Sunday, January 26, 2014

How Many Words Did You Write Today?

Many years ago TG was having a conversation with his pal writer Henry Allen. We were
discussing a mutual writer friend who was working on a novel and had been working on it for some time. TG asked Henry how far along he was on it, how many words he had written. Henry laughed. “He says he has no idea how many words he has written, that he doesn’t think that sort of thing is important. Bullshit. Every writer knows how many words he has done, down to the single digits.” TG agrees. Every professional writer TG knows keeps a careful word count. Words are more precious than gold and watching them mount up is little different than watching Scrooge McDuck bathe in his basement coin vault. (When TG was a lad he used to daydream about Scrooge rolling in these coins. Could it be true? A quick internet search reveals that to replicate the vault would take 32.6 billion dollars in coins.)

A novelist knows that a “regular” novel should be between 80,000 and 120,000 words, though agents and publishers these days discourage more than 100,000 words because of printing costs. That’s the number you aim for, and every day after work you tote up a tally so you can see how far you’ve come. You think “a third of the way, half the way, three-quarters there,” and are solaced by how far along you are, or upset at how far you have to go. It’s kind of like if you’re on a diet: every day you step on the scale and assess the results.

The other day TG was trolling the book blogs and came upon one of Keith Thompson’s entries on the subject. TG is going to lift a big chunk of the blog and add some stats he dug up on his own. Keith Thomson is a thriller writer (among other types of books). Thriller Guy reviewed two of his books, Once a Spy and Twice a Spy and thought they were terrific. Here’s Keith.

I’ve noticed a lot of writers posting their daily word output on social media. The single common denominator of these posts, unfortunately, has been word counts that exceed my own. In hope of feeling better, I compiled some data on the typical daily productivity of writers I admire. What follows is a selection that provides a representative sample. Bear in mind that no heed is given to the relative merits of such numbers, and, as Mark Twain said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”
Speaking of Twain, every morning he would get up and eat a hearty breakfast, then go to his study to write, staying there until about five, except in case of emergency—if anyone needed him, they had to sound a horn. The result was 1,000 words per day.
In his book On Writing, Stephen King says that he writes 2,000 words a day without fail, even on holidays. And that’s with no adverbs.
Lee Child uses word counts as mile markers. His record is 4000 words in a single day. His low is 600. His average: 1800. It takes him 80-85 working days to complete a book, but not 80-85 consecutive days, because he tends to (not?) write for more than four days in a row.
Trollope, too, wrote by volume. He put his pocket watch on his desk next and produced 500 words every thirty minutes for three hours—a daily total of 3,000 words.
In contrast, Hemingway clocked in at just 500.
Tolkein wrote The Lord of the Rings trilogy—670,000 words—in eleven years. That’s about 250 words per working day.
Tom Wolfe’s A Man in Full is 370,000 words long. Writing it took him eleven years, of which he says, “My children grew up thinking that was all I did: write, and never finish, a book called A Man in Full.”  The average: 135 words per day.
Jack London: 1500 words per day, every day. Before breakfast. Norman Mailer and Arthur Conan Doyle were both 3,000-words-per-day guys. Anne Rice hits 5,000. The Babe Ruth of this category is Michael Crichton, who routinely hit the daily ten grand mark.
Thankfully we also have Graham Greene, who counted each word, and would stop for the day at 500, even if he were in the middle of a sentence. Maya Angelou, who each day writes about nine pages, but saves just three. James Joyce, who proudly considered the completion of two perfect sentences a full day of work. And Dorothy Parker, who frequently wrote as few as five words—of which, she said, she changed seven.
TG here. TG would like to add that Twain, on arising in the morning, would have a shot of whiskey before brushing his teeth. His wife had strict instructions to have the shot in his bathroom when he climbed out of bed. (TG would like to remind readers that Twain is a major character in the Pastmaster series of novels by Allen Appel. Find him in Twice Upon a Time, now available as a Kindle, as are all five of the series.)
Erle Stanley Gardner, author of the Perry Mason novels, wrote a million words a year, which is about thirteen pages each working day. Victor Hugo wrote twenty pages each day.  John Grisham wrote The Pelican Brief in one hundred days, and The Client in six months.  Samuel Johnson often produced forty printed pages in a day.

And some writers are markedly slow.  More on Greene. According to the legendary Simon & Schuster editor Michael Korda, Graham Greene “without crossing out anything, and in neat, square handwriting, the letters so tiny and cramped that it looked like an attempt to write the Lord’s Prayer on the head of a pin, wrote over the next hour or so exactly five hundred words.”

Rudyard Kipling worked in the middle of the day, from ten until four.  John O’Hara would write all night, then would rise in the late afternoon.  Anne Perry says, “I work probably eight or nine hours a day, six days a week.”  After much procrastination, Harold Robbins would lock himself in a hotel room, hide the clocks, and work round-the-clock to exhaustion.

And King has now recanted this oft quoted fact, the 2,000 words a day, saying that 1,000 words is more like it and that he doesn’t really write every single day. But the guy has a roomful of excellent books to prove his massive output. See below for another King description of his output.

King works on his new novel in the mornings. “Afternoons are for naps and letters.  Evenings are for reading, family, Red Sox games on TV, and any revisions that just cannot wait.  Basically, mornings are my prime writing time.” 
From an interview with Neil Gamin, King writes every day. If he doesn't write he's not happy. If he writes, the world is a good place. So he writes. It's that simple. “I sit down maybe at quarter past eight in the morning and I work until quarter to twelve and for that period of time, everything is real. And then it just clicks off. I think I probably write about 1200 to 1500 words. It's six pages. I want to get six pages into hardcopy.”

So how many words do you write or try to write each day? And how do you feel if you make your goal, or don’t make your goal? TG would like to point out that this blog entry comes in at 1300 words. Just about exactly what Stephen King shoots for. Unfortunately, they’re not words that will be in the current novel that TG is working on. But that’s another blog entry.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


The Wall Street Journal has found another independent publishing phenom to trumpet: Russell Blake. The WSJ loves these guys and gals, writers who hit it big selling novels through Amazon's Kindle program. Thriller Guy loves these stories too. Why?


TG works with first-time writers who want to be published; who have the dream. And as much as TG tries to stifle these folks, tries to make them understand that writing is a lonely brutal business where every deck is stacked against them, they keep popping up with their manuscripts no matter how much the publishing business whacks them over the head. So when the WSJ or any other media finds another success story to emblazon, TG says yes, fine, even though it’s not going to happen to most of you, let’s see it and read it and…


TG recently read a short newspaper article that said that 40% of all authors who have put their books up as Kindles never have made even one dollar from their work. Other statistics followed, but TG, who was out of town, neglected to tear out the article. Suffice it to say, the results were not very promising.

It was always thus, and in many ways even worse in bygone days. We authors who are considered “successes” in that we’ve had a book or even many books published by legacy publishers have mostly found only limited financiall rewards. Very few live on what they make or have made from their books. And even though many writers lament the loss of the publishing of the past, TG thinks it was worse for most writers in the days before independent publishing. It was always tough to find an agent and tougher yet to find a publisher, and even after you sold a book or two if you hadn’t achieved fairly major success, measured by copies sold and money earned, you knew you would have a tough time selling your next book and an even tougher time for the one after that. And then the bottom fell out of the publishing business for everyone except the exalted few. But with this disaster, came a brand new business: self publishing. And with it,…


You wrote your book, you went to Amazon and got the tools and you put it up so people could find it and buy it. And 40% of you didn’t make a dime on it. But along came guys like Russell Blake, Amanda Hocking, and Fifty Shades of Grey author E. L. James. And scores more of science fiction, horror, dinosaur sex, vampire novelists who couldn’t get published by legacy publishers who put their books up and kept writing and putting them up until their list ignited like a nuclear pile reaching critical mass and they started making money, and in some cases lots of money.

Back to Russell Blake. From the Wall Street Journal article: “Some novelists are obsessed by plot pacing and character development, others by a literary turn of phrase. For Mr. Blake, it is about speed, and volume. Mr. Blake, who self-publishes his books, has released 25 books in the last 30 months.
“He wrote one of his best-selling books, the 229-page thriller ‘JET,’ in just 16 days. He churns out 7,000 to 10,000 words a day and often works from eight in the morning until midnight. He spends many of those hours on a treadmill desk, clocking eight to 10 miles. ‘Being an author is like being a shark, you have to keep swimming or you die,’ he says. ‘People don't want to wait a year and a half for the next book in the series, they want instant gratification.’ The hours and miles are paying off. Mr. Blake discovered that one way to sell a lot of books is to write a lot of books. He says he has sold more than 435,000 copies of his books, at around $5 to $6 each, and under Amazon's self-publishing program, he keeps 70%.” And besides this, he’s just been chosen for that ultimate snatch at the brass ring: he’s going to co-author a book with Clive Cussler.
Is he any good? Not that it matters much. Turns out he is; TG read the first chapter of his Jet series and found it fast and as well written as it needed to be. He has an excellent feel for the pulse of an action thriller. But what he has mostly is the drive and ability to work. Work. Work. Thirty months, 25 books. And that seems to be the key, or at least one of the keys, to success.
So take a lesson from all these folks and from TG: Shut up, sit down, and get to work.
And hope.
It is possible.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Konrath Predicts

For those of you who aren’t aware of him, Joe Konrath is an author who writes
mysteries and thrillers under his own name and the pseudonym Jack Kilborn. He sells lots of books. For quite a few years, he has rejected “legacy” publishing and put his own work up as eBooks on Amazon. Last year he made a million dollars. He is now widely known among writers and in publishing as a perpetual thorn in the side of and goad to legacy publishing. He has a website where he sells his books, and a great blog, A Newbies Guide to Publishing where he gives excellent advice to those who want to sell their own books instead of remaining under the thumb of paper publishers. Thriller Guy recommends the blog as a continuing source of good information. If you as a writer are thinking about getting into the business, you could do nothing better that to go to his blog and start at the beginning and read (hundreds of pages) the entire archive.
Thriller Guy has retained a foot in both camps – legacy and eBook Kindle publishing – and Konrath’s arguments have been enormously compelling. If he has a fault, it is that he makes it sound too easy. TG has found that it can work as he says, (though usually not with the great success he has had) only if a writer has a lot of books to put into the mix and a great deal of time to invest in running his eBook business. Anything less than a total commitment will result in little business or no business at all.
Every year he publishes his predictions for publishing for the upcoming years. In the past he has been extremely prescient. So here are this years predictions. There are hundreds of comments from writers on this blog over at his site. If you want to read what others think, head over there for more on the subject.
Does TG agree with Konrath’s assessment? Let’s just say that TG wouldn’t bet against him.
So way back in 2009 I made some predictions about the future of publishing. I was right about quite a bit. In fact, it's hard to believe those predictions were considered wild at the time, because many are now taken for granted.

I've been looking to the future, wondering what is going to happen next, and I've got a few equally wild ideas.

1. The end of Barnes & Noble as we know it. In 2014, paper book sales will no longer be significant enough to sustain the nation's largest bookstore chain. There may be bankruptcy and restructuring and the selling of assets (like the Nook), but ultimately it will result in many stores closing, and possibly the demise of the brand.

2. Libraries will have the opportunity to buy ebooks at a fair price, with fair usage, directly from authors. Namely me and those who join me via a new company I'm starting. I'll be making an announcement soon, but in short, I want to give libraries everything the Big 5 are denying them, and I want all authors who control their rights to enroll in a new, innovate, and extremely generous way for everyone--including libraries--to profit from ebooks.

3. Permafree will be monetized. The ebook library company I'm starting will help fund another ebook company I'm also starting, one where authors will earn money via free ebook downloads. More soon.

4. Indie bookstores will need to start selling self-pubbed books, or perish. Paper isn't going away anytime soon. But there won't be enough of a legacy supply that will keep the necessary number of diverse titles on shelves to make indie stores a worthwhile destination for shoppers. If indie bookstores deal directly with self-pubbed authors, and print their own copies to sell in their stores, they can build inventory and cut out the share normally taken by publishers. I outlined how to do this years ago.

5. Visibility will become harder. As more ebooks get published, and virtual shelf space expands, it is going to become harder to find eyeballs. Ebooks aren't a competition--readers buy what they want to, without limits, even if TBR piles become impossible to ever finish within a lifetime. So someone who buys my ebook will also buy yours; there is no either/or. But only if the reader is aware of both.

