Are Super Prolific Authors Damaging Their Careers?

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

Does over production ultimately put the writer at risk for damaging their long-term career?

By Edward Nawotka, Editor-in-Chief

You have Jonathan Franzen then you have Joyce Carol Oates, you have George R.R. Martin and then you have James Patterson…some writers produce works slowly, painstakingly over years, while others produce two or three titles per year. And with digital publishing and self-publishing the pace has become even more frenetic as DIY authors look to feed their growing audiences with new books while they have readers’ attention.

But is the rush to supply a demanding market of readers ultimately damaging to writers careers? Oates and Patterson are outliers who have been able to sustain magnificent careers often in spite of their over production. While few would argue that a new JCO novel is hailed as an event, she still manages every other year or so to win critical acclaim, even if a large number of her books go all but unnoticed by a broader audience; Patterson, helped by co-authors, produces a stream of “branded” James Patterson books and is as much an asset for his publisher Little, Brown as are, say, their offices, staff, and backlist (you can thank him for funding so many of Little, Brown’s smaller passion projects).

But what of authors doing it on their own? The super-prolific self-published who have managed to sell hundreds of thousands of books? Digital publishing has given them the opportunity to reach an audience, to make a living from their writing, and develop a career. The question is, ultimately, how will these writers sustain their careers? Will the pace of writing burn them out? Will readers grow bored? And, with a lack of time to hone one’s production, will the quality of the work diminish rather than improve?

One might argue that the quality of the work was never the point to begin with — prolific production was always intended as a commercial exercise. You often see in traditional publishing how authors who have had successful debut novels, forced under a generous contract to quickly produce a follow up, fail to deliver a book worthy of the first (which they may have invested years or decades in writing). The result can range from significantly reduced advances to a derailed career altogether. (Then, hopefully, in America — a second shot at redemption further along the line with a different publisher.)

So, tell us what you think, does over production ultimately put the writer at risk for developing a long-term career? Or is the need to capitalize on immediate success so urgent that one keep their head down, produce as much as possible as quickly as possible, and hope for the best?

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.