We, authors, are a finicky bunch often toiling for years before writing our first novel, while in the same breath asking, how many books should I publish each year to become prolific.
So when considering how many books you need to publish each year to become prolific, I would suggest you change the question to how many books should you write to be successful.
I would contend that being called a prolific writer while awesome isn’t actually the end goal for most authors. Instead, when asked this question they are looking for much more tangible results.
So in this article, we take a look at the question of how many books you should publish each year, we will be coming at it from that perspective.
How do your writing goals impact your ideal publishing schedule?
You heard me say earlier that when you’re trying to set your publishing schedule for the year it should really be backed into from your goals.
So how do your goals dictate how many books you should write? You need to fully understand where you are in your writing career and where you want to be the future to properly plan your publishing schedule moving forward. The most important thing is knowing the WHY behind your writing. That is, why do you want to write and publish books? Once you understand your personal WHY, it’s a matter of simply constructing you’re how, as in, how do you get there.
Let’s take a look at a few different writing goals and how that might directly impact the number of books you choose to publish each year.
The part-time writer
If your goal is to supplement your current income and scratch your creative itch by telling stories then publishing one book every two years might be enough for you.
Even in this scenario it really depends on which side of that equation you weight more heavily. If the most important thing to you is creating a beautiful story then the number of books you write really doesn’t matter. In this scenario, I would suggest you stay true to the process and enjoy it for what it is, and avoid detracting from any of it by putting it arbitrary publishing goal on yourself.
If you’re the type of person who loves to write but also needs it to pay off financially by supplementing your current income then you may want to accelerate your writing knowing that the more books you write the better chance you have of making more money.
Obviously, in a perfect world, we could stay home and write all day with nothing in mind but the art itself. Unfortunately, for most of us, we aren’t independently wealthy and we need to earn money from our writing to make that possible.
So if your goal is to replace your full-time income with your writing, you have a bit more pressure on yourself to write and publish more books each year. This really applies more to self-published authors who most likely aren’t receiving an advance from a traditional publisher to stay home and write their next novel.
As you can see this causes a bit of a chicken and egg scenario. I want to stay home and devote full-time effort to my writing so I could earn a living doing what I love, but I can’t afford to stay home and write full time until I’m successful.
I think for this subset of authors, it’s most important to have a clear publishing goal for the year.
All this goes out the window if you are an already established author with a rabid fan base dying to buy your next novel.
The majority of people reading this article, will not fall into this category so we won’t spend a lot of time on it.
But it suffices to say, established authors can apply the same principles. The more you write and publish, the more shots on goal you’ll take, and the more money you’ll make by offering your established readership more opportunities to buy your content.
Why does it matter how many books you write and publish in a year?
So let’s look at how the number of books you write and publish in a year can have a direct effect on achieving your financial goals.
First off, I think it goes without saying that there are no hard and fast rules about the number of books published and the amount of money you’ll make from them. With that being said, I guess it turns out I thought it was actually worth saying after all.
More Books Written and Published-Mo Money, Generally
In general, the more books you write and publish the more books you’re going to sell. This is especially true for an unknown self-published author. However, this obviously goes out the window if you’re first book launch is like Andy Weir who wrote one book, The Martian. You can bet the money he has made off that one book is far more than 99.9% of the self-published authors with a big catalog.
And while I wish nothing but the same success to all of you, the truth is most authors won’t have such a smashing success with just one book. But that doesn’t mean you can’t build up a successful writing career just the same.
For the majority of self-published authors, there is a direct correlation between the number of books written and their yearly income.
Michael Anderle, self-published author, and publisher, has had some pretty big success explaining his 20 books to 50K theory. At the simplest level, Michael simply extrapolated how much he made from his first book and figured out that if he could do that 20 times he would be able to make $50,000 a year. The interesting thing is, as Michael quickly learned, that while income increases with the number of books you have written, it’s not directly proportional. He has since made way more with fewer books.
Let’s take a look at why more books usually equal more money…
Writers who write more, write better
From the mere standpoint of writing craft, the more you write and publish the better your writing should get. This doesn’t only apply to self-published authors. Most authors will tell you when they look back at their first novel they can’t believe how bad it was compared to their most recent writing.
It makes logical sense that writing is a skill, and like any other skill, the more you practice the better you get. So, therefore, while most traditional authors will argue turning out that many books in one year can only be done while sacrificing quality; the truth is you still have control over editing and improving your book before hitting publish.
But having an aggressive publishing goal and forcing yourself to write and publish more books each year should theoretically improve the quality of each subsequent novel.
Let’s say you release a book next week and it manages to go semi-viral, at least as semi-viral as it gets for an unknown self-published author. If you are an author, with a large back catalog of books these new readers who are newly minted fans of yours, can quickly call up your Amazon author page and dive into another one of your books.
