Wednesday was one of those days. I had a comprehensive copyedit of a 120,000-plus-word novel due by 8:00 p.m. With evening prayer meeting scheduled, I knew I had even less time than usual.
By 3:00 p.m., I was doing a reread of the last fifty pages on my Kindle, just double-checking my work. By suppertime at 5:15, I was still at it—and feeling pressured and getting hot and bothered.
Ask my family. I literally devoured my wife’s wonderful salmon pie, flew upstairs to get dressed for church, and dashed back to my basement office to wrap up the last few details and e-mail the file . . . just ten minutes before we had to leave for church. And on top of that, I was in charge of leading worship.
Yes, I met my deadline. Barely. But by cutting it so close, I wasn’t a happy camper.
Why? Because I hate to rush. I’m a planner and a routine kind of guy, and because I rushed, I have to wonder if I missed something critical in my edit (hopefully not). Quality usually suffers when I’m under pressure and trying to get something done quickly.
I sometimes wonder if the same is true of publishing. I have no intent of knocking those prolific authors, especially the guys, who are able to crank out at least one novel per year. As a guy who edits full-time and tries to write the next novel after doing my editing, taking care of my yard, doing stuff with my family, and helping out at church in several capacities, I’m well aware of the time constraints involved.
And truly, I take my hat off to those who are blessed to sign multibook contracts and pull off the whole annual book-release-like-clockwork thing with such verve Truly, these folks are amazing.
Taking Their Time
But is it my imagination, or is it only Christian publishing that seems to put some authors under the pressure of getting novels out as quickly and feverishly as possible? When I look at the secular market and the publishing habits of some of the heavyweights, I don’t see the same pattern.
- For example: Dan Brown took three years to write his latest Inferno. (And this is no endorsement—I haven’t read it.)
- For example: Leif Enger released his terrific Peace Like a River in 2001. His second novel didn’t come out until 2007, six years later.
- For example: Erik Larson released his smash hit The Devil in the White City in 2003 and didn’t publish his next one, Thunderstruck, until 2006. And his latest superb In the Garden of Beasts didn’t come out until 2011, five years later.
What’s the point? Some authors take their time. And does anyone complain? I mean, seriously.
As a reader, I don’t personally mind waiting for quality. If Larson can put out another book as good as The Devil in the White City, I’d happily wait several years. In fact, I’d prefer to wait for a real gem than see something new out in nine months and wonder about its quality. Maybe it’s just me, but it’s hard to imagine anyone cranking out something as good as Peace Like a River in nine months or even a year.
So Why the Rush?
Now, I recognize that some authors are able to publish a novel or more every year and deliver some great quality reads. Good for them! But are they the norm or the exception? I’ve noticed other books that almost scream “rushed out the door, ten four.” Plots seem contrived or too familiar, characters are more like placeholders than real people, and the stories lack mental and/or emotional depth.
So why is everyone in such a hurry? Doesn’t haste make waste? Are we as authors getting too caught up in this gotta-have-it-now culture? I realize that in a lot of cases authors are confined by multibook contracts and don’t really have a choice. They have to produce—and pretty quickly too. (Some authors tell me they even work better under pressure—different strokes for different folks, I guess.)
But why do publishers have such demands to begin with? I suppose the more books an author cranks out, the greater the odds of good sales. I guess that makes sense. Maybe. So is the strategy just about money? Or about the psychology of publishing something “new” with great regularity? Does that communicate urgency to get out the next book?
I suppose marketing folks must know more than I do. But in the long run I wonder, is quantity more important than quality?
I for one am glad I’m not wearing the straight jacket. Yes, I’d love to get a multibook contract (don’t get me wrong), and I’d definitely like to get my novels out more quickly (I haven’t found the formula yet). But quality of life is also something I value, and I cringe at the thought of the all-nighters some authors must pull to get their novels in on time.
And in the long run I doubt anyone has written anything truly outstanding—I’m talking Gone with the Wind outstanding—by rushing creativity. By the way, Margaret Mitchell took nine years.
What about you? If you’re a reader, do you mind waiting a few years or more for your favorite author’s next book? Do you think it’s ever possible for a novel to come out too quickly? If you’re an author, do you work better under the pressure of writing quickly? Or do you produce better stuff when you go at your own pace (with self-imposed deadlines) without feeling rushed?
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