Publish Your First Draft
In the past few months I learned a very important lesson about the best way to revise your novel.
It’s a waste of time and energy. Not only don’t readers mind too much, they’ll still buy your books.
Grammar errors, spelling errors, sentences tangled like the earbud cords in your pocket: Not a problem.
Put it out. Rake in the bucks.
I had heard stories like this when I was doing research for my first book, “Writers Gone Wild.” One of my favorites concerned Harold Robbins, who made millions from warehouse-sized novels stuffed with hard-driven lusty businessmen and luscious amoral women. He titillated readers with scenes like in “The Carpetbaggers,” where a prostitute entertains a big Hollywood movie producer by shaving his body, giving him a long massage, a joint to relax him, and then has sex in a bathtub full of champagne, hot stuff for a book published in 1961!
Robbins lived high on his wealth. He bought houses in L.A. and Acapulco. He sailed the Mediterranean in his yacht. He threw sex parties and did drugs. He grew disenchanted, then hateful, of churning out potboilers, and would start writing only when he had spent his advance. By this time, he was writing a first draft only, leaving his editor to do the hard work of revision, if any were done.
Publisher Michael Korda recounts in his memoirs the time when he, as a young editor, met Robbins about a problem his found in his latest manuscript. Robbins had written half the book and shelved it when more money came in. By the time he returned to it, he had remembered the story but forgotten which character did what. Instead of reading the manuscript, he carried on writing.
When Korda pointed out that the characters in the second half didn’t match the ones in the first half, Robbins’ answer was succinct: “Fuck ’em, let the readers do some work for a change.”
At least Robbins had the clout to do that (and I presume Korda fixed the problem himself; a scan of Robbins’ work about that time showed no candidates). Now, we have first-time novelists who can’t be bothered to locate the spell-check command on their word processor.
First up is Michael Anderle, who has published at least five books since January — yes, that’s five months ago — and is well on his way to earning $50K within the year.
Anderle’s procedure, which he described in detail on The Author Biz podcast, is simple. Borrowing from the software industry the principal of “minimally viable product,” he wrote his first book, “Death Becomes Her,” in a few days and published it. In nine days, he wrote the 67,000-word sequel and published that. Writing and publishing his third book took 13 days. He worked without an editor, or even a second reader, because he didn’t know if the book would sell. As he said on the podcast: “I didn’t want to spend $500 on a book that didn’t sell.”
What’s surprising is that he receives 4- and 5-star reviews from readers saying the books are wretchedly written, but the story made them want to keep reading.
Anderle has since hired someone to crowdsource his editing among beta readers and is in the process of getting his earlier books fixed as well. But what’s amazing is that he has not only been able to make a living writing stories filled with errors, but that it apparently hasn’t hurt his sales.
The books are wretchedly written, but fast-moving. The wretched prose, the mixed syntax, the bad grammar, and the typos would barely raise a sneer from the MFA-educated crowd. They’re used to a publishing industry that already embraces James Patterson and Dan Brown’s barely literate level of storytelling. The bar was already low; it’s just being slid through the wood chipper and scattered over the culture like salt at Carthage.
I looked up Anderle’s record on Amazon. His Author Rank is #54 in the Horror category, placing him ahead of Lee Goldberg, Seth Grahame-Smith, and some guy named “Richard Bachman.” In Science Fiction, he’s ranked #60, ahead of Alan Dean Foster, John Scalzi, Douglas Adams, and Neal Stephenson.
But if you feel that Anderle’s work represents the bottom of the barrel, you haven’t met T.S. Paul.
Here, for example, is the product description for “Chronicles of Athena Lee Book 1,” a collection of the first three space opera novellas about a black lesbian engineer, cut and pasted from its Amazon page.
Remember, as you read this, that this is the first piece of prose a reader encounters on that page:
Athena Lee had everything going for her. She graduated the Space academy and had become an Engineer. Her first posting was to an Support fleet building a secret outpost. When her ship is attacked and destroyed she is left alone and forgotten. Athena has to enginner her way home. Rescued many years later. She is arrested for letting an Idiot kill himself by noyt following orders. Now she has a bounty on her head and is beign chased by assassins. Joining a navy not her own she fights for truth while surrounded by corruption and greed. Pirates and bounty hunters bar her way. — This series has been called “an Old fashioned space opera” and “Fun” by fans.
At this time, the collection is rated at 3 stars with 8 reviews. It’s overpriced at $8, but the individual stories sell for $2.99, and of those, installments #1 and #2 bear the Amazon “Best Seller” flag. Book 1, “The Forgotten Engineer” (62 pages, 38 reviews, 3-star average) is ranked 4,176 among all Kindle books. Book 2, (34 pages, 12 reviews, 3.4-star average) is at #7,829.
With numbers like these and earning about $300 a day in sales, Paul concluded in his Author Biz interview that reviews were overrated.
It’s hard to dispute that. So I’m taking a page from their playbook. I’ve burned my copies of “Editing Your Fiction” and “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.” I’ve trashed my box of red pens. Art will have to wait, there’s money to be made.