Friday, February 22, 2008

How Fast is Fast Writing?

A reader writes: "I am curious about how many words per hour or per day that people write. I once read that Stephen King (maybe someone else, famous writer though) wrote "an amazing 2,000 words a day." I am a little confused here how they count words. I have been writing short stories this year for practice and enjoyment. I average about 1,500 words per hour. That includes the hours spent revising the words."

What's an Hour?

It's no wonder you're confused. Here are some of the types of "hours" that are sometimes included, sometimes excluded, when people are talking about "words per hour" or "words per day."

- Hours thinking about the content before writing a word.

- Hours typing a first draft.

- Hours thinking about the content after writing some words.

- Hours editing an Nth draft.

- Hours researching a draft or revision or redraft.

= Hours corresponding with reviewers and dealing with their comments.

- Hours trying to sell the manuscript.

- Hours working with editors after a ms. is sold.

- Hours working on promotional material.

- Hours corresponding with readers (including writing blog entries like this one).

- Hours installing hardware/software for your writing tools, and tracking errors in those tools.

- Hours banking all the royalties and dealing with tax issues.

There's also the question of how to count "words." Is it words in the finished ms.? Or maybe all the words you've written in all the above activities, many of which were thrown away?

So, if you add up all these words and divide them by all these hours, you get one number for your rate. But if you're counting different words and hours, you'll get a different rate.

Is 1,500 words per hour an extra amazingly speedy rate?

It might be if you're talking about finished words appearing in print, taking into account all those other hours in a writer's business.

Let's figure it out. 8 hours per day, 365 days per year, at 1,500 words per hour, would produce 4,380,000 words per year. A fairly big novel has 120,000 words, so this rate would be more than 35 such novels a year. I'd say that was amazingly speedy, but there are a few writers who accomplish something of this order. You may not realize that because they write under different names. Why? For one thing, the market won't buy novels at that rate from one author.

There are quite a few other authors who achieve this rate–but only on days they're working, and they don't work every day, or perhaps not eight hours on days they do work.

What Are Typical Words Per Hour Rates?

My reader goes on to ask: "How many words per hour or per day do you write when writing novels? Same question for others you know or for readers of your blog."

For me, when I'm drafting a novel, actually typing words into my computer, I can readily type 1,500 words per hour, or 12,000 words per 8-hour day. I have, several times, knocked out a 100,000-word ms. in a solid week. But I seldom work solid weeks, or 8-hour days, typing first drafts. When you look at the entire process, the entire production, over about 40 years I've produced about one 100,000-word book per year. What that shows is that most days I'm doing other things than drafting manuscripts.

The important answer for readers of this blog is that each writer's answer will be different. My most important message to writers is that each of us must find our own writing process, the one (or ones) that work for us. And each process will have a different "rate," so don't compare yourself to others–especially don't compare your "rate" with someone's not-clearly-defined rate.

What you can compare is your own rate today with your own rate yesterday, measured the same way. If you keep track of your personal rate, you may learn things about yourself–and if you learn things about yourself, you may notice ways to improve your writing process. That's what counts, not Stephen King's or Jerry Weinberg's "rate."

Saturday, February 9, 2008

On Book Contract Provisions, Part 2

Am I Protected Against Mutilation of My Work?

One contract provision states: "When we have mutually agreed upon the final manuscript including artwork, index, and all material needed to create the final, publishable, version of the book, we will begin publication and distribution as quickly as possible consistent with our normal quality procedures."

This is too vague, and almost all on the side of the publisher. But it does say "mutually agreed upon," so you do have the legal right to stop publication if they've done something you don't like. This may be hard to enforce, but it's there, on your side. Once upon a time, I had to invoke this provision when the publisher's copy editor completely changed my ms. The publisher, McGraw-Hill, honored my request and ordered a new copy edit, which was terrific and improved the book immensely.

So, don't forget you have this provision (and if you don't, insist that it be put in). And it might help if it were made more explicit, perhaps an entire sentence or paragraph of its own, just to be clearer. (I think some publishers don't want you to notice it.)

When Will the Book Be Published?

No time is specified in the above contract paragraph. "As quickly as possible" is worthless because it's meaningless. Other such worthless phrases are "in a timely manner" or "when appropriate."

Several of my students have suffered when their publisher delayed publication for such a long time that a timely book became worthless. You should ask for a time limit in the contract (suggest 6 months after you submit the final ms., or some other time appropriate to the material) after which, if the book is not published (available for sale), you can terminate (but don't have to) and offer the book elsewhere.

Who Owns the Artwork?

Another typical contract provision states: "You understand and agree that any cover or other artwork supplied by us belongs to us or the owner of the artwork, and that you may not use it without express written consent from the owner of the artwork."

In the old days, authors seldom provided their own artwork. Now, with computer graphics, the practice is quite common. So, you should insist on a similar statement about any artwork you supply--they get to use it in the book, but may not use it elsewhere without your written consent. A common exception is in promotional material for your book.

If the publisher asks you to supply graphic material, you might also ask for some money up front (not an advance against royalties) for the expense of preparing your own artwork. Nowadays, you've probably given the publisher digital copy of your ms. This saves them the expense of "typesetting" they used to swallow in the old days, but no publisher that I know of has revised their standard contract to give you any credit for saving them this expense. You can ask, but you probably wont' get it. Illustrations, however, were typically paid for in my old contracts, so you have a chance here.

Who Prepares the Artwork?

Still, if you're publishing technical material, you probably want to prepare your own graphics (with advice from the publisher's people on layout). Why? Because you're probably going to have to give them detailed proofs anyway so as to avoid most of the illustrator's mistakes.

But don't be arrogant. Publishers do know something about how things will look in a finished volume, so listen to their advice and ignore it at your peril. Book design is more complex than it looks to the novice, so beware of the suggestion that you provide "camera-ready" copy. More than one book has been killed by an author who thought s/he knew more than the publisher about design.