I’ve been struck lately by how prolific many indie authors are. That, in turn, makes me think about changing expectations from readers and publishers.
Let’s start off with the publication schedule. There are authors who publish works monthly, even biweekly, which is a truly amazing feat. In an ideal universe, the next work in a series would be available to a reader as soon as he or she finished reading the current work. In the past, this meant having the next book available for pre-order, but now it’s often for sale. This rapid publication might be ideal, but there are few authors who can write as fast as readers can read – but many are getting closer.
Once upon a time, it was believed that authors should have a new book published once a year, or at most, once every 8 months. This was believed to be the way to build audience among readers, and was the prevailing wisdom when I sold my first book in 1992. The issue with this is that it’s very hard to make a living in traditional publishing with only one genre fiction release per year. Publishers, though, were convinced that more frequent publication would mean that the author “cannibalized” his or her own sales. (Really. That was the verb of choice.)
In series romance, however, it was possible to have more frequent publication, which was one of the reasons I was glad to sell first to Harlequin. Harlequin and Silhouette authors might get two or even three publication slots per year. I was considered a prolific writer in those days, being capable of writing three to four books a year. And I was the first Harlequin Historical author to be given four slots in one year. That was in 1994 and it was considered to be radical. (I suspect, actually, that they had some issues with empty slots in the publication schedule: my books were delivered early and there, so I got lucky.)
Even then, authors like Nora Roberts were beginning to prove that more frequent publication did not diminish sales. Fans could read faster than authors could write, and having more books available faster meant building sales. It seems so self-evident now, but it required a big change in the thinking at publishing houses for authors to be given more frequent publication slots. Many authors wrote under two names, so that they could have more books published. When I moved to Dell, they scheduled the Bride Quest trilogy at six month intervals, which was considered audacious. It worked. Roughly ten years later, NAL used the same six-month-publication strategy for the initial three Dragonfire books, and it was still considered to be a bold sign of support from the house.
There were authors who had back-to-back release schedules in that era, with each book in a trilogy published in consecutive months. April, May and June, for example. There was mixed thinking about the success of this: one reason for skepticism is that readers often stash print books in their TBR pile, so might not read book #1 before book #2 was available for sale. (This happens in digital, too.) The other issue is that the rapid publication comes at a cost – the books were still produced at a rate of 2 per year, so clustering three together for publication often meant a big gap in the author’s publication schedule both before and after that promotional push. On the other side of the argument, though, some readers won’t buy a trilogy until all three books are available. This is a newer wrinkle, and the result of pubilshers pulling the plug on linked series, and never publishing the completion of the series.
But then there is digital. In the digital market, where indie authors don’t have any publisher to control their release schedule, many are publishing very very quickly. There are two variables at work here—one is how quickly these authors write, but the other influencing variable is that many write shorter works than tend to be published in traditional print publishing. In traditional publishing, the 100,000 word mass market paperback is the standard. In digital, a work can be any size, and actually, pricing skews very well for 25,000 word novellas. Some authors can write novellas at double or triple the rate of writing books, while others take the same amount of time to write a story no matter how long the finished work is.
Also, in this new world of digital books and online book portals, frequent publication is one very good way to build sales and visibility. So, these very prolific authors are becoming terrific success stories, because they’re listening to readers and publishing new works very frequently. I do find it rather funny to be considered a slow-poke now, with my 3-to-4-books-a-year writing speed, after being called prolific (and maybe even TOO prolific LOL) for so long, but there’s the reality of the new market.
How does this reality change my future plans? Well, I’m still working that out. It’s possible that I will write more novellas and shorter works in the year ahead, and structure new projects to be linked novellas instead of linked books. It’s possible that I’ll just carry on with linked full-length books and have four releases per year. (I do like how big and chewy a 100K book can be.) It’s likely that I’ll mix it up. 🙂 But the change in the marketplace certainly bears some consideration.
How about you? Have your reading habits changed? Do you like to read books by a single author in succession, or do you prefer to alternate between favourites? Do you think you read more than before? Faster than before?