Tammy Marshall, "Novel Thoughts"

I recently took part in a writing conference. The keynote speaker was a best-selling novelist who shall remain anonymous for this column. She was incredibly motivational, and I enjoyed listening to her.

However, there was one thing she mentioned that really gave me pause.

She is a genre writer who writes under a variety of pen names. At one point, she told us that she has a few new books coming out in June, two of which aren’t even written yet.

Her plan is to crank out 100,000 words in a matter of about six days to complete those two books. My jaw pretty much hit the floor when she said that.

Now, it’s not impossible to write that many words in six days, but I sincerely question the quality of those words. In fact, I questioned them so much that I looked the author up under one of her pen names, and I found over a thousand reviews about her most recent book. The very first one I encountered was a one-star review in which the reviewer complained that the book read like a first draft. I found myself thinking \h— that’s probably because it was a first draft. Cranking out books at the rate that she does doesn’t leave any time for rewrites, strong editing, etc.

Clearly, as a best-selling author of almost 200 books, she knows what she’s doing, and she’s worked out a system that works for her, but I’m left wondering just how well her system works for her readers. Don’t they deserve the very best books she can give them?

I know it takes me much longer than six days to write 100,000 words. Way longer than six days, in fact. Let’s say months. Then, I let those words sit a while before I come back to them to read them and see if I like what I’ve written. If I do, the long process of rewriting and editing begins.

The more I thought about her process, the more I wanted to know how long it took authors to write some of the books I love. According to some quick online searches, I learned the following:

It took Harper Lee about two years to write “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Kristin Hannah on her webpage says it took her about two years to write “The Nightingale.”

Amor Towles took a year and a half just to write the first draft of “A Gentleman in Moscow.”

Markus Zusak took three years to write “The Book Thief.”

S.E. Hinton needed roughly a year and a half to write and polish “The Outsiders.”

Anyone who has read these five books would probably agree with me that they are stellar novels. Two of them have continued to perform well years after they were written. I think these five books represent quality literature, and that’s what interests me as a discerning reader. I’m very much into the quality that an author has to give over the quantity that they can produce.

I don’t think I’m alone in that. Harper Lee is a world-renowned author; yet, for the majority of her lifetime, she only published one novel. Despite this keynote speaker’s nearly 200, until the conference, I’d never heard of her or her multiple pen names. I’ll take quality in writing over quantity any day, but I wish this author continued success in her career.


Contact Marshall at tamreader@gmail.com. This month’s reading selection is The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje.


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