Is a Salinger-Like Reclusiveness a Viable Option in Today’s Book World?

Here’s an interesting dichotomy — there are so many books being published today that most will never sell more that 100 or 150 copies in a lifetime, yet an article in the New York Times says that in the e-reader era, writing one book a year is slacking. Name brand authors who once wrote one book a year are now writing two, and those who are sticking to a one-a-year schedule are also writing short stories and novellas to keep their names in view. To quote Lisa Scottoline from the NYT article, “the culture is a great big hungry maw, and you have to feed it.” And it’s not just name brand authors. Self-published authors are feeding the maw, too, sometimes with three or four or even six books a year.

Seems silly to me — authors scrambling to write extra books while many worthwhile books from small independent presses are going unread. There should be a way of evening things out, but people obviously prefer to stay with authors they are comfortable with. How else to explain the James Patterson phenomenon? Twelve books in twelve months? Yikes. Granted, some seem to be ghost written (or should I say guest written?), but still that is an incredible output considering that most people don’t read that many books in a year.

I’ve always loved books — in fact, as a child all I ever wanted when I grew up was time to lose myself in books — but now I’ve mostly lost my taste for reading. Too many books are shallow, even the well-written ones, and no wonder — authors who once had the time to write thoughtful books have to spend more time racking up the words and less time thinking. For me, a story isn’t enough. I want to be tantalized with insights, new ideas, different ways of viewing the world. I realize this is not the wave of the future. How deep can the ideas in a novel be if they are intended to be read on a phone or as an interactive ebook that’s enhanced with video, author interviews and social-networking applications?

I’ve never been one to follow the crowd. Sometimes I don’t even know where the crowd is. So it should come as no surprise that I don’t intend to increase my output of writing. (Though, come to think of it, any writing other than blogs would increase my output.) I couldn’t write more even if I wanted to. I am a slow writer. Even at my fastest, I can only write one book a year, and that doesn’t include editing and copyediting.

I am getting an interest in writing again, though. Sometimes I think about the books I’ve started and wonder what will happen to the characters, and just today I figured out how to develop my grieving woman book, the one I started for NaNoWriMo in 2010. It should be not so much a book about grief but about a woman’s journey into self-discovery, and so I should start the story before her husband dies, because it is during his long dying that she first loses herself.

This could be one of those books that takes a lifetime to write, since perhaps I will have to live the character’s life first. Or maybe I need to write the book as if I am writing my own future, and see what I can make of myself. Either way, the book would not be written in a month or even a year. It would take longer than that to glean the necessary insights.

According to the NYT article, “Publishers also believe that Salinger-like reclusiveness, which once created an aura of intrigue around an author, is not a viable option in the age of interconnectivity.” Luckily, I am neither self-published nor published by a major publisher, so I have the luxury of being as reclusive as I need to be in order to write whatever books might be in my future. (Shhh. It’s our secret. Don’t tell my publisher, Second Wind Publishing, I said that.)