Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Double Indemnity

Sharon Wildwind

No, this blog isn’t about the 1944 noir movie, which starred Fred McMurray, Barbara Stanwick, and Edward G. Robinson, but rather about a discussion that surfaced this week on one of the mystery lists.

The rumor is out there that to survive in the mystery genre, publishers will expect the average writer to finish at least two books a year. As I said, it’s a rumor, but what I found most interesting—and a little scary—is that when the rumor came up, the first responders didn’t laugh themselves silly.

In fact, they agreed. Said they had friends who were already laboring under this requirement or had heard other mystery writers say that their publisher was leaning in this direction.

It is possible to do two books a year.

Word goal: 90,000 (the average mystery these days)

Page goal: 360 (assuming the usual 250 words per page)

Scene goal: 30 (assuming 12 pages/scene. Your mileage may differ.)

By writing only 6 pages (1/2 scene) every day, an author can turn out the first draft in about 9 weeks.

Since each subsequent draft should take about half the time of the previous draft:
Second draft: finished 4 1/2 weeks later
Third draft: finished 2+ weeks after that
Fourth and final draft: finished 1 week later, and ready to go to the publisher

So for four drafts, let’s say 16 to 17 weeks of working 6-8 hours per day, every day will produced a finished book. That gives the author a generous margin of about 9 to 10 weeks for real life to happen. Real life being, of course, the need to research the book; allowing for computer failures; finding an agent and publisher; publicizing the books already in print; probably having a day job; and taking care of self, family, friends, and pets. Then we’re at week 26, and it’s time to start the process over again for the second book.

By now you’re either laughing yourself silly or are in danger of throwing a blunt instrument through your computer screen. Let me tell you that I first learned that formula several years ago from a romance writer who said that she knew of a publisher where this was the expectation.

I tried to follow the formula, and I couldn’t do it. The best I’ve ever done on a book is 11 months, start to finish, and that was cheating a little because (1) I’d already done most of the research and (2) the book never sold. On average, it takes me 12 to 13 months to finish a book, and I think I’m doing darn good by doing it in that length of time.

So, if you had to write two books in a year, how would you do it?

This week I’m using one of my own favorite quotes:

You can’t knead bread dough or writing into submission. ~Sharon Wildwind, mystery writer


Joyce Tremel said...

Chiming in late here. I'd have to quit my job, hire a cook, housecleaner, etc. and even then I'm not sure I could do it. What about the days when the ideas or dialogue just don't come to you?

A book a year? Sure. More than that? I don't think so!

Anonymous said...

I'm on your side, Joyce.