too aggressive. When that happens, the art doesn’t have the space (time!) it needs to become polished. What works for one writer will probably not work, or not work the same, for another writer. We each learn the proper balance, and adjust as life changes around us.

      I can’t imagine writing a short humor podcast on a daily basis! That is incredible!

      Best,

      -aniko

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