If you only have one book, the reader has no choice but to turn to another author and you risk losing all that momentum. We never know when one of our books will become wildly successful, but what we do know is, if that happens with the large back catalog of books we can cash in on it far longer than if we had one novel to our names.
Book Cross-Promotion Should be Your Best Friend
This applies to a past catalog of published books or your next hot release. An author that creates and sticks to a multi-book publishing goal needs to plan ahead, which means it’s easier for you to turn the end of your current read into a lead for your next novel.
Now when you’re a writer like Stephen King, it doesn’t matter how much time goes between your current book and the next one. Your name recognition is enough to instantly launch your next book up the bestseller list.
But for a lesser-known author, there is no time like the present when it comes to promoting another one of your books. When you have a reader’s attention and eyeballs it’s critically important you steer them to another one of your books that they might enjoy, before one of the millions of other entertainment options vying for their time pulls them away forever.
As you might guess by this point, the answer is it’s different for everyone. There are a few different ways to look at this question try to get a bit more of a concrete answer.
In a survey done by WrittenWord Media, they looked at two types of authors, authors that were making over 100K a year from their writing had two distinct things in common.
The majority of these authors had been writing for over three years, 88% to be exact, compared to only 59% emerging authors. And, 100K authors spent more time writing which led to more books published. The average 100K author had 33 books published compared to only 7 for emerging authors. You can take a look at more data from the survey here.
On average, traditional authors will tell you they publish 1 to 2 books every 3 to 5 years. There is no doubt, that pressure is being put on them by self-published authors willing to crank out more titles every single year.
The way I like to look at this is that with the advent of self-publishing, authors are now able to remove a lot of the barriers to getting a book to market, meaning they can focus on creating content and getting it out to their readers much quicker, and that’s good for everyone involved.
Read our article on how you can write and publish your first book completely for free if budget constraints are holding you back from taking action.
How your writing style may impact your publishing schedule?
There are a couple of things you should consider about your personal writing style that can also skew the number of titles you get written each year, let’s look at a few…
The Pantser vs Plotter
This is one of the age-old debates amongst writers. You have time-tested methodical plotters verse the more freestyle method used by Pantsers.
One way isn’t better than the other, and you should use what works best for you. However, from my experience and in talking to other writers, most of the time the writing tends to go quicker when you know exactly where it’s heading. So if I had to make a suggestion towards which method you should use to maximize your book output for the year, you’d be hard-pressed to convince me plotting wasn’t the way to go.
With that being said, if you are a Panser that is overcome by the force of your story and never has a problem with momentum stalling on you in the middle of your book, then more power to you keep on doing what works for you.
Length of your books
This one is pretty obvious and I won’t spend a lot of time talking about it. If you’re someone that’s writing 150,000-word epic fantasy then it stands to reason you’re going to get out fewer titles than someone spending their time on short stories.
Just make sure you understand that, and make your publication goals realistic so you can set yourself up for success.
How do I turn my income goal into an actionable writing and publishing goal?
Okay so for this we are assuming that you’ve already figured out your why and what your ultimate income goal is for your writing career.
Let’s say that you decided in order to become a full-time writer and replace your current income you’re going to need 12 published books. Let’s also say you subscribe to the advice given on the Huffington Post about writing at least four books per year.
That would mean you’d want to set up a writing goal to have four books written and published each of the next three years.
The next thing you want to do is map out a deadline for each book. Let’s say you came to this conclusion on New Year’s Eve and as part of your New Year ’s resolution, your 12 book in three-year project starts on January 1.
Here are the steps you could follow to map out your daily goals:
- Set your publishing deadlines. Example: Book 1: March 31st, Book 2: June 30th, Book 3: Sept 30th, Book 4: December 31
- Now map out the Minimum Word Count of each book. Example: each book 50K words
- Map out the number of days each week you will write. I recommend 5 or 6 days for continuity if you want to give yourself a bit of a break in between writing.
- Map out how long it will take your for rewrites and editing- subtract that from the total 90-day window for each book. Example: Let’s you want to leave 30 days for an editor and final draft
- You are left with 60 days. Let’s say you want to leave 30 days for two rewrites before it goes to the editor. You are now down to 30 days to get the first draft of 50,000 words on paper.
- If you were writing on each one of those 30 days, you need to write 1667 words per day to have your novel written in 30 days to be on schedule.
- Now make these timelines your own, the important thing is to adjust the time based on where you need more or less time, and get the plan to fit under the deadline.
- Rinse and Repeat for books 2-4 that year.
Will The quality of my book suffer if I focus on publishing some of the titles?
