The “Hamster Wheel” of Writing a Book A Year

The Boston Globe’s David Mehegan highlights one of genre fiction’s truisms, and perhaps one of its key problems: the expectation that writers must deliver a book a year:

“It’s no problem, as long as you don’t have a life,” said Patricia

Cornwell, the Massachusetts-based author of the enormously successful

Kay Scarpetta crime thrillers. “The Scarpetta [manuscript] that’s due

out Oct. 7 is due in a few weeks, because they have to reserve the

storefront real estate and pay for it. If I don’t get the book turned

in on time, they’ll be freaking out. If I miss my deadline, I miss the

entire year. Sometimes there’s an overwhelming feeling of panic. It’s

like a rock ‘n’ roll concert, and what if I don’t show up?”


isn’t the only one. There are signs of a growing resistance among

suspense authors to becoming factory producers, even if it costs them

sales and readers.

“There’s pressure to treat authors like



said California thriller writer Brad Meltzer, who was asked to publish

once a year but refused. “Every time you get a bunch of writers

together, this is all they complain about. The trend is, ‘How many

books can you put out?’ From building your reputation to get on the

best-seller list, it’s gone to trying to get to the tippy-top of the

list. It’s not worth it to me.”

Of course, this argument is hardly new and hardly earth-shattering, but additional comments, be it from Dennis Lehane or Alison Brennan, illustrate that there cannot be a uniform pace to writing, and those who are able to write several books a year should – and those who write a book every several years should, as well. Never mind that it seems weird we expect, say, Lee Child to deliver a Jack Reacher novel every summer, but when John Updike writes a book a year, he’s called out for writing too fast?