The literary world was abuzz this weekend over a New York Times article by Julie Bosman entitled, “Writer’s Cramp: In the E-Reader Era, a Book a Year is Slacking.” (I’ve included a link, but I’m not sure if this article is part of the NYT’s rare free content.) The gist: Publishing a print book takes time, but publishing something for an e-reader doesn’t. Traditional publishers watch how well their writers’ e-book sales go, then demand more output. If a writer doesn’t have a novel ready, a story between novels will do to keep the name out there and “meet demand.”
The premise, I suppose, is that e-book readers are more fickle than print book readers. E-books do fulfill our need for instant gratification. No more waiting lists at libraries for the next installment for an author you like, just “Buy with 1-click” and off you go.
I know when I find an author I like, I want to read more of his or her work, but I, perhaps, have a better understanding of the publishing process than the average reader. For me, waiting a year or two or five heightens the interest in the next book. Yes, I may go read other authors, but I’ll always go back to a favorite one. Publishers, it seems, are afraid that we’ll abandon an author if we don’t have a constant stream of new work.
I ask you, even though she has said “no more Harry Potter books,” will fans of J. K. Rowling drop her? No, they’ll pre-order her new non-Potter book by the millions, even at an e-book price just two dollars less than the print book price.
And up comes the quality versus quantity debate.
As someone who has worked on a trilogy for fifteen years (yes, you read correctly–fifteen), I’ve resisted “instant publishing gratification” because I’ve agonized over making them good books, as in a good plot, good characters, and good writing, something I’ve seen lacking in rushed Indie publications. I can’t imagine getting pressure from a publisher to publish more than one book a year. I know the quality would suffer because I’m meticulous about research. If I had to throw together a quick book to satisfy my publisher, I wouldn’t be happy with the product.
As a reader, I can usually tell when a favorite writer has “phoned it in,” especially those who write series. The last few Sookie Stackhouse novels, for example, have had little plot, even less characterization, and end abruptly. I understand Charlaine Harris is wrapping the series up, much as Rowling did, but Rowling’s final two or three novels were more well-formed than Harris’ last three offerings.
I understand there are readers who don’t care about the overall quality–they want more Edward and Bella and don’t much care that the writing and plotting are substandard. That’s obvious from the prodigious amount of fan fiction written about popular characters from books, movies, and television (some very good, most really bad). That’s also obvious when I go look at reviews on Amazon and see four and five stars on a book I’ve just reviewed and found wanting.
For one, I prefer to read a good book, good in all aspects, and I don’t mind waiting for quality.
What about you? Agree? Disagree? Why?