A couple weekends ago, I attended an event hosted by the Pikes Peak Library District called the Mountain of Authors. It is exactly that: a mountain of traditionally published authors and self published authors all crammed together to listen to panels, talk about writing and publishing trends, and sell books. There must’ve been about thirty authors plus attendees.
One of the panels covered the e-publishing revolution now dominating all discussions. It was interesting. Agent Sandra Bond, publisher Mike Daniels, and bestselling author Barbara O’Neal talked about what the publishing world looked like nowadays. But one of the most revealing things was something that O’Neal said was important for all writing: finish a lot of books.
In publishing there’s a term called ‘the long tail.’ Basically, it boils down to your backlist making the money for you as an author. Agent Rachelle Gardner has a fantastic post on volume and the long tail here. And she’s got another one talking about why writing a few books before looking for publication is a good idea here.
Now, I’ll be honest. I always expected to have to write a few books before anything would be published. I made the assumption that, like short stories and poems, the very first one generally doesn’t get picked up. Practice makes perfect and all that. However, I did not consider the idea of writing of multiple books to be a good thing publishing-wise. Just never occured to me to think about it. And after reading Gardner’s posts, listening to O’Neal talk about buying back her backlist (which is quite extensive), and seeing the piles of books at the Mountain of Authors…I’m convinced that writing a lot of books out of the gate is the way to go.
Terry Pratchett also helped convince me. (Which is useful, as he’s the mentor of the month.) Along with Stephen King, James Patterson, Dean Koontz, Laurel K Hamilton, and Nora Roberts, Pratchett has one of the longest tails in the industry. It’s pretty easy to visualize what the tail looks like too: dominate a few shelves of space at the library or book store. (What’s important to note about the domination of space is that there are multiple titles – not just large quantities of one title.)
And the majority of Pratchett’s books are about a world floating on the back of a turtle. Who’d’a thunk it?
But don’t go thinking that you have to write a series in order to write a lot of books. After visiting the Terry Pratchett website and counting up the titles…I count 71 books – Discworld isn’t everything. Sometimes as many as four books came out in a year. That’s a lot of books.
He’s still going too, in spite of Alzheimers. There’s a new collaboration with Stephen Baxter called The Long Earth which will be out soon.
Does the thought of writing a lot of books intimidate or inspire you? Can you think of any authors who got picked up after writing only one book? How many books do you have in mind for your career?