A lot of new writers believe that an author (1) has an idea for a book, (2) writes the book, and (3) publishes the book. That may be the case for some people, but for me (and many others) it’s a much sloppier process, and can go off the rails. I thought it might be interesting to provide an overview of the books I’ve actually written.
This is just books (no screenplays, single poems, short stories, etc.), so bear in mind that this doesn’t even account for a quarter of the writing I’ve done. We’ll go chronologically:
1. Blood (poetry, discarded)
2. emptying (poetry, discarded)
3. When I Am Hell (poetry, discarded)
4. Ex Machina (poetry, published by BookThug, 2009)
Let’s pause there, to note that I wrote (and discarded) three books before producing a single, publishable one. This doesn’t count all the false starts and partially completed manuscripts. Some people write more than this before publishing their first book.
While nosing around the Internet on this topic, I found a blog posting, where an author did an informal survey. It’s not scientific, but I’m willing to bet that it’s relatively accurate. Here are some of the results (click on them for the full posting):
What does that tell us? Out of a group of 10 writers who will go on to be published (we can’t guess at how many are turned away unpublished, right, this is a self selecting group), 3 will sell the first novel they write. 1 will write some, or a lot, of short fiction before selling their first novel. 1-2 will sell their second. The other half will write 3 or more novels before breaking in.
Let's keep counting (I'm not done!):
5. The Words of the Book (poetry, with kevin mcpherson eckhoff, being rewritten for BookThug)
6. Clockfire (poetry, forthcoming from Coach House, 2010)
7. Inbox (poetry, seeking publisher)
8. Monsters (poetry, discarded)
9. The Politics of Knives (poetry, seeking publisher)
10. In Defense of My Father, Who Shot Me with a Crossbow Last Spring (fiction, with ryan fitzpatrick, complete in first draft but requiring revision)
11. The Crow Murders (fiction, complete in third draft but requiring revision)
Note that, as I write, Ex Machina is the only book I’ve published. So all eleven books on this list have been written (not just the four above, but the seven below) but only one has been published, and only three have found publishers. (Two firmly, and one tentatively—TWOTB is not under contract yet, so might be cancelled. Although this is unlikely, it’s ultimately hard to say with complete certainty since we’ve gone back to rewrite the book after its acceptance.)
I’ve still got two books basically done but requiring serious revisions before I would even show them to a publisher, so maybe you can say I've written nine books, not eleven. And I’ve got two books ready to be published, but with no publisher in sight (one is submitted for consideration, the other is just collecting dust at the moment since I’ve got too much in the pipeline right now).
Let me also point out, that eight books in, I am still discarding manuscripts. Completed manuscripts. Again: this list doesn’t reflect all the work that went into the partially, sometimes half-completed, manuscripts. Sometimes, people, you’ve just got to make the tough call and admit that what you’ve written isn’t publishable (or, while it might be publishable, isn’t up to your own standards).
This may not be typical, but it’s not atypical. I can’t undersell the importance of persistence. Hard work trumps talent.