Monday, October 08, 2007

The Downside of Being a Pubbed Author

I just read a book set on the American homefront during World War 2 by a New York Times bestselling author. I'd read the reviews and while they were mixed, I figured I'd go ahead and give the book a shot.

I devoured the book in 24 hours - something I rarely do (of course, I was also sick and didn't feel like doing much else!). But when I got to the last two chapters, the author had her character make a decision that I neither agreed with nor thought plausible. I felt cheated. Because I cared about the author's characters, I decided to come up with my own ending, one which satisfied me much more.

When I went to look at the reviews, I found that I was not the only person who disagreed with the ending.

Now I know that book reviews are subjective - some people will hate a book that others love. But when the same thing is cited in the majority of reviews as being the kicker as to why the book didn't receive the best rating, you've got to take a look at it. For me, the author's decision to end the book this way effectively "broke" the promise that she'd made with me when I started the book.

Some reviewers stated that they'd loved this author's books - all of them - but this one. And that got me to thinking about several things not only about writing, but about the publishing industry in general.

Here are a few of my thoughts:

1) The pressure.
I can't imagine the pressure that NY Times bestselling novelists have to produce great books one right after the other. Does there come a point where they just type the ending, throw up their hands, and say, "Good enough!" ?

2) Deadlines.
I'm talking about the push for authors to produce a book a year or sometimes even more. I remember reading an author's first book - it was extremely well-written, emotionally-intense, and remains one of my favorite books. But her second and third books, well, fell flat. I wonder if it's because she spent all that time on her first book, honing and polishing it until it gleamed, because she had time to do all those things. In the rush-rush world of publishing, I'm thinking authors don't have nearly the luxury of all that time. Pubbed authors, if I'm wrong, let me know!

3) Burn-out.
We all get it. But when you have a deadline and a contract to fulfill, it doesn't much matter, does it? You've got to get the book written and submitted. Does this lead to a less-than-enthusiastic effort on the author's part? And is there a way to avoid burnout as a successful, published author?

Lots and lots of stuff to think about. It only reinforces the notion in my mind that becoming a published novelist will be wonderful, BUT it will have its own stresses to deal with.

In the end, it's the writing that matters. Here's the thing, though. Does the writing get pushed to the side because of one of the three reasons above, or a combination?

Curious to hear what you all think...


  1. You also have to factor in that the publishers dump the bulk of publicizing the book now on the author. The author's supposed to do book tours and readings and signings and contests and conferences and all those things -- usually without reimbursement from the publisher. And yet, still churn out a couple of books a year.

    I don't think any author gives up -- but, under deadline pressure, there's just the time when you have to send it out. Your back is against the wall. That's when you hope you have a great editor, who can catch the problems and you can fix them in revisions.

  2. The business side of...this business...saps my creativity if I let it. I think it's easy to get distracted by promotion, the pressure, deadlines even if you don't think you're affected. I think you can add 'wanting to write what YOU want to write, not what everyone else wants to read'--kind of an author's rebellion. Success can be great, but it can also pigeon-hole.

  3. I imagine there is a ton of pressure once you get to that stage. With publication as a goal, I'm really trying to just enjoy myself now...when there are no deadlines but the ones I impose on myself. Great post!

  4. Good post!

    I know what you mean about reading an author's first book, and loving it, then not enjoying his/her next books. Maybe the first one was polished more. Maybe it was their great idea book. Maybe they just had more time to write it.

    But I do hate reading a book where I feel the author has copped out on the ending. Just finished one like that. Blah.

  5. Oh I want to know!!! Can you email me the name?

    ANd this is another really good post! Lots of great posts in the blogosphere these days! I have to agree that pressure, deadlines and burnout do affect alot of these bestselling authors. Soooo, they should all take a sabbatical and let us newbies in!

  6. Oh I want to know!!! Can you email me the name?

    ANd this is another really good post! Lots of great posts in the blogosphere these days! I have to agree that pressure, deadlines and burnout do affect alot of these bestselling authors. Soooo, they should all take a sabbatical and let us newbies in!

  7. I think it's a combination of many things, but the three you listed would be major ones.

    Another might be being "branded" and then stuck in that mold? I've heard of many authors wanting to branch out, but feel they are held back by their publisher/agent. I guess a pseudonym would then be suitable?

    Great post, Melissa. Very thought provoking. :)

  8. Great post! I think you bring up a lot of great issues. I don't think it gets any easier once you're published. You just have a new set of hurdles to jump over with more at stake.

  9. John Gardner said that as writers we must make our works a "vivid and continous dream"--when we step out of that dream we break our promise to the reader.

    As far as the downsides, well, everything has its downsides. The upside is your dream has come true. Once that happens I think I could swallow most downsides, including snakes, sharks, the imminent threat of being on Oprah, constant criticism and bats. I hate bats.

  10. I think I know which book you're talking about, and I agree with the ending. Would you e-mail me your ending too?

  11. Sandra - I would be happy to email it to you if you would like to send me your email addy. :-)


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