Publish or perish, the literary edition

Or, if you’re Dennis Lehane, you might call it “the hamster wheel.”

In an age when reading for pleasure is declining, book publishers increasingly are counting on their biggest moneymaking writers to crank out books at a rate of at least one a year, right on schedule, and sometimes faster than that.

Many top-selling writers, such as John Grisham and Mary Higgins Clark, have turned out at least one book annually for years. Now some writers are beginning to grumble about the pressure, and some are refusing to comply.

Me, I’ve given up on several authors because their work felt, well, forced. Patricia Cornwell’s Scarpetta series, mentioned in the article, started out with several tight and highly enjoyable forensic thrillers, but then evolved into a combination of soap opera and introspection. Introspection, in this context, means using about 100 pages to say the equivalent of “it’s scary when a serial killer is after you.” But in the end it was the soap opera part – a familiar character confesses that she’s actually a millionaire, another character gets resurrected all of a sudden – that turned me off. Now, Cornwell is certainly not the worst of the gang. I’ve singled her out because she used to be one of my favourite writers, and perhaps she would still be if she had taken the time to get off the hamster wheel and think about what she really wanted to write.

A writer can “keep her face out there” by writing a book every year, or she can do it by writing books that the readers won’t forget. If she can do both, that’s great, but if not, I’m more likely to buy her books if she does the latter.

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Publish or perish, the literary edition

  1. Hi!

    I consider this an important post. We have lowered the bar on excellence…and need again to raise it.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  2. Alice

    Interesting, I didn’t know that popular authors faced the same pressures research academics felt.