Are Non-Genre Authors Slow? Part I

In Dean Wesley Smith’s recent blog post, “Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: Can’t Make Money in Fiction“, he explained how a fiction writer can develop a portfolio–or create an inventory of “magic pies”–and use it over and over again to increase his or her salary. The core of Smith’s advice is to write well and often, and to take advantage of all available publishing rights.

Linda Cassidy Lewis pointed out on Shadows that non-genre authors might not publish as often as genre writers.

They’re at a marketing disadvantage if they don’t, because their inventory would be smaller. A smaller inventory means fewer paychecks.

So, the question for the curious: Do professional fiction writers whose works are marketed in Literature rather than in genres typically publish less often than professional genre writers?

This wasn’t an easy question to answer. I had to take shortcuts in compiling data so as not to take too much time.

For this study, I picked through recent New York Times Bestsellers lists, a recent list of bestselling books, and Barnes and Noble’s Bestsellers of 2009, then I used, Wikipedia, and authors’ websites to check that the authors met the study’s qualifications, to identify their primary marketing classifications, and to gather data.

Authors were excluded if they:

  • write primarily children’s (including YA) fiction or non-fiction,
  • have published fewer than three novels,
  • haven’t published in the last two years, or
  • aren’t American.

Screenplays and short fiction were tricky. Most or all of these authors’ screenplays were based on the authors’ novels, so these were considered reprints (not counted) of the novels. To deal with short fiction, I borrowed from Smith’s analogy by counting each published story as a certain-sized “pie”.

How “pies” were counted:

  • novel = 1 pie
  • short story = 0.05 pie

On assumptions: Many assumptions were made for the sake of convenience. One of these was that all published stories (novels and short stories) were sold or, at the least, the authors could sell them as reprints. Another was that profits for these novels are comparable.


Five non-genre authors were included in the study. Click on the author’s name to go to his or her official website or webpage. Below each author’s name is a list of all his or hers published fiction and the first year of publication, statistical totals, then any notes about other publications.

Non-Genre Authors

Pat Conroy

The Great Santini (1976), The Lords of Discipline (1980), The Prince of Tides (1986), Beach Music (1995), South of Broad (2009)

Number of “pies”: 5 novels
Publishing period: 33 years
Publishing frequency: 0.12 new novels/year (or, a novel every 8 years)

Note: Conroy also published three uncounted memoirs: The Water Is Wide (1972), The Pat Conroy Cookbook: Recipes of My Life (1999), and My Losing Season (2002).

John Irving

Setting Free the Bears (1968), The Water-Method Man (1972), The 158-Pound Marriage (1974), The World According to Garp (1978); The Hotel New Hampshire (1981); The Cider House Rules (1985); A Prayer for Owen Meany (1989); A Son of the Circus (1994); Trying to Save Piggy Sneed collection (1996): “Interior Space”, “Brennbar’s Rant”, “The Pension Grillparzer”, “Other People’s Dreams”, “Weary Kingdom”, and “Almost in Iowa”; A Widow for One Year (1998); The Fourth Hand (2001); Until I Find You (2005); Last Night in Twisted River (2009)

Number of “pies”: 12.30
Publishing period: 41 years
Publishing frequency: 0.30 “pies”/years (or, a novel every 3 years)

Notes: Irving has written memoirs–including The Imaginary Girlfriend (1995) and My Movie Business (1999)–and a children’s book titled A Sound Like Someone Trying Not to Make a Sound (2004). In addition, he translated The Cider House Rules into a produced screenplay (1999).

Emma McLaughlin

The Nanny Diaries (2002), Unknown title in Big Night Out anthology (2002), Citizen Girl (2004), Unknown title in Girls’ Night Out anthology (2006), Dedication (2007), The Real Real (2009), The Nanny Returns (2009)

Number of “pies”: 5.10
Publishing period: 7 years
Publishing frequency: 0.73 “pies”/year (or, a story almost every year)

Note: Co-writes with Nicola Kraus. This may or may not mean McLaughlin’s totals should be halved.

Nicholas Sparks

The Notebook (1996), Message in a Bottle (1998), A Walk to Remember (1999), The Rescue (2000), A Bend in the Road (2001), Nights in Rodanthe (2002), The Guardian (2003), The Wedding (2003), True Believer (2005), At First Sight (2005), Dear John (2006), The Choice (2007), The Lucky One (2008), The Last Song (2009)

Number of “pies”: 14 novels
Publishing period: 13 years
Publishing frequency: 1.08 new novels/year

Elizabeth Strout

Amy and Isabelle (1998), Abide with Me (2006), Olive Kitteridge (a.k.a. On the Coast of Maine; 2008), “A Different Road” in The Best American Mystery Stories 2008 anthology (counted because its highest rank on was under the Literature category)

Number of “pies”: 3.05
Publishing period: 11 years
Publishing frequency: 0.28 “pies”/year (or, a story every 3.5 years)

Note: Published a short memoir in The Friend Who Got Away (2005) and another titled “English Lesson” in the Washington Post Magazine (2009).

The Exciting Part

See Part II for the genre authors and a comparison summary of the two types.


3 thoughts on “Are Non-Genre Authors Slow? Part I”

  1. Looking forward to Part II.

    It might also be worthwhile to note at least that some of Nicholas Sparks novels are short. The Notebook was only 49,000 words.

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