The future will be about actively cultivating a readership. So far we've been lucky. With KDP Select and BookBub, authors have been able to get visible without reconnecting with longtime readers. There have always been enough new readers to sustain sales. But I believe maintaining a fanbase is going to become increasingly more important.

That means having an up-to-date website, making it easy to sign up for your newsletter, staying active in social media, and regenerating your brand with new titles and continued promotions.

My prediction: self-pubbed authors who don't focus on their current, core readership will see sales diminish.

6. Self-publishing will witness a new support industry grow around it. According to Amazon, there were 150 KDP authors who sold more than 100,000 ebooks in 2013. That's 15,000,000 ebooks sold outside of legacy publishing, and those are just the top 150 sellers. It isn't a stretch to believe tens of millions of self-published ebooks are being sold annually.

So far, the only companies interested in working with self-pubbed authors are predators trying to take advantage of them.

We don't need self-publishing services. We don't need to pay Kirkus or PW for reviews. We don't need writing organizations (MWA, Authors Guild) who don't look out for our interests.

Here's what we need:

a) An independent journal that reviews and recommends self-pubbed titles to readers and libraries. One that doesn't charge authors anything.

b) A writing organization and annual conference where indie authors get together to share information and help one another. Something that gives us leveraging power in the industry. Something with imprimatur, that will let readers know they are guaranteed quality.

c) New third party ways to make self-pubbed titles visible. There are methods to find eyeballs that no one has thought of yet. Someone is going to figure out a new way of introducing ebooks to readers, and that person will make a fortune in the process.

d) Agents who specialize in estribution, foreign markets, and TV/movie deals for clients as paper deals occur less and less.

7. Big 5 mergers and layoffs and bankruptcies. As the publishing cartel loses its quasi-monopoly on paper distribution, there will be no way to support its infrastructure. Manhattan rent, in-house employees with benefits, length of time to publish, and the temptation for authors to avoid legacy and self-pub, will bring down the industry. There is too much waste, their share of the pie is getting smaller, and when B&N disappears there will be no way to recover.

8. Interactive multimedia. I've blogged about this before, and I'm still ahead of my time. Once I launch the library company and the free ebook company, this will be my next endeavor.

The publishing biz has become a tech biz. You don't win at tech by playing catch-up. You win by innovating.

9. Amazon will continue to blaze trails. They're smart, they're determined, and they're willing to take chances. In 2013 I watched Amazon expand into different countries and markets, and try different programs. As ebooks go global, Amazon will be the dominant global player.

If they continue to treat authors like they treat customers, this will be a good thing.

But if Amazon ever starts to treat authors like we're interchangeable suppliers who will take whatever we're offered, things could get dicey.

I'm looking forward to selling a lot of books with Amazon in 2014, and I hope Amazon continues to work with writers in a mutually beneficial way. There are billions of people on the planet, and only Amazon has the power to reach that many, which will be a boon for everyone involved.

10. Legacy will fight back. We've seen some push-back from those invested in the legacy industry. The collusion, the Authors Guild, the AAR, Patterson and King and Russo. But these were all just warning shots across the bow. They're afraid, and rightfully so, but not desperate yet.

Desperation will eventually settle in. And I don't expect it to be pretty.

We'll see more auctions of entire backlists, demands for government bailouts, and restructuring that will involve a whole bunch of lawyers. Everyone always assumes that after a revolution, things will improve. But I don't see that happening. I see chaos and confusion and no real way to rebuild things once the legacy industry implodes. Those being liberated will feel like they're being screwed. Those being screwed will wish for the old ways because at least they were familiar. Lots of people will point fingers and place blame, and lots of people will be worse off.

Change is hard. It's also inevitable. The best thing you can do right now, as a writer, is look to the future and try to find your place in that future. That might mean you'll need to forget the past. It also might mean you'll have to learn to accept, and forgive.

In my wildest dreams, I never thought ebooks would come so far, so fast. But in just five years, I believe we're on the verge of a true paradigm shift. Once the revolution hits a critical mass--which could happen in 2014--there is no going back.

The way to succeed in this future is to live and think in this future. That means continuing to innovate, experiment, and refuse to be satisfied.

Happy new year. Now get back to work.