Back in the good old days of publishing, a prolific writer was expected to put out a new title each year. This gave fans something to anticipate, and publishers could plan accordingly.
The publishing landscape has changed now with self-publishing in the mix. Self-publishing has allowed writers to produce their own books in digital format and Print On Demand (POD), both strategies that allow for quicker printing and release of works than ever before.
Another change is in the way people consume books. E-readers let you download a book instantly and start reading it wherever you have an internet connection. This makes for some impatient readers who want more and want it now.
As a result, traditional publishers are pushing authors to write more than ever before. They often want short stories, essays and novellas throughout the year to keep readers engaged and looking forward to full book publications. This means that writers are having to churn out more and more content all the time.
James Patterson, one of the most prolific of today’s authors, is publishing 16 books in 2015, according to his official website. Many of these are co-written with other authors, but his name is foremost and prominent on each cover to give his readers what they crave: more books, more often.
Let’s take a look at prolific writers.
The most prolific writer of any period was Charles Hamilton, a London-born writer who is said to have created over 100 million words, most of those in short stories. He wrote under several different names, so it’s difficult to get an accurate count, but he’s still by far the most prolific of writers.
Stephen King is another hugely prolific writer with over 60 books and 200 short stories in his portfolio. Not to mention his screen plays, comics, and non-fiction. While he might not be up to the standards of Charles Hamilton, he has certainly put forth enough to keep his legion of fans satisfied.
Who are the least prolific writers who were still wildly successful?
There are a couple of authors who only had one book published in their lifetime. Margaret Mitchell, for instance, published Gone with the Wind in 1936 to much critical acclaim, and then refused to publish anything else during her lifetime.
Harper Lee published To Kill a Mockingbird in 1960, but never published anything else until this year when Go Set a Watchman came out under much controversy.
Helen Hooven Santmyer, by some accounts, took 50 years to write her only successful book And Ladies of the Club. She didn’t start working on it full time until her retirement and finally had it published when she was in her 80’s. The paperback edition of her book sold more than 2 million copies between June and September of 1985, making is one of the best-selling paperbacks in history.
This begs the question for the rest of us: how prolific should you be in 2016?
Do you aim for multiple books each year to get your name out there and satisfy the voracious reading public? Or do you want to be the mysterious and private author who puts out a masterpiece every 10 years to enormous critical acclaim?
If there were a magic formula for how many and how often to publish, there would certainly be many more successful authors instead of aspiring authors.
Perhaps the answer to this question depends on your intent. If it’s your intent to become a prolific writer who hits the best-sellers list frequently, then you’ll need to churn out a lot of great books that grab readers’ attention.
But if it’s your intent to create a literary masterpiece that’s passed down through the years, it might take a little more time to write and that’s fine.
Conclusion: find what works for YOU.
Some writers create quickly and efficiently the kind of books that their readers crave. Others take years to bring out one book, but oh, what a book!
You should write the best book you possibly can in the time that it takes you to perfect it. Only you can decide how long it will take to produce work that you feel happy with.
Don’t let other people put unwelcome pressure on your efforts. And don’t let your desire to meet an arbitrary deadline keep you from taking the time you need to write what could be the next winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature.