One, Two, Three

on May 11, 2006

I remember one of the first questions my agent asked me when we were discussing representation was how many books I could write in a year. Her comment was that publishers really wanted at least one book every nine months. I told her that was definitely possible, and my goal was to eventually write four books a year.

My long term writing goal has always been to produce four books a year once all my kids are in school. (Wow, six-and-a-half hours of uninterrupted writing time . . . I can hardly wait!) Why?

Two reasons: First, I have so many ideas I want to write about that, if I only wrote those I’ve thought up in the last four years, I would be able to write four books a year for the next twelve years. Second, I want to make a living writing and writing a lot of books is the best way to do that.

I take my two favorite authors: JD Robb and Tess Gerritsen. JD Robb has two books out a year (okay, so she really has five or six books out a year, but I like the Robb books best so I’m just going to talk about those). Each book is fantastic. Each book gets better than the last. I eagerly await the next release. Tess Gerritsen has one book out a year. Each book is incredible. Each story is better than the last. I eagerly anticipate the next release.

The two writers have different processes. Nora Roberts sits down, disciplined, and writes every day for 8-10 hours. When she finishes one book, she starts another. It’s just the way she does it. She can’t change anymore than Tess Gerritsen can. The both deliver page-turning stories.

As the JD Robb books have progresses, the growth in each has slowed. The beginning of the series was a little rough, it found its stride and skyrocketed. Now, each book is better, but they read like a continuation . . . there is no “marked” growth. But does there need to be? When you hit your stride and the stories flow out, does a writer need to shake up something that works just because?

In Tess’s books, I’ve noticed she pairs them. Whether consciously or not, I found THE SURGEON and THE APPRENTICE a pair. THE SINNER and BODY DOUBLE another pair. I liked the first pair better. Did she “not grow” in the second pair? No. Her writing is as tight and focused as ever. But when VANISH came out, I found my favorite Tess book. In it she did something brilliant. Her first person present narrative interspersed with third person past was unusual in that the first person present was a story that had actually taken place in the past–backstory–interspersed with the present day story told in multiple viewpoints using third person past. It takes not only a talented writer to do something so bold and challenging, but someone who is stretching their pen, so to speak.

It comes down to comfort level. Some authors are comfortable producing more than one book a year; others would panic.

In addition, some authors “comfort” is produce the same/similar type of stories. Does that mean they’re not growing? Do they have to grow if they fill a need? I look at Debbie Macomber. She writes warm, happy, emotionally satisfying family stories. As long as the stories continue to resonate with her readers, and she’s bringing in new readers, then I would say she’s growing as an author.

Real growth is only possible by living. It’s our experiences that add depth to our novels. I am a more mature writer today than ten years ago. I hope that I’m a more mature writer ten years from now, with greater depth and a sharper writing talent than I have today. And the only way I can grow and improve and push the envelop is if I keep living … experience life and not be a hermit … and if I keep writing, one book or four books a year.

P.S. Come back tomorrow and read about our new contest!