Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Faster Books

There's an interesting article online in The New York Times right now about publishers beginning to cater to readers' desires that books by some authors come out faster. The author of the piece uses the analog to networks that roll out an entire year's episodes online all at once.

I happen to think that the old wait-a-year for the next book model is probably doomed for some kinds of books. For others, once a year is too much. But it's anything but new.

Way back in 1988, my second novel, All the Western Stars, came out from Peachtree Publishers in
Atlanta. Back in those days Peachtree was a publisher of varied kinds of titles, though today it's become a simply marvelous publisher of children's books alone. Chuck Perry, the editor in chief, had bought three of my manuscripts on the same day, and I was a bit startled to find out he wanted to publish the first one in the fall of 1988 (Western Stars), the second one (Slow Dance in Autumn) in the spring of 1989, and the third (The Song of Daniel) in the fall of 1989.

The amount of work we had to do was staggering. And ATWS was so successful in so many ways that we thought we'd duplicate and even build on its success. But that's not exactly what happened. While the other two books sold well and got excellent reviews, the main thing this strategy did was put me out in front of the public in a big way. In that sense, it was a huge success. But in several others, it was exhausting for all of us.

Some big-name writers like Stephen King have many times published more than one book a year. But for me, it was never a real option. The three books I sold Peachtree had been written over several years and were more or less stockpiled. The idea of writing a new book every year for the rest of my career was a nightmare to me. So I started taking three and four years off between books.

That made sense. But what THAT does is make readers start forgetting you. So, as a writer, you can't win and neither can the publisher. Still, here I am again, with my autobiography, It is Written: My Life in Letters coming out this fall, and my new volume of poetry, The Color of All Things: 99 Love Poems, coming out six months later. Very different books (and I'll say, very good ones), so maybe this time it will work!

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