Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Quality over quantity

I have been an avid reader ever since I was little, and there are authors who I enjoy and admire. When I was in elementary school, R.L. Stine was the most prolific author I was aware of, and I had read some of his books. It amazed me that he could spin out so many books. Same with Francine Pascal (I had never heard of ghostwriting back then except for that one PBS kids' show, but that was a totally different kind of ghostwriter...)
Later on, I would read books from other prolific authors. It certainly didn't mean that I read all of their books. I've read Nora Roberts, Danielle Steel, James Patterson, Stephen King, and other authors who have a long list of books under their belt. Since I read so much, I came to notice that there was a downside to being a prolific author, especially as I got older and read more novels geared towards adults.
After a while, the books tend to get repetitive. Point in being, I received about ten Cassie Edwards books from a co-worker who knew I was an avid reader. Not being one to turn away a free book, I kept these books at work to read during my break times. The first one was Savage Obsession, or something like that. It had a redhead as the heroine, I think her name was Brenda? I forget the name of the Indian chief who abducts her. It was typical bodice-ripping to me. After that I read a few more and noticed a definite pattern. The beautiful, young white woman is kidnapped/coerced by the handsome, tall Indian, who is invariably the chief of his tribe, or next in line to be leader of the tribe. She may hate him at first and struggle with him, but in the end she always gave in. Sometimes they even had sex within a few days or even that very night of meeting one another. After ten books, there was no mistake in finding the pattern. She just repeated the same plot with just a change in names, and the color of the woman's hair and eyes. I Googled her and found out that she's written over a hundred books. Damn, that's a lot. That's over 3 books a year. That averages to less than 4 months spent per book. No wonder they're so repetitive, she doesn't spend enough time on them. That's not to mention the whole plagiarism thing... but that's a whole different matter, so you can read about that in this link (opens in a new window) or we can move on...
Another author who made it to 100 novels is Andrew Neiderman. He is the who wrote the book that the movie 'Devil's Advocate' is based off. (The movie is way better than the book, though) and he is also the ghostwriter of V.C. Andrews (d.1986) he has actually written more books under VCA's name than his own. I love V.C. Andrews (the real one) and her books were brilliant. However, Neiderman recycles plots, names, and phrases, and you can see that the quality of writing has dropped since she died. He's written about 40 books under his name and almost twice that many ghostwriting, and his writing is the same across the board, the same complaints that can be found for his ghostwritten books also plague the ones under his name, his plots recycled, endings predictable and/or cliché, poor characterization, etc. Despite these complaints he ignores his fans and continues to churn out the same old shit over and over. He's actually been reduced to writing reviews for himself (opens in a new window) but stopped once he was called out and one of his reviews deleted (but it can be seen when you look up 'most recent comments' in his profile.
I've read several books by James Patterson and Fern Michaels. Patterson's writing style really bothers me. I read 'Maximum Ride' and was left with a sour taste in my mouth. It was just so bad and I felt especially ripped off because I bought it for new and paid full price. Later on, I got a hand me down of 'Where the Wind Blows', the book that Maximum Ride was supposed to be a rewrite of. 'Where the Wind Blows', while not the best book in itself, was far better than Maximum Ride. The other three books I read by Patterson were all more recent, and they were so lackluster that I don't even remember them that well. There was one with a woman who kept killing her fiances, one with a woman who had jury duty and lost her son in an explosion, and the other one I think was about some sort of drug. Fern Michaels had the same impression on me. Again, all her books were hand-me-downs. It is the only reason I read more than one book from her. I read one of the Sisterhood books, as well as 'Hey Good-Looking' (the worst of the lot), the Marriage Game (a close rival to the preceding book for the worst of the lot) and then one more Sisterhood book (the one about Yoko) It was obvious she didn't research, and she just keeps churning them out despite getting bad reviews for doing so.
Danielle Steel and Nora Roberts are two more authors I had problems with. I read two DS books and hated both of them. One was 'Miracle' and the other one was 'the House'. She repeats herself. A lot. I mean, seriously, a LOT. And the plotlines and dialogue are just so badly written. I never read one of her earlier books so maybe she was good once, but these two books were more recent and just terrible.
Nora Roberts is someone I do like. I've read about ten books of hers, including the trilogy that started with 'Jewels of the Sun'. She has some great writing here and there and some brilliant scenes, but I found many parts repetitive, especially after getting through about five books of hers. The female characters are almost always the same personality, and I see the same fight between her and the male lead in various forms through the books. I especially disliked 'McGregor Brides' because I found the three stories within it and their respective lead characters basically copies of one another. The last book I read was 'The Villa'. I loved the backdrop and the mystery. However, as soon as I heard of the deals that the family was being forced to go through because of Tereza's will, I immediately saw what was going to happen with Sophie and her contentious relationship with the man she is supposed to share her duties with. Some of the scenes were really well-written, but the book ended up wrapping too quickly and was somewhat cliched. And guess what? Nora Roberts has written over 200 novels. Holy shit. Well, with that many romance novels, things are bound to repeat themselves...
That is why I will consider myself successful if I give my fans and the world just ten astounding stories. At this point, I have already accomplished one story – 'Seeds', and if I can put out just nine more awesome stories in my lifetime, I will have considered myself successful. I care more about the quality of my works than how many books I can churn out. For some people, it might be easy to spin out a hundred novels, but I just couldn't live with myself if I was writing the same thing over and over. I'm serious. The thought of basically using the same schtick over and over and changing just a bit here and there is just mind-numbing.
There is so much I want to write and say, yes. That's why 'Seeds' is three books rather than one, but I want what I am saying to be worthwhile. I don't want people thinking, 'didn't I read this story before...?' I notice that those hailed in history as great writers had considerably fewer novels under their name (not including short stories) While the authors I mentioned above publish more than one book on average per year, even sometimes as many as 4 or 5, authors like Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, and Jane Austen published less than one per year. I do not attribute this to just the fact that they didn't have computers, but the fact that they had to think more about what they wrote, that the publishing world was not back then what it is today. Many authors back then didn't get truly appreciated until after their deaths, so these people were not getting instant fame. They knew that they had to stand out and hone their abilities and that is what they did. I don't see much of that from many people today, including some authors.
I am not casting all prolific authors in a bad light. Some just pull it off better than others. Even with her flaws, I find Nora Roberts a decent author and did enjoy some of her books, such as 'Blue Smoke', but like with other things, not taking enough time on something is going to make the quality suffer. You can't change that.
'Seeds' took me two years to write, and another half a year to edit, which I did four times, going through each time and finding little things to tweak, even in my very final edit I did find a few itty bitty things to fix. I believe in taking the time to hone and refine a work to make a truly memorable story rather than just churn out a handful of books per year. Maybe this won't mean as many books for my readers, but at least these books will be damn good.