I’m going to go ahead and blame Steve Barnes. I happened to be sitting with a group of folks he wanted to say hello to at a recent con, and the man stopped and talked with all of us for about twenty or thirty minutes. (In case you’ve never met him in person, he’s simply awesome as a human being.)
Most of the people at the table were of the Traditionally Published flavor, meaning that they’d gone through the entire gatekeeping process with New York and had had some level of critical or commercial success at some point. The problem that most of them faced in the present tense was that the world has changed, and they generally don’t understand how to adapt to the new reality, or don’t want to.
Steve went around the table asking each of us where we were in our career. I seriously doubt that he was expecting to run into someone like me. This was a few months ago, but not that long, so the numbers weren’t that much smaller. At the time, I think I was in the middle of my thirtieth novel. (I could check calendar dates, but I don’t really care that much. For comparison, I started my thirty-fifth novel this week.)
He looked at me and his eyes got big.
“You aren’t a writer,” he said with all honesty. “You’re a publishing company.”
The more I’ve thought about it, the more I agree with the man. I generate IP at a staggering pace, compared to many of the writers I know. Fortunately, I know others who make me look like a bloody piker by comparison, so it all balances out.
But I write fast. Clean drafts. Good stories. Entertaining yarns that people find worth the money. Right now, that works out at about 120,000 words per month, only because I keep a little spreadsheet of my monthly tracking, and to keep the days in line, it multiplies the date by 4,000 and I try to hang around that number when I’m done writing for the day. Don’t get there everyday, because I don’t have to.
Some days, it’s not there. Other days, like today, I lock in and flow enough to make up for the slack days. By the end of the month, I frequently take a day or so to purely goof off, because my honest target each month is 100,000, not 120k. Pulp Speed Two. (Three is 116,667, so I beat that frequently, but again, not my goal.)
My short novels usually clock in around 45,000 words. Medium length runs to 60k, give or take. Occasionally I write monsters (three of the Jessica Keller novels are above 125,000, if I remember correctly), but I find myself occasionally getting bored at that length, because you end up cramming so much story in.
At 45k, you are basically on a roller-coaster ride from the first word, rather than slow-walking to the story. Novel #34 started with a literal bang, as someone trying to kick in the front door ran into a harder lock than he expected, and the good guy had just enough time to escape, before being pursued through the streets all morning.
That novel is Hunting Handsome Rob and is the third story and second novel in the set. (Can’t Shoot Straight Gang. Can’t Shoot Straight Gang Returns). The entire novel takes place in less than one day. Not quite real time, but you never stop to have a break and think. Just keep running.
Sure, I could have made it 90k. Added in lots of other details. A few more triple-crosses. More gunfights. Some gratuitous nudity and extraneous sex scenes. But why bother? Snark, speed, and action.
Because I’m a publishing machine.
Amazon rewards you if you publish something on the same day every month. For me, that’s the 10th. And it doesn’t have to be a novel. Any story works for the pulse. Shorts in series will trigger the machine. And you can bundle them all up as a novel later and sell it two different ways.
I just love to write, and I get paid to make shit up for a living. I’ll die of old age before I get ALL the stories told. And that’s on pace to write 20 novels in 2019. (Fewer in 2020, only because I plan to write a couple of longer ones. Maybe. Dunno.)
One of these days soon, I’ll drop a second novel in a month. At 45k average, and 120k writing, I’m frequently turning out two novels per month, plus my short fiction for my patreon and Boundary Shock Quarterly.
Over on the Storybundle for Space Travelers, you can read WinterStar, which is a new book one, with book two (SeekerStar) in the can. Longshot Hypothesis wasn’t supposed to come out early, but did. The other five in the series are winter drops. Lazarus is coming. First book in The Hunter Bureau just came back from Fabulous Publisher Babe(tm) with comments, including the fact that it didn’t suck and was publishable. (I took a long chance on that one, and both readers have told me it is a hard story to get through, because of the subject matter, not the quality of the writing, so I’ll add more to that series and maybe drop them as seconds. Or drop four of them the same day. Stay tuned.)
Everyone has a different path to the top of the mountain. Mine won’t work for most people. But it works for me, and worked to set me apart from the other people at the table, when Steve asked about our careers. He’s always learning. Always. and teaching, which is even better.
And it works for other people who are doing much the same that I am, so I am not a unicorn. (I am, but for entirely other reasons and you’ll have to ask nicely to hear.)
In the modern age, the system rewards the writer who can put out quality product on a consistent basis. Simple as that.
Learn to cycle your work. Learn to write clean first drafts, rather than spending months revising and rewriting your novel until it is “perfect.” Learn what “good enough” means. Write, a lot.
I generate 4,000 words, 28-31 days per month. Net sellable words, including this blog. If I chop a whole chapter out of a book, my work count goes down that much. But I couldn’t tell you the last time I removed that much, because I trust my storyteller brain to work it out as I go, so I frequently write into darkness and add more in the editing process.
Lester Dent: A character, in a setting, with a problem. Go.
I’m not aiming to win awards. They’d be nice, but the friends I have who win awards for their gloriously pretty words (Amen!) still have day jobs. Spend months or even years on a novel draft, revising it and rewriting it. I’ll write 20 novels this year. 16-20 short stories. 1.3 million words. Sell them all. Make money.
Because that is the world we live in.
Tomorrow, the world will change again, and I will continue surfing the chaos. (With an “F” mind you, not a “V.”)
What worked yesterday won’t even work today, so you should figure out how to get to tomorrow, and use all the tools the world has put at your fingertips to be successful.
But first, define your success with your happiness.
I get to get up in the morning and write. GET TO. Not being forced, even on the bad, slow morning where the words aren’t there.
I have the greatest job in the world.
What do you need to do to be able to say the same?