Writing Nowadays–Electronic Publishing and the Shortening Deadline of Doom

Back in 1994, I got my very first novel deadline: I had to write an entire book in a year.  Scared the hell out of me.  I did it, of course, and got it to my editor about two weeks early.

A couple years later, I got a set of book contracts with Roc, and for each one, I had a full twelve months to write each book.  This was good because I was still writing lots of short stories in those days.  When a book got stuck, I’d do something else for a while, which always shook the book loose.

Then my son was diagnosed with autism and we got a lot of new medical bills.  To pay them, I accepted a contract for a Star Trek novel, so for a while I was working on two books at once, and they were due a month apart.  I had to learn to write fast.

This turned out to be good practice.  For a while, my original fiction went through a dry spell, and I couldn’t sell novels to save my life.  Instead, I wrote TV and movie books.  Very often, these were done on a tighter deadline–eight months or even six.  But that was okay.  I didn’t have to create the main characters or the setting or the backstory, which made the writing go faster.

And then my original fiction came back.  Roc wanted The Clockwork Empire series.  Hooray!

They wanted an original novel every six months.  Yeek!

It’s all because of electronic publishing, you know.

Readers are a voracious lot.  They snarf down books like caramel popcorn, sometimes two or more a day.  And those e-readers are portable bookstores.  Instead of going downtown or to the mall once a week or every month, readers now buy books whenever they like.  And they do it often.  When electronic customers finish reading Book I and like it, they are highly likely to zip straight back to the electronic storefront to download Books II and III.  That means those books had better be there.  Whips are cracking all over the industry.

This isn’t a complaint–we authors are thrilled at the chance to reach more readers.  It does, however, change the authorly landscape a smidge.

Deadlines used to be a leisurely year or even more, and tardiness was considered a minor sin.  Now deadlines are much shorter, and tardiness is not tolerated.  Customers are waiting for those books!  Get those fingers moving!

If you want to write a series today, you have to be prepared for fast deadlines.  Authors who can turn a book around in six months are well prepared for today’s market.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to Book IV.

–Steven Harper Piziks


The Doomsday Vault (a Clockwork Empire novel) available at bookstores everywhere.

The Silent Empire collection now available at Book View Cafe!

Full selection available at http://www.bookviewcafe.com/index.php/Browse-by-Author#StevenHarperPiziks



Writing Nowadays–Electronic Publishing and the Shortening Deadline of Doom — 5 Comments

  1. Authors who can turn a book around in six months, or three… that would be romance authors. We’ve had these demands on us for years. Apparently publishers fear readers have short term memories. But with e-books, we can pile up novels in our computers and release them one month at a time as we wish. Having a long backlist is easier!

  2. It’s funny how relative the scariness of deadlines is. The first time I had to deliver a novel in a year, I was shaking too. Then I had to do one in eight months. Then four then …

    What I discovered was that in some cases, the shortened timeline and intensity of trying to complete a novel in a shorter period of time actually improved the continuity. I was so focused, able to close everything else out but that storyline and those characters. Lucasbooks likes to contract about two years in advance of publication when they can. On our last Star Wars novel, I found myself procrastinating, doing research, playing with the synopsis, anything but writing until I felt the pressure of the deadline starting to ramp up. It gave the writing a certain intensity 🙂 which I hope I’ve channeled into the book!

    • I did NaNoWriMo twice. Once while full-time employed, once while unemployed.

      You know, the extra time was not a help.

  3. I’ve found that, too. As the deadlines shorten, I have less time to mess around and question myself. Barrel ahead! Trust the storytelling skills! There’s no time to second-guess yourself or monkey with the synopsis.

  4. One wonders what effect this trend will have on overall quality of work. And quality of life for authors who drive themselves to burnout.

    I used to be that author. Word counts ueber alles! Write write write! Books and books and books! I was the Rock of Ages. “A thousand pages in my sight/Are like an evening gone….”

    Then one day I went to the hopper in my brain and there was nothing there. Just a pattern of rust on the bottom of the barrel, and a dust bunny or two.

    Dust bunnies, for the record, do not morph into plot bunnies. Separate species. No hybridization.

    I had to go away and wait for the barrel to refill. It helped to change genres completely. And to slow down. I actually ended up writing more words in fewer books, and making more money.

    Till I burned out on that, too. Sensation of brain boiling out ears, that time. Fascinating, in a Marie Curie studying her own radiation burns sort of way.

    I believe it’s easier to keep grinding them out if you have rigid conventions to follow, or a predetermined set of plot points and characters. But if you’re the kind of writer who gets bored easily and starts shooting holes in templates (our patron saints are Loki and Indiana Jones), that stops working a lot sooner than you or your publishers, or god help you your readers, would like.

    One real advantage of the new publishing world is the opportunity to put up backlist (provided the publishers haven’t grabbed all the rights), and to self-pub the odd stuff that refreshes the synapses. That’s going to save quite a few of us, I think.