Ask Daphne! How Often is TOO Often?

October 14th, 2010 • Kate

anklebowsmilanfashionweekA friend shared a link with these shoes from Milan’s Fashion Week, which have nothing to do with this post… or so I thought, until I suddenly realized there’s like a fashion week EVERY week, between Milan, New York, Paris, etc. So it does work with Georgiana’s question, as follows:

Do you have expectations regarding the frequency a writer finishes and submits novel manuscripts? At one point MaryJanice Davidson was writing something like six or seven books a year but then other writers only finish one every seven or eight years. Do you want a book a year? Two books a year? You don’t care so long as they’re good?

I would think it would be hard for you to make ends meet if your writers were on the taking almost a decade side of the spectrum.

To answer the easy part first — sure, it would be tough to make ends meet if ALL of my authors were only writing one book a decade, but most authors keep to much quicker schedules, and that’s why agents have multiple clients, instead of depending on just one.

As to my expectations about frequency, I’m going to go with the wishy-washy, “it depends.” Does the author have a publishing schedule? If Random House or Penguin or whoever is counting on a book a year, then I darn well hope my author will be turning in a book a year. Someone like MaryJanice Davidson, who started out in the category world of monthly releases, may be able to swing six books a year, but for MOST authors, that’s A LOT. Especially if you want to have one of those, whatchamalits, a LIFE. (You may mention James Patterson in the comments, and I will note that Patterson doesn’t WRITE all of the books published with his name on them in a year. He may come up with the ideas, but notice the co-writers.)

So, if you have a schedule to keep with a publishing house, you may be turning in a book or two a year, maybe more, but that will be worked out with your editor in consultation with you, and with the expectation that you’ll be realistic about how long it takes you to complete a draft.

But say you don’t have a publishing contract with due dates laid out in legalese. How often should you be turning in a new manuscript then?

Well, you want to give each manuscript that your agent is submitting the best chance possible. It can look weird to have manuscript #1 out on submission, and then call a month later to submit manuscript #2 by the same author. You want to give MS#1 the best chance possible, and that might take 6 weeks, 6 months, or over a year.

Does that mean if you are one of those superhuman writers who can turn out a book a month, you shouldn’t TELL your agent about them? No! Always tell your agent about them, but recognize that if you’re giving her a new manuscript to read every 30 days, she’s not getting a chance to really sit and think about each one. And if she gets behind (as we all do), you may see your manuscripts stacking up on her reading pile in a somewhat overwhelming tower of guilt.

What you should do is make sure each manuscript is as polished as possible before sending it off to even your agent. That means making use of your critique groups, your beta readers, even the drawer in the back of your desk, where it can sit and marinate for a bit. Time away from your manuscripts is sometimes the best way of seeing the edits you can make yourself.

Does that answer your question? Any follow-ups? Put ’em in the comments!

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14 Responses to “Ask Daphne! How Often is TOO Often?”

  1. Kater Says:

    I feel like this was written just for me.

  2. Olivia Says:

    It's my personal opinion that anyone who can churn out a manuscript per month isn't editing them enough. I have school and therefore can't write all day every day, but still. I could have had my manuscript finished in 6 months instead of 9, but seeing as how I don't depend on my writing to live, I took my time. One book a year is pretty annoying when it's a series I love, but it's a good pace.

  3. Becky Taylor Says:

    Good question Georgiana! It's fun to think about what you could produce given the freedom (in terms of time) to write all day. I love my job (I work in an elementary school) but I find that it feels like I making a huge mental switch between writing and the work that I do at my job. My brain physically works differently or uses very different wires to accomplish those two things. I end up producing most of my writing during the summer months and during school breaks when I can turn off the more analytical (or left side) of my brain.

    Although, editing is much easier when I'm not feeling so artsy fartsy.

  4. Adam Heine Says:

    I have a follow-up: If your consulting with your publisher on a good publishing schedule for you, what might they generally consider too slow? I mean are there authors whose schedule is slower than a book a year?

  5. Adam Heine Says:

    I mean "If you're consulting". Oy.

  6. Georgiana Says:

    Thanks very much for answering my question. I agree it would be a bit much if someone were supplying so many manuscripts you could use them as building blocks for a spare room. It's good to hear there is flexibility regarding expected output. Like Becky I have more productive spurts; in my case mixed in with Plants vs Zombies spurts where I mostly just write my weekly column and saving money blog and keep the zombies out of my house. 🙂

  7. MaryJanice Davidson Says:

    Wow, it was terrific to see my name in this article! And I agree there are arguments for being careful and being prolific (they aren't always the same). But I think the reverse is also true: taking tons of time doesn't necessarily mean a better book…case in point, HANNIBAL by Thomas Harris. It took him ten years to write a sucky sequel! ("Yeah, everything we know about these characters? We're chucking everything and starting over. Which is why none of the characters are behaving in character. So shush, you.")

    I'm fortunate in that writing is now my full-time job, but it wasn't always like that. When I made the decision to quit the SDJs (Stupid Day Jobs) and write full-time, Minnesota was in the middle of a recession almost as bad as this one, and the thought of no steady paycheck scared me…I'd been working since I was 16.

    I compensated by telling my editors I was making the switch to full-time writing, and they in turn threw me every contract I could. So for the year after I switched to full time, I had 11 books out! (Little did I know I was spoiling my readers: "Only 3 books in 2010? Lazy jerk!"

    What's weird is, though I only put out 3 books this year, I do feel like lazy jerk. 😉

    Great article!

  8. Kate Says:

    MaryJanice –

    Thanks so much for adding to this conversation! It's greatly appreciated — and as a fangirl, I will admit to squeeing for a moment when I saw your comment.

    Cheers,

    Kate

  9. MaryJanice Davidson Says:

    I'm a sucker for my name in print. 😉 Also, I'm on deadline, so I'm procrastinating. "I must respond to this immediately! Even though the only rush is manufactured in my head."

  10. Kate Says:

    Sounds like several authors I know. 🙂

  11. Georgiana Says:

    Hi MaryJanice! Big fan here, which is why I remembered that you had been writing quite a few books per year when I first started reading your work. If I recall correctly you said something like you wanted to make sure you could both keep the lights on and keep the mac and cheese on the table. 🙂 An admirable goal to be sure.

    Thank you for taking the time to respond. You totally made my month!

  12. Amie Kaufman Says:

    This is a great post, thank you! You offer such great insights into areas of publishing we don't hear about elsewhere, and sometimes areas I hadn't even thought about. This was really informative.

  13. Cynthia Says:

    I would think that for most writers on average one book a year is a lot too handle. Most writers hold day jobs as well. I think it also gives the readers something to look forward too.

  14. Amie Kaufman » BTW: Hanoi to Hoi An, Food, Kids, Comics, Comps and Links Says:

    […] This article by Kate Schafer Testerman of KT Literary, on how often is too often when it comes to manuscript production. She offers such fantastic insights on topics you don’t see covered on other agent blogs. […]