This is a fair question and one that I think is often either overstated or underappreciated. Usually, the difference in perception has to do with who is posing the question, a traditional or self-publishing advocate.
The simple answer is yes it could. I see with this blog, I’ve committed to putting out a steady stream of information to help out other writers, but often trying to hit competing deadlines forces me to hit publish may be a day or two earlier than I’d like what some of these articles.
But in reality, that is 100% totally in my control and on me. I hope that the people reading this will get enough benefit from the content that they can overlook any impurities in the writing or editing.
But when it comes to your books, I would suggest holding off until your finished product is something you’re very proud of and more importantly your readers will enjoy. I know this article has primarily talked about the quantity of writing but that doesn’t mean that quality shouldn’t trump of all that every time.
Since I know him talking to a group of writers, don’t take that advice as an out to procrastinate hitting publish forever. I hate to break it to you but your book will never be perfect, no ones will be. There is such a thing as diminishing returns, so get your book to something you’re proud of having your name on and something readers will demand more of you should be in a good spot.
Think of these tips as a way to systematize your writing process and make it more efficient. When the system gets more efficient it becomes more productive. Build it into your writing process from the start so you can focus on what’s important when the writing it’s going and that’s the quality of the words.
How can I publish more books each year?
This is a whole topic unto itself and one that I’m not can it fully flesh out in this article, but it is one I will tackle in a separate article one of these days.
However, here are a few tips and tricks to write more and consequently publish more titles each year…
- Speed up your production with short bursts of writing sprints.
- Turn off your inner editor, especially during the first draft. Get the words on the paper and finish the story you can make it pretty during the rewrites.
- Better organize your time- have a designated writing time that works best for your creative process
- Speed up your writing with dictation. This article is being dictated as we speak. As you all know even the best typists can only hammer out between 100 and 120 words per minute. Whereas most of us can speak twice as fast. Click here If you want to learn about the best dictation software for writers.
- Write multiple books at one time. This depends on you as a writer, I for one can’t pull this off but there are many authors that do. If you can do this, you may be able to stay fresher in each story by simply giving your mind a divergence. You can also, be working on a draft of one novel while the other is being edited or read by beta readers.
- Become a better plotter. We talked about this earlier but if you can fully map out your story or maybe your next few stories you will have less downtime which gives you more time to get words on paper.
- Cut down the number of drafts. Set a limit for yourself and stick to it.
- Give yourself hard deadlines with monthly weekly and daily word count goals. Make the milestones in small chunks so they are easier to hit and track.
Finally here’s a different way to look at your publishing goals.
Publishing One more Than Last Year is a Win: Give yourself a goal of one more book published this year then you had last year. Take all the principles we talked about and instead of giving yourself a goal of say 4 books published this year, when you only had one previous year, give yourself a goal just upping that by 1, from 1 to 2 this year.
Play the Long Mind Game: Remember the survey we cited, most successful authors have been writing for years. The problem with most new authors is that they get discouraged and give up way too fast. If you think of each book as just another seed that you’re planting in the ground for future success, it will help you stay grounded in the journey.
Hug Your WHY Tight: There was a reason I said we need to start with your why for writing. An author’s journey is an arduous one, often filled with self-doubt and setbacks. If you have a clear understanding of your why, you’ll be far more likely to fight through any of these pitfalls and hit your final author goals.
Labor of Love, not years: Somewhere along the way it has been ingrained in writers that writing something truly great needs to take years or decades. This couldn’t be further from the truth. This stems from stories about books like The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt which took her eleven years to write before winning the Pulitzer for it. But there are plenty of contrary stories like A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess, which is widely considered one of the best books of the 20th Century, and oh, by the way, he managed to famously write in three weeks.
In Conclusion, just how many books should you write and publish in a Given Year?
Yep, you probably guessed that it really depends on you. The truth is there is no exact amount of books you should write and publish in any given year.
You can be successful being a methodical author who publishes one book every five years, or maybe even in the rarest of circumstances, one book period.
Your chances of success do in fact go up for monetary standpoint with every book that you write.
You need to figure out you’re why first and everything else will fall into place.
Once you know you’re why, set a goal that helps you achieve it.
Once you set your goal, give yourself bite-size milestones on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis that will help back you right into your bigger goal.
Don’t procrastinate, sit down and start writing. The faster you hit the keys, the more words will get on paper each day and the faster your book will be completed. The faster you have a book completed, the sooner you get started on your next one.
Don’t be afraid to systematize your success, it doesn’t make you less creative. It frees you up to maximize your creativity.
I hope you enjoyed this article and it motivates you to hit all your writing goals.
As always, Thanks for reading and more importantly Writing!