These days, every “how to succeed in as an author” blog you read advises you to release as many books as you can as quickly you can. All successful indie authors (that I know) have multiple books–or series–on the market, and several have parlayed their methodology into side businesses focused on telling other indie authors how to write, publish, and sell indie books–advice that boils down to, “write a lot of books and bring them to market fast.”
This strategy isn’t unique to indie authors. Many traditionally published authors, both famous and obscure, push work out quickly too, especially if they’re writing series. Being prolific works if you want to sell books, and if you can produce a page-turner in six months or less, you’re awesome.
An awful lot of authors can’t really produce a gripping story as a first draft, or a second. When they try, the work ends up being substandard, or not as good as it could have been if the author had taken the time to look critically at the work and address the narrative shortcomings. You especially see this a lot with series, where the first book might be mind-blowingly good, and then the quality drops off.
Exhibit A: the Hunger Games Series
So, Suzanne Collins wrote this dystopian page-turner called The Hunger Games. It was action-packed, suspenseful, heart-breaking, and thought-provoking–pretty close to a perfect book, in my view. Catching Fire, the sequel published by Scholastic a year later, suffered a bit as a segue story with a cliffhanger ending, but was nearly as suspenseful and action-packed as its predecessor. The following year, Scholastic released Mockingjay. Alas, Mockingjay was loaded with characters talking instead of doing. In the first two books, Katniss, the protagonist, lives at the center of the action, but in the third book, Katniss only hears about many important events during the planning or aftermath stages. Frankly, this read as lazy writing. Collins could have (and should have) rejiggered her plot to keep Katniss in the center of the action; instead Katniss spends many chapters sitting around waiting for news of other characters’ doings. As a result, the third Hunger Games book was the opposite of the first–instead of devouring page-turning suspense, I slogged through a bunch of dull conversations leading to a series of irritating anticlimaxes. Now, I don’t know whether the published Mockingjay text was the first draft or the twentieth (and it still sold a bajillion copies), but I suspect it was an early draft and that deadline pressure from Scholastic, or perhaps just Collins’s own desire to release the book quickly, led to a substandard novel.
Authors: Please Put Narrow Escapes and Important Discoveries in the Book
How many times have you read a story where the protagonist slips into a safe space, breathes a sigh of relief, then discusses that close call with a companion–and the close call itself isn’t in the book! I have seen this reliance on dialogue to convey action a lot, especially in books by fellow indie authors which I know to be produced quickly. All too often, the author releases what is essentially his or her first draft, with only minimal revisions. It pisses me off when I see good writers do this, because I know they can do better, if they’d only invest the time in revisions.
See, I often describe an event through dialogue in my first draft of a scene, and then I have to check myself: “God, that’s boring! Don’t have them talk about that fight–back up and write the fight!” Backstory action can be described through dialogue, but if the event is important and occurs within the timeframe of the story, the author should take the time to craft the scene and weave it into the book. Sometimes this means rewriting the lead-up scenes, so that the main characters remain in the center of the action. Sometimes it means simply taking the time to backfill an action sequence instead of just plowing forward with the plot and getting the book done. Sure, an indie author’s success depends on having multiple books on the market. But if your first book (or your third) is just a bunch of dull conversations leading to a series of irritating anticlimaxes, your readers won’t be likely to pick up your next book, and that defeats the purpose of having all those books out there.