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Can You Write Several Books per Month? Maybe You’re Not Crazy

Tuesday, March 5th, 2019 | Posted by James Enge

Cristiane Serruya Plagiarism Scandal

As Sean McLachlan ably discussed here at Black Gate last week, there’s an evolving internet storm about a romance writer who discovered, to her surprise, that some of her novels “have plagiarism.” She says it happened without her knowledge; she was working with a ghost-writer on those, and she’s taken them all down. She is the object of much scorn on the internet today, and probably for some time. Indeed, in the future she may have to find a pseudonym under which to publish the fiction she does not write. (Click the image above for details.)

Attendant to that storm, though, is the issue of how much one person can reasonably be expected to write in a month. Some people say “several books” and other people say “are you crazy?” and then terrible things and animated GIFs start to happen.

As it happens, this is the sort of thing about which I have very little knowledge and lots of opinions so HERE IT ALL IS.

I’m not the fastest writer in the world when it comes to fiction — I seem to run about 250-350 words every half hour. (Can be faster or slower.) Taking the upper limit there, and assuming those are good words that I don’t throw away (which is never true), it’d take me 143 hours to write the first draft of a 100K book, or almost 4 full-time work-weeks. But I rarely write 40 hours in a week, unless I’m on break and on deadline.

Michael Moorcock was famous for knocking out sword-and-sorcery novels over the weekend. Novels tended to be shorter then, of course — novels of 40/50K were not uncommon. (There’s a handy page describing MM’s 3-day method, along with stuff about Lester Dent’s “Master Plot Formula,” here.)

But now books are shorter again, if we’re talking about self-published e-books: I have a sense (which may be mistaken) that lots of e-books run on the short side of what SFWA calls a novel. (The minimum is 40K words.) Many e-books are more like novellas. If I were trying to make a living writing e-books, that’s what I would do: pick a genre where people read a lot of new stuff (romance, mystery, etc) and try to crank out one or two per month.

That’s why some readers think it’s possible to write several books a month and some writers think that’s crazy. They’re both correct, because they’re using the same word to describe things which are actually quite different.

6 Comments »

  1. What was Truman Capote’s famous quip (about Jack Kerouac’s On the Road)? “That’s not writing – that’s typing.”

    Comment by Thomas Parker - March 5, 2019 10:14 am

  2. As a college English prof who taught composition for 31 years, I had a constant battle with students who ‘borrowed’ material from the internet, from books, from each other — whatever they thought they could get away with. I like to think I caught well over 95% of the plagiarism students tried to get past me, and they always seemed so surprised when they got caught. In one instance, a young man wrote about a very rare ear defect he was born with, and an even rarer operation to correct the defect. It was well-written, and the final of 4 drafts had 2-3 minor errors. The student made the mistake, however, of leaving the final draft on a hard drive of a computer shared by the other men in his dorm (which I discovered the same day, when I ran into the young man on campus), and the following semester, another student found it and appropriated it for an assignment for me. That second student had not submitted any of the three earlier drafts before the fourth was due, so I had no idea what he was attempting until seeing that ‘4th’ draft. What I did see was well-written, with 2-3 minor errors in the part I’d read the previous semester — but the plagiarist added one paragraph, in the middle of the essay, that contained 15 mistakes: misspelled words, comma splices, run-on sentences, punctuation errors — the works. At the next class meeting, I spent the entire period explaining the concept of plagiarism (which I’d done in slightly less detail in Week One), expanding on what I’d already covered about citing sources, and then gave the class immediate evidence of the consequences of stealing someone else’s work and taking credit for it: I ripped up the paper in front of the class, told the class the student would receive an “F” for the assignment, and that a repeat performance, no matter the extent of the offense or the reason, would earn the student an “F” for the course and possible expulsion from the university. As it turned out, the plagiarist was the only student not in class that day, and I never saw him again; he’d apparently dropped out of school completely.

    More than ten years later, we began seeing a large influx of Chinese students on campus, due to an MBA program we’d started a year or two earlier, and suddenly, I had a new problem: as I was told by one of our liaisons with the Chinese who coordinated the enrollment of students in our program, it was considered honorable to have your material ‘borrowed’ by another student for an essay assignment. Many students wrote their papers in Chinese, put them online for translation, and submitted what they got back, not checking (or apparently even thinking they needed to check) what they got back for anything added by the translators that might have come from previously published sources — specifically, from papers previously published in English. All students, in all my classes at the university, were required to submit their final drafts to a website called turnitin.com, which didn’t always catch everything, sometimes missing things that I DID catch; after 30+ years, I got pretty good at knowing what students could and couldn’t do in the average essay. I had to re-configure my assignments for the Chinese students, so they understood the concept of proper citation. I had six Chinese students in one of the last classes I taught before retirement, plus 9 more in 3 other classes, and that added so much extra time to an already busy schedule that it took me well into the summer to feel I could relax. I do NOT miss it.

    Comment by smitty59 - March 5, 2019 12:29 pm

  3. I should add: the plagiarist of the essay on the ear defect was dumb enough to turn in a paper I’d already seen (the original had my name on it as the instructor!) and dumb enough to think that a second paper on a rare ear defect, and an even rarer operation, wouldn’t immediately raise red flags with me. Then again, anyone dumb enough to attempt plagiarism, flagrant or otherwise, gets what he/she deserves: scorn and disrespect.

    Comment by smitty59 - March 5, 2019 12:33 pm

  4. I had a brazen plagiarist in a Creative Writing class once. He was in it for the fiction, but the department required that we cover fiction, poetry, and playwriting. My plagiarist was so uninterested in poetry that he submitted a bunch of stuff he’d found online, including three poems I’m pretty sure he didn’t recognize as figurative meditations on the experience of menstruation, and that old novelty song, “I’m My Own Grandpa.” When I called him on it, he tried to gaslight me: “Are you sure you want to make that accusation?” To which I replied, “Shall I sing you ‘I’m My Own Grandpa” from memory? You can hold the page and read along to check me for errors.” (This minor pedagogical triumph was brought to you by Dr. Demento.)

    Comment by Sarah Avery - March 6, 2019 12:19 am

  5. Cristiane Serruya’s ghostwriters have since come forward and said that Serruya gave them passages and instructed them to string them together with bridging scenes in order to create novels. It was this material, the ghostwriters say, that turned out to be plagiarized.
    I think the ghostwriters are probably telling the truth. So many novels and so many authors were plagiarized it’s hard to believe that Serruya wasn’t behind it. I know she was an avid romance reader, so she would have spotted this if it had been her ghostwriters. And really, we’re supposed to believe all three of them plagiarized? I think Serruya’s excuse is the equivalent of “the dog ate my homework”.

    Comment by Sean McLachlan - March 6, 2019 12:44 pm

  6. Brilliant, James. Preach!

    Comment by John R. Fultz - March 6, 2019 8:41 pm


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