Yesterday on my podcast, I talked a bit about the strategy of a rapid release schedule and how often we ping our audiences for attention – and how Ed Sheeran got me thinking about this. Since not everyone likes listening to the podcast, I thought I’d discuss more here.
The strategy of rapid release comes from the self-publishing world. It’s based on the idea that releasing books in a series in rapid succession helps build an audience and also tickles the retailers’ algorithms to elevate the appearance of those books in frequency so readers are more likely to notice them. This is particularly true of Amazon, which is still the biggest retailer for most self-publishing authors, and even more so for the Kindle Unlimited program.
For those who don’t know, Kindle Unlimited (KU) is a subscription reading program on Amazon where readers pay a small fee each month – usually ~$10 – to read an unlimited number of books in that program. Authors have a choice whether or not to put their books in KU, but in most cases, if they do KU, then they have to keep their books exclusive to Amazon. The payