How Do Prolific Authors Do It?

This post – taken from my earlier blog One Writer’s Voice – seems just as relevant to me now as it did two years ago. PS: the cover is for his latest book released this month.

two-by-two-nicholas-sparksDuring a writing course I took in 2012, four authors discussed their writing process. Not all four were prolific, but two were; one writing three books every year (adult, YA and young readers) and another writing one book every year. These two authors had different processes, but both involved ‘bum in seat’ discipline.

Last Sunday’s New York Times included a list of Nicholas Sparks’ sixteen novels [now twenty] and the number of weeks each novel remained on their hardcover fiction list. Regardless what you think of his stories, the results are interesting and, some might say, impressive. Sparks has not repeated the success he had with The Notebook (56 weeks), but each subsequent novel has earned between 12 and 29 weeks.

In an interview with Writers Digest, Sparks advises writers to ‘write what readers want to read, which isn’t necessarily what you want to write’. He goes on to say:

I think it’s important to understand that it [the publishing industry] is an industry in which the publisher has to sell your book, and if they don’t think there’s an audience for your book, you’re probably not going to get it published. I also think it’s important to realize that to get published, you’re not competing against me, or Stephen King, or John Grisham—we have spent years developing audiences that we bring to the table. So, you have to write better than we do, or more originally, or have more original stories, or work in a genre that has a need. I think it’s important to realize that readers are forgiving to a point, in that if you don’t put out your best possible work every time, your audience will begin to fall.

In an interview on ThinkTalk.com, Sparks discloses that he writes one book at a time, a minimum of 2000 words a day, 5 or 6 days a week with the first draft typically ready in four months. Apparently, he spends another two months on edits to get it to final completion.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Wish it were so. Comments on Sparks’s approach or anything else related to the topic are welcome.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union on August 16, 2016. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

10 thoughts on “How Do Prolific Authors Do It?”

  1. As I missed your original blog Mary, how glad I am that you have given me a second chance to read this interesting article. I have three of Nicholas Spark’s books on my shelf waiting to be read. This has spurred me on to do just that. Thank you.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Korculablue (I’m sure there’s a story behind that name!). I’ve enjoyed a couple of his novels, however, these days I’m obsessed with historical fiction!

  2. Thanks for the post, Mary! I wasn’t following you when you originally wrote it and it was great to be able to read it now. Two things that I think need to be noted about Sparks’ comments: 1) He doesn’t write historical fiction, so he doesn’t have the depth of research to do that we do (though he probably has some), which adds to the length of the process, and 2) he’s fortunate enough to be writing full-time, which most authors aren’t.

    That being said, I think there’s something to be said for “butt in chair time” and making yourself write. It certainly increases your likelihood of being prolific! I find I can write books faster if I devote my personal life time to them (I’m lucky enough to be single with no children to demand my non-day job time), but not everyone is in the same situation I am. Devote whatever time you can to the writing and it will get done. There’s no one right or wrong way to do it.

    However, I don’t agree with Sparks’ idea that you write what your readers want to read – at least not solely. As a writer, you end up reading your own book 50 million times throughout the process, so if you are writing for trends rather than what you’re passionate about, you’ll end up disliking what you’ve written by the end of that process. I think there’s a fine balance (one I’m still working to find) between what you want to write and what people want to read – ideally you’ll find readers and build an audience of people who want to read what you want to write. And another factor is what the industry thinks is hot. You may have a book you’re passionate about, that you know people want to read, but if you’re going the traditional publishing route, it may not sell if the publishers don’t think it’s what’s in at the moment. I guess the key is finding something you want to write about in whatever period is selling that will appeal to a variety of people. That seems to me a logical way of working with the industry without compromising your artistic integrity.

    1. Excellent points, Nicole and thanks for stopping by. I like your thought about finding balance between what readers want and what you’re passionate about. A delicate balance, I’m sure. Some of the survey data I’ve accumulated gives an idea of what readers of historical fiction enjoy – so I look at that from time to time!

  3. I think writers of historical fiction contend with different issues beside how many words a day you can crank out.First is time period or era. A basic level of research is necessary and it is well known that many HF writers tend to over research – we don’t want to stop. The benefit is a richly nuanced novel that conveys an authenticy that is not present in a slap- dash novel content to use a date and location at the head of each chapter. Striving for a 2,000 word count makes some novelists shreek – me included – but if the story is all and you don’t have to think about language, ancient customs, or did they have a law for that?, and the all-important political landscape, quite possible. We ;may find we write as fast or faster than Mr. Sparks, but research is a critical character and may slow you down.

    1. Well said, Judith Schara. When writing historical fiction, the author can research for months, usually enjoying every minute of it. I know I do. Then, thinking they have most ideas covered, when actually writing a new thought. phrase or event will fit nicely into their plot, and the author is off on another round of research to determine the authenticity of that time, place, phrase, event, etc. Kuddos to historical fiction writers who give the time and effort to all the needed research. I’ve researched two books, and learned so much more than I included in the manuscripts.

      I mention formula writing in my recent review of Grisham’s Gray Mountain. If interested take a look at http://www.fayeswordbasket@blogspot.com

      Keep up the great work all you historical fiction writers. Thanks M.K.

      1. Many thanks for contributing to the discussion, Julia Faye. Interesting to read your thoughts on Gray Mountain. My husband and I have just downloaded an audio version for our upcoming road trip! I’ll let you know what I think.

    2. Thanks for adding your perspective, Judith. You and Nicole have both commented on the research quotient involved in HF. I’m one of those who can get lost in the research for hours and hours – only to write one or two sentences. Definitely not productive! Do you think historical fiction inherently takes longer? Or does familiarity with an era gradually allow us to write more productively?

      1. I think the writer’s familiarity with the period will enable her/him to write more easily with authority. And eventually faster. I belong to the total immersion school which works for me but might seem tedious to another. I read a quote once that stated the author might end up using one tenth of what they had researched, but only then as they write the story. I used to think that % was exagerated but now I think it’s about right. You just don’t know at the beginning. And yes I think Historical fiction inherently takes longer. After all, you are imagining your self in a totally different time/world and need to have it down pat so it flows.

      2. I agree with Judith. I think HF does take longer, for all the reasons we’ve talked about – research, having to stop and think about language, etc. Obviously, if you’re well versed in the period (i.e. Deborah Harkness has her Phd in Renaissance science/medicine) things are so second nature to you that you don’t have to think as hard or look as much up. So familiarity certainly helps!

        I’m an immersion writer as well. I have to feel like I know the world just about as closely as my characters would have in order to write it well. That’s why I only focus on one period at time.

        Just a side note, I’ve found that blogging is a great way to use that 90% of research that doesn’t end up in the book. It’s a way to make use of it, build an audience and establish your expertise all at the same time.

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