Don’t kill yourself over daily word counts

In the three year plan that is the foundation of my self-publishing books, I mentioned the example of writing 1000 words per day to achieve a publishing speed of four novels year.

But this is assuming that you write relatively clean fiction.

How many words do you really need to write per day in order to publish successfully?

Some people write huge amounts, like more than 3000 words a day. Is this necessary, is it feasible, and how do you do it?

I don’t write that much. I find, and a lot of people share that feeling with me, that I simply don’t have enough material that is ready to be written to produce that many words each day on a consistent basis. It’s not that I can’t write words, it’s that deciding which words I need to write requires more time. If I write words, I want them to be words that count and words that have resonance.

I hate writing words for words’ sake. I will bash out a framework of a story and will then spend several read-throughs adding little bits of emotional or informational language where they are needed. I need time to think about how I’m going to do this, and can’t do it when I don’t already have something written.

My story editor can attest to the fact that my first drafts are always extremely underwritten.

When I started publishing, I wrote a lot more than I do currently, but one of the things I have learned is to write more efficiently. I hardly ever delete any scenes or large numbers of words.

In fact, I consider myself a perfect example why you can still publish a lot of books per year without a huge daily word count.

Yet, a lot of the focus in advice on how to publish more quickly centres on actual words on the paper. That you need to “train your writing muscles” and other things that completely rub me up the wrong way.

You do not need to write 5000 words a day to have a writing career. You need to know where your story is going and you need to be confident that you have control of the story structure, to not let it meander in useless directions (that you will then have to cut out). You need to get to know your characters well enough so that you don’t have them doing things that would be—well—out of character. You need to know the setting well enough so that you don’t have something happening that’s inconsistent with the worldbuilding and that you’ll have to fix later.

It’s not about written words. It’s about finished words. If you write 500 finished words a day, you’re way ahead of someone who writes 3000 words but then has to spend months agonising over a revision.

It’s not about written words. It’s about how well you know the story and how you can shape and deepen it in a subsequent draft, rather than having to cut huge chunks.

This comes with experience. Your first book is likely to take you ages and you are likely to have to cut big chunks.

Focus less on the number of written words, and more on the story you’re telling. If you’re like me and find word counts useless or depressing, but you want to measure progress, measure it in scenes. Give yourself one or more scenes to write each day, then give yourself one or more chapters to edit later.

The comments on this blog are closed, but this post is syndicated to my Facebook page, where you can comment and ask further questions. Find more information about the Three-year plan self-publishing books here.

How often should you publish?

In the three year plan, I use the example of publishing four books a year. I did this because it is a comfortable publishing pace for me, and I think it should be very achievable at just a thousand words a day.

But how often do you really need to publish if you want to have a successful career?

There are some people who say that they want to publish every month or even every two weeks, and others who live comfortably off publishing a book a year or in some cases even less.

Both these approaches use very different mechanisms to keep sales going.

If you publish frequently, you will make use of the algorithms of the retailer sites, most notably Amazon, where this has the most effect. If you sell well on Amazon, and especially Amazon in the US, it can be very effective to publish shorter works frequently to keep your books being recommended to readers. Amazon thrives on a high level of churn. This is much less for other retailers, so if you sell well worldwide, it is much less important to publish as frequently.

But the frequent publishing method assumes two things.

In the first place, it assumes that you can produce books that people want to read at this speed, and keep doing it. Some people find it relatively easy, some people end up publishing shorter works, but most of us cannot write a book every month let alone every two weeks. We have lives, we need more time, we write in genres that require extra work like research into various aspects of the story. Writers of historical fiction or technothrillers or hard science-fiction will find it very hard to write that many books in a year.

Even writers of fantasy or people who write about real life things that they have to crosscheck to make sure that they got everything right. That stuff can take a lot of time.

And some people’s brains just don’t work that way.

So assuming you can put out quality books that people want to read, if you can write that quickly, a high speed of publishing is better than a slow speed.

Algorithms. You will hear people talk about 90 day cliffs and 30 day cliffs on Amazon, but the problem with getting fixated on things like that is that Amazon can change how it shows your books to prospective readers by changing one line in the code. They may not get around to doing that for two years, or they can do it next week. You cannot build a business on that kind of uncertainty.

However, it is always better to have more books, and to publish more frequently. It seems that three or four books a year is a comfortable pace for many people.

But what if you have a day job, or you simply can’t write that quickly for whatever reason.

Well there is always George R.R. Martin, and in a small way, we have our own self published writing equivalent in Mark Cooper, who makes a living and published his last book in December, but the book before that 3 years ago. All that time, he kept his income up through diversification and advertising.

If you write big and chunky books that people like to read, that get good levels of word of mouth, and you publish them in a series that people love, they will very often be happy to wait. Just make sure that while they wait, you have them on your mailing list so that you can let them know when the book is out.

If you don’t write a new book every two or three months, you will also have to be much smarter with advertising. You cannot rely on the retailer algorithms to recommend your books to everyone once the initial burst of sales from the release is gone. You have to advertise your book, you have to get inventive. Make bundles with other writers, run cross promotions, use the wide range of advertising options, including Facebook and AMS ads and try everything and continue to do it if it works. Make sure that your books are out on all platforms in all different formats including print and definitely audio, because the audiobook market is a completely different animal with a different audience.

So: how often should you publish?

The answer is: as often as you can while maintaining quality and avoiding burnout. This is going to be different for each writer, but if you try to push yourself too hard and put out books before they’re ready, you will lose readers. If you push yourself too hard and get burnt out, you harm yourself. If you don’t publish books and don’t advertise, you will lose your readers, so there is a balance in between publishing frequently and getting smart with advertising. Unless you sell so much that you can employ someone to advertise for you, you will probably have to choose between either of those activities. You can either spend a lot of time writing, and not that much advertising, or you can devote more energy to marketing and less time writing.

Somewhere in that equation, there is a balance that everyone needs to find for themselves.

The comments on this blog are closed because of excessive spam, but this post is syndicated to my Facebook page, where you can discuss it or ask further questions.