Competing by volume: the cancer of indie publishing

Kristine Kathryn Rusch almost never fails to hit the mark when she analyzes the publishing industry. (Her political pronouncements on Twitter are a different matter; but that’s another topic for another day.) In a recent blog post about a scandal involving ghostwriters in the romance genre, Rusch wrote:

This is a function of the write-faster-and-get-more-sales school of indie. And it’s going to bite the writers who are doing it, particularly if they are doing so with ghostwriters…..

The smartest thing… is to write your books at your pace, and stop flooding the market with mediocre books

Rusch is absolutely right. Kindle Unlimited, and the herd mentality of the indie writing sphere, have given birth to the mantra, “write a book a month”. I recently heard a podcast interview of an indie (romance) author who was publishing a book every other week.

Well, if you’re publishing a book per fortnight, then you’re either publishing very short books, or you’re publishing crap, or….you’re using ghostwriters in Brazil.

I’m a member of the 20Books to 50k Facebook group, and I’m generally a fan of Craig Martelle and Michael Anderle. (They seem like nice guys, anyway.)  But I have some quibbles about the premise, that new writers should rush to crank out 20 (mediocre) books with the aim of gaming the Amazon algorithm.

It took Stephen King thirteen years–from 1974 to 1987–to publish twenty books. And King, lest we forget, is generally regarded as the gold standard for prolific in the traditional publishing sphere.

I’m not saying that the other extreme is a desirable alternative. Jonathan Franzen publishes novels at five to ten-year intervals. (What does the guy do with his time, one wonders?)

But a book every two weeks is unsustainable. For 95% of writers, a book a month is unsustainable.

Which is why authors are now employing ghostwriters.

When you’re employing ghostwriters, one could argue, you’re not a writer anymore. You’re the ringleader of a content mill.

And just as the online content mills proved in the heyday of Adsense, that strategy is a race to the bottom.

If you’re a writer and you’re doing that, please listen to Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and stop.