I received an interesting email the other day from a reader who described himself as ‘an Eric Brown completist’ (a rare creature indeed). He collected the first editions of all my books, be they SF, children’s, or crime. He wanted to know – with, I think, his tongue firmly in his cheek – why I was so prolific, as it was costing him a small fortune to keep up with my output.
It’s a good question, and there are two reason why last year I had five books out (Starship Seasons, The Serene Invasion, Murder by the Book, Satan’s Reach, and Salvage), and this year there will be six new Brown titles on the shelves (Famadihana on Fomalhaut IV, Strange Visitors, Rites of Passage, Jani and the Greater Game, Murder at the Chase, and Sacrifice on Spica II). The first reason is that I enjoy writing, and I write a lot. I get a lot of ideas and, after sitting down at my desk and writing (almost) every day for the past thirty-five years or more, I’ve become adept at letting my subconscious take over the writing process. So, every two or three hour shift I put in in my study, I produce around two thousand words, and I do two shifts a day. Of course, I take a rest after the first drafts are done, and move on to reviews and non-fiction pieces, and then rewrite the fiction. Even so, that’s a lot of fictive wordage every year. I find that I can comfortably write two novels a year (at the moment an SF novel and a crime novel), a novella or two, and half a dozen short stories. The problem isn’t writing the books, but selling them. At the moment, Solaris put out my SF, and Severn House my crime novels. PS Publishing bring out my novellas, and the short story collections come out from NewCon Press (Strange Visitors) and Infinity Plus Books (Rites of Passage, The Angels of Life and Death, etc – though IPB did publish my fix-up novel, Salvage last year). On the children’s writing front, things have stalled for a while – I still have two novels for Young Adults looking for a home: Gone Twocking and The Children of Winter, based on my BSFA award winning tale of the same title. So there could be even more Browns out there…
And the second reason I publish so much is that we live in straightened times. It’s becoming ever harder for a freelance writer to make a living writing just one book a year, or even two. There was a happy time, from the ’50s right up until perhaps the ’90s, when a mid-list writer could turn out a novel a year and make a half-decent living. Not any longer. The abolition of the Net Book Agreement in 1997 saw to that, along with online outlets like Amazon offering used books at a penny apiece and even new books at vastly reduced prices. For a full-time freelance writer to earn a crust these days, he or she must turn out more than two books a year (unless they’re a best-seller, of course), and supplement whatever they make from advances and royalties with writing-related work on the side like reviews and journalism.
That said, even if I became a best-seller overnight and could afford to ease back and write just one book a year, I wouldn’t. I enjoy writing too much to restrict myself. There is nothing quite like being infected by an idea, locking myself away in my study (accompanied by my dog), and losing myself in a story for a couple of hours. It’s like a drug, and I emerge feeling refreshed and with a pleasant sense of accomplishment.
And next year? Well, it doesn’t appear to be quite so replete with new releases at the moment. (My completist reader will be pleased to know…)
Next summer will see the publication of the second book in the Multiplicity series, Jani and the Great Pursuit, the third and fourth Telemass novellas, Reunion on Alpha Reticuli II and a final volume which is as yet untitled, and maybe another collection from Infinity Plus Books. I have a couple of outlines for big SF novels out with a publisher, and I’m awaiting a decision from my crime publisher as to whether they want to see a third Langham and Dupré mystery.
All in a bid to keep that ravenous wolf from the door…