I know this is one of the biggest debates in the self-publishing industry. Is it better to write and publish 4+ books a year because it creates more opportunities for readers to see your books and buy them? Or is it better to put your focus on 1-2 books a year and make them as good as you can before sending them out there?
I tend to be a fast writer. The 1,667 words needed per day for National Novel Writing Month have never been a problem for me. When I’m really in the zone, I can write 6,000+ words a day. My normal output is probably more in the 1,500 to 4,000 range. Because of this, I could theoretically put out 3-4 books a year.
But I have to ask myself if that’s the right thing to do. I need time to edit my books, and no amount of editing passes ever seems like enough. I always catch something I feel I could improve.
That being said, four months doesn’t seem like it’s too little to write and edit a book. If I’m writing at my general pace, the first draft shouldn’t take more than two months. Then I’ll probably leave that novel sitting for a month or two while I work on something else (either a sequel or another series). I can also edit one book while writing the first draft of another. So it wouldn’t be like my books only take four months. In truth, they take longer, but that includes time for them to sit and for me to look at them with fresh eyes each time I do an editing pass.
Personally, I’d like to find a middle ground in the quality vs. quantity debate. I want my work to be high-quality, but I don’t want to spend too long between books. The self-publishing business is very fickle, and if you drop off the radar, you often have to start all over again with your next book.
Thankfully, I already have a decent catalogue of novels I can publish right out the gates. Empire of Chains is a few editing passes from being ready. Sunweaver, the first book of another epic fantasy series, is in about the same place (though currently it’s on submission in the Angry Robot Open Door, which is why I haven’t talked about it much). I also have a first draft written of a third epic fantasy, tentatively titled A Song of War. It’s only been lightly edited at this point.
In addition to all that, I’ve already drafted books 2 and 3 of Empire of Chains, and I’ve started on book 4. I’ve also started on book 2 of Sunweaver.
Then there are all the ideas floating around in my head.
In truth, the ability to publish multiple books a year is part of what makes self-publishing so attractive to me. I have so many ideas, and I want readers to see them. At the same time, however, I do not want to sacrifice quality.
In the end, I’ll aim to get books out quickly, but not so quickly that I sacrifice quality. They will take however long they take.
But don’t worry. I have no intention of being George RR Martin and taking an eternity to write the next book in a series. Of course, my books aren’t nearly as long as his. Empire of Chains, my longest at 167,000 words, is just over half the length of A Game of Thrones, the shortest novel in Martin’s series.
In the end, it comes down to respecting the reader. This comes in two forms. On the one hand, you respect the reader by writing at a good pace and getting new material out there. On the other, you also respect the reader by giving them a quality product every time.
I’d like to come down somewhere in the same territory as Brandon Sanderson. He writes at a quick rate and publishes multiple books a year (unless he’s working on a Stormlight Archive book). The books, at least in my opinion, are consistently high-quality. That’s what I hope to be.
Thanks for reading this rambling discussion.
For me, part of the attraction of writing fantasy and science fiction is the fact that I can do whatever I want with my worlds (as long as I remain internally consistent). But that isn’t always the best strategy. Well, it’s fine if you’re writing only for yourself, but if you’re writing for other people, you have to keep what they want in mind. It might be fun to throw everything and the kitchen sink at the reader. However, that’s not likely to get you many fans.
The same goes for being different for the sake of being different. Sure, it can work. You see writers like China Mieville pull of utterly bizarre worlds. But it should also be noted that Mieville’s stories don’t work for every fantasy reader.
At the opposite end, you have writers from the D&D craze of the 70s and 80s. A lot of their ideas were inspired by Tolkien. This gave readers a very familiar world to fall into. Some would argue that it was too familiar, that these writers didn’t do enough to bring that sense of wonder and discovery into their books.
Personally, I find it best to strike a balance between these two extremes. You might call it the “Brandon Sanderson approach.” Sanderson is known for taking many of the common tropes of fantasy and putting a new spin on them. In doing this, he gives us a story that’s both familiar and new.
For example, look at the premise for Mistborn. It’s a world where the dark lord has won, where the prophesied hero failed. The story is about defeating this dark lord, but it’s not the quest story so many authors do. Instead, it’s a heist story. That brings in an element we haven’t seen done to death and makes the story feel fresh and original. Then, of course, there’s the fascinating, mist-shrouded world. Sanderson took many of these elements we’ve seen before and put them in a story that feels like something new despite so many familiar elements.
That’s what you have to do as a fantasy writer. You have to write a story that balances the familiar and the unfamiliar. The best fantasy worlds, in my experience, are not the ones that are incredibly bizarre. They’re the ones that feel both familiar and bizarre. Sure, you can have all kinds of weird things in your world, but they should be balanced with a story and characters that feel recognizably human. Some of us have the talent of a Mieville and can pull off utterly bizarre. Most of us are better putting new twists on old ideas.
After all, those old ideas have become so ingrained because readers like them. Even fantasy and science fiction readers like to see something they recognize. But you don’t want to give them the same thing they’ve seen so many times before.
It’s a delicate balancing act, but it’ll pay off in the end.