Cool Down from the Summer of Sci-Fi

Hello! I’m alive and kicking. I’m anxious about blogging again; however, it’s officially autumn and time to talk about the results of my Summer of Sci-Fi.

Back in May, I chose nine, well-known science fiction books to read by the end of September. How did I do?

I faced a couple unexpected challenges, mainly with acquiring books. My city’s sole library announced that it’s infested with bed bugs, making all of its books, in my mind, potential carriers of the parasite.

There’s a library near where I work that has a surprisingly tiny offering of science fiction. Even when I was able to walk (despite a sprained ankle) and willing to pass by the disturbing regulars in the area – such as bored cat-callers with uncomfortably creative pick-up lines; lonely, drifting, drunken men who mistake my wary smile for an invitation to converse; and those especially annoying people who enjoy smoking on busy, public sidewalks – I still wasn’t able to get my hands on a few of the books from my list.

Fortunately, I did read:

Out of these, Fahrenheit 451 is easily my favorite, followed closely by A Canticle for Leibowitz. The Time Machine is probably the least impressive of the group–but then, I’m not fond of Victorian stories.

Still to be read:

The Forever War is next on my reading list, if I can find a convenient copy this week.

How about you? What was your favorite book this summer? Are you looking forward to reading a particular book this season?


How to Drift in the Current of Literary Trends

Open Red Door - Click for source
© yewenyi

Linday Cassidy Lewis asked in her blog post earlier today,

So I want to know: how are all these other writers clued in [to novel trends]?

From what I’ve heard and seen, it’s not a conspiracy but a natural phenomenon. The interests of a genre’s readers will shift in roughly the same directions, guided by what does and doesn’t work in the season’s published stories. Some of the genre’s readers are writers, who aren’t immune to the unconscious shifts. Stories pop up from the current flowing through writers’ minds.

Already you have a bunch of people writing to a trend they don’t know is forming. That’s happening now. It’s always happening.

The first writer to submit a uniquely captivating novel (let’s call it The Hot Novel of the Season) carves the way for others. Editors start looking through their piles for stories that are similar to THNS. Chances are, they’ll see plenty and choose the best of the shortlist.

So then, how do writers enter or stay in the current that flows through trends?

Read. Read the novels that started the genre, read the novels that won awards and clung to the bestsellers lists in the past few years, and read novels just now coming out.

Study. Successful novels contain the answers to what captivates readers and how new writers can do the same.

Write quickly. Tell your inner editor to shut up until the editing phase, trust your instincts, and write at every opportunity.

That’s my game plan. Though I don’t always follow it, I do believe it works.

Note: “Genre” in this post refers to works published by like-minded editors and read by like-minded readers.

Are Non-Genre Authors Slow? Part II

Welcome to Part II of a comparison between genre and non-genre authors’ publishing frequency. Here, we’ll look at numbers for genre authors and consider the answer to the question posed in Part I.

The study includes six genre authors, for no reason other that’s how many qualifying authors I identified before my patience waned. The average for the non-genre authors was one new “pie” (or, story) every two years.

Genre Authors

Dan Brown (Mystery/Thriller)

Digital Fortress (1998), Angels & Demons (2000), Deception Point (2001), The Da Vinci Code (2003), The Lost Symbol (2009)

Number of “pies”: 5 novels
Publishing period: 11 years
Publishing frequency: 0.45 new novels/year (or, a novel every two years)

Julie Garwood (Romance)

Gentle Warrior (1985), A Girl Named Summer (1986), Rebellious Desire (1986) , Honor’s Splendour (1987), The Lion’s Lady (1988), The Bride (1989), Guardian Angel (1990), The Gift (1991), The Prize (1991), The Secret (1992), Castles (1993), Saving Grace (1993), Prince Charming (1994), For The Roses (1995), The Wedding (1996), One Pink Rose (1997), One White Rose (1997), One Red Rose (1997), Come The Spring (1997), Ransom (1999), Heartbreaker (2000), Mercy (2001), Killjoy (2002), Murder List (2004), Slow Burn (2005), Shadow Dance (2006), Shadow Music (2007), Fire and Ice (2008), Sizzle (2009)

Number of “pies”: 29 novels
Publishing period: 24 years
Publishing frequency: 1.21 new novels/year

Charlaine Harris (Mystery/Horror)

Sweet and Deadly (Dead Dog in the UK; 1981), A Secret Rage (1984), Real Murders (1990), A Bone to Pick (1992), Three Bedrooms, One Corpse (1994), The Julius House (1995), Dead Over Heels (1996), Shakespeare’s Landlord (1996), “Deeply Dead” in Murder, They Wrote (1997), Shakespeare’s Champion (1997), Shakespeare’s Christmas (1998), A Fool And His Honey (1999), Shakespeare’s Trollop (2000), Shakespeare’s Counselor (2001), “Dead Giveaway” in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine (2001), Dead Until Dark (2001), Last Scene Alive (2002), Living Dead in Dallas (2002), Poppy Done to Death (2003), Club Dead (2003), Dead to the World (2004), “Fairy Dust” in Powers of Detection (2004), “Dancers in the Dark” a novella in Night’s Edge (2004), “One Word Answer” in Bite (2005), Dead as a Doornail (2005), Grave Sight (2005), Definitely Dead (2006), “Tacky” in My Big, Fat Supernatural Wedding (2006), All Together Dead (2007), Grave Surprise (2006), “Dracula Night” in Many Bloody Returns (2007), An Ice Cold Grave (2007), From Dead to Worse (2008), “An Evening With Al Gore” in Blood Lite (2008), “Gift Wrap” in Wolfsbane and Mistletoe (2008), “Lucky” in Unusual Suspects (2008), Dead and Gone (2009), “Bacon” in Strange Brew (2009), “The Britlingens Go To Hell” in Must Love Hellhounds (2009), A Touch of Dead (2009), Grave Secret (2009)

Number of “pies”: 29.60
Publishing period: 28 years
Publishing frequency: 1.06 “pies”/year

Steven King (Horror/Suspense)

Whew. Everyone knows King is prolific, but he’s also varied. Chances are good that I missed one or more of his published stories. Note that I intentionally excluded poems, comics, and movies that weren’t based on one of King’s novels or short stories.

Do you think I should have included them?

King’s Novels and more novels* (55 from years 1974 to 2009)
King’s Short Stories (100 to year 2008), plus “The Glass Floor” (1967) and “The Tale of Gray Dick” (2003)

Number of “pies”: 60.10
Publishing period: 42 years
Publishing frequency: 1.43 “pies”/year

Note: *The Bachman Books is a reprint collection, so it was not counted.

James Patterson (Thriller)

2009 – 8 novels
2008 – 6 novels
2007 – 6 novels
2006 – 5 novels
2005 – 5 novels
2004 – 4 adult novels
2003 & prior – 26 novels

Number of “pies”: 60 novels
Publishing period: 33 years
Publishing frequency: 1.80 new novels/year

Note: The book pages on Patterson’s website weren’t functioning on January 13, 2010.

Nora Roberts a.k.a. J.D. Robb (Romance)

King and Patterson combined still don’t come close to Roberts’ quantity. Fortunately, all of her works are listed in one document.

Robert’s Complete Book List (pdf; 185 novels and 17 novellas from years 1981 to 2009)

Number of “pies”: 185.85
Publishing period: 28 years
Publishing frequency: 6.64 “pies”/year

Summary and Conclusion

With Nora Roberts in the group, the average number (or, arithmetic mean) of “pies” per year is 2.10– four times as often as the genre authors. Removing Roberts drops the number to 1.19 “pies” per year, twice as often as the genre authors.

The median with and without Roberts is 1.21 and 1.14, respectively. That makes me most comfortable with the once a year estimate.

So, do Literary authors publish less often than genre writers? Yes, they seem to publish new fiction half as often.

Closing Comments

If you enjoy double-checking other people’s math, then please let me know if you see any errors in my calculations.

For everyone: How do you think we could make a similar study better, more useful, or whatever?

For example, the most common genres in bestsellers lists were those represented here: Horror, Mystery, Thriller, and Romance. My genres of Fantasy and Science Fiction weren’t represented at all, because the authors I saw in the lists are deceased or residing outside of the U.S.A. I’d like to gather data for the publishing frequency of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Do you have any questions? Thoughts?

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.

What is Contemporary Fantasy?

Last weekend, when someone asked me to define “Urban Fantasy”, I neglected to mention that it is a subset of Contemporary Fantasy, which is problematic because I have a habit of identifying stories as Urban Fantasy when they are actually Contemporary Fantasy.

Let’s talk about the differences.

Contemporary Fantasy is Fantasy set in the present time (that is, in our time) and in our world. Perhaps to emphasize the setting, stories in this sub-genre often refer to pop culture.

Some Dark Fantasy, as well as Urban Fantasy, rolls into this sub-genre.

An alternative definition is that Contemporary Fantasy (also known as Modern Fantasy) is all Fantasy written, not necessarily set in, modern times. Personally, I don’t know why anyone would use this classification except for research.

This book cover screams “Urban Fantasy”

In my mind, Urban Fantasy is a sub-set of Contemporary Fantasy set in a current city or densely populated area that would be recognizable to the area’s real-life residents except for the fiction’s addition of magic or fantastical creatures (e.g., vampires, werewolves, and ghosts).

A more common, albeit more confusing, definition of Urban Fantasy is action chick lit involving sexy, magical creatures. In bookstores, the covers are identifiable by a well-proportioned, scantily-dressed woman focused on her own thoughts or feelings. A man is rarely present. You can tell the difference between these covers and similar Sci-fi covers by the details. A tattoo or something sharp (e.g. knife or a known, fanged animal)? That’s Urban Fantasy. Spaceships or a really big gun should clue you in that the book is Sci-fi.

Obviously, genre and sub-genre definitions are subjective. The line between Fantasy and Science Fiction, Horror, or another genre is hazy, and so are the lines within Fantasy. Within the definitions above, however, here are examples.

Examples of Contemporary Fantasy:

Examples of Urban Fantasy:

Is your favorite Contemporary Fantasy not included above? If you share, you’ll provide someone (including me!) a work to consider. If you don’t read or watch stories in these sub-genres, then please tell us why not.