***This post was originally posted on March 15, 2016. It has been updated on October 10, 2018 in celebration of Nora Roberts’ birthday.
When you’re in the publishing business (as I am when I’m not pretending to be a scientist or neurologist trying to change the world with human cloning, creating an international thief who steals from the ruthless and unkind, or acting as a former FBI agent who hopes to rid the world of bioterrorists and other ruthless killers) your eye is trained to notice big news items that “might” affect your tiny little world of writing.
Nora Roberts Influences the Romance Genre in Big Ways
Well, one such item of news caught my eye last week (actually, it was a little over two years ago, but everything else still applies). It may have caught your eye, as well, but I wonder if you and I analyzed it the same way…
The headline: St. Martin’s Signs Nora Roberts
The announcement from Publisher’s Weekly details Nora Roberts’ latest publishing deal of six books with St. Martin’s Press: one standalone novel, one trilogy, and two J.D. Robb books. Her most recent books were published with the Penguin Publishing Group. And the announcement includes the detail that she has previously written and published more than 217 books.
Now, of course, if you’re a romance reader and a fan of Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb, as I am, then this means great things for your reading pleasure in the coming months to two years.
However, when I read this I immediately began looking at the details and analyzing, learning, and wondering how I could translate her success into something uniquely mine. And possibly yours.
How Can We Learn from the Great Nora Roberts?
One thing I think I know about Ms. Roberts: Writing is the most important aspect of her career. I’ve read her blog and her newsletters, and she has said over and over that she writes eight hours a day every day in order to produce the content she creates. It doesn’t matter what company is publishing her books or who is editing her stories, Nora has gotten one major aspect of her career 100% accurate. No matter what else is going on in the industry, her job is to WRITE!
Now, let’s think about that…
I receive emails from writers who want to write novels all the time asking: Where do I start? What advice do you have for writers starting out.
My best advice for writers starting out? WRITE! My best advice for those of us who’ve been at it for a few years? Ten years? Thirty years? WRITE!
Minutes after reading about Nora Roberts’ latest publishing deal, I did some analyzing and calculations that inspired me to sit down and write more—to up my game, if you will. Maybe they’ll help you as well, whether you’re just starting out or been at it for years…
- From Nora Roberts’ bio on her website, I learned that she has been writing since she was snowed in with her young children in February 1979. She was working another job then as “the worst legal secretary ever” back then, and wanted a career change, so she began writing during that blizzard. From 1979 to 2016 is 37 years.
- 217 books over 37 years is 5.87 books a year.
Nora Roberts Has Written Nearly 6 Books a Year On Average Since 1979
- Ms. Robert’s books are fairly long (recent stories anyway). I’m going to use a round number and say that each of her books is approximately 100,000 words. Some of her early stories are probably shorter, but many of her stand-alones are probably longer. But… that’s 600,000 words a year, best guess.
- 600,000 words divided over 365 days a year comes to 1643.84 words per day.
Now, let’s take a break here and talk about word count. All writers have their own way of measuring their writing. Some like to write a certain number of scenes per day. Some take breaks between books and don’t write every single day.
I’ve even known writers who write 1000 “new” words every single day no matter what else they’re doing. This is a good rule for a writer. Once you’ve been writing long enough, you’ll realize 1000 new words every single day really isn’t that huge of a goal. Especially, if you don’t put large expectations on how good those words have to be.
- 1000 words a day comes to 365,000 words in a year (unless it’s a leap year, of course).
- We don’t all write long books like Ms. Roberts. So, let’s pretend we write an average-length novel of 75,000 words. 365,000 words divided up over 75,000-word novels comes to 4.87 books a year.
- I’m told that even if you were to start writing seriously for publication today, and publish those books once they’re edited and packaged pretty, etc., you need somewhere between four to seven books to build an audience and make a living. (This is mainly a belief among indie published, some of whom are publishing a book a month (IKR?). I can’t speak to the traditional side regarding money.)
- At the rate of 4.87 books a year, it is possible to have a career in less than two years.
Yes, I realize that last couple of statements oversimplifies the process of publishing a book. A lot of work goes into taking a book from writing 75,000 words of rough story to a well-edited, publishable package.
However, it’s totally doable.
It Always Comes Back to the Writing
You have to have something to edit and publish first, so back to the writing…
I was a CPA in my former life, and one thing I learned in those years: Math and numbers can be manipulated, but they don’t lie. You can write more than four books a year! [tweetthis display_mode=”button_link”] Math and numbers can be manipulated, but they don’t lie. You can write more than 4 books a year! [/tweetthis]
So, when people ask me, what’s your advice for writers just starting out? WRITE! Channel your inner Nora Roberts. Yes, she has a talent that many of us only dream about.
“But I was always told that she’s such a prolific writer—that no one can do what she does,” I hear you saying.
THAT, my friends, is a bold-faced lie. You can do what she does. I can do what she does (I’m totally telling myself this).
I used to say I was a slow writer. I had friends who could sit and write six, seven, ten thousand words in one day. “I’ll never be that person,” I would say.
But we can all write two thousand words (see calculation above). And anyone can write a thousand words in a day. Even if the story isn’t going smoothly, I can get out a thousand words in an hour-and-a-half, but sometimes in an hour. You can too. (Yes, even if you have a full-time job.)
So, while you and I might not ever be Nora Roberts, nor should we be striving to be, we can produce writing that is uniquely ours. We can train ourselves to be prolific writers, because numbers don’t lie.
Happy Birthday, Nora Roberts!
The rest of you (and me), go write! But first, Pin this amazing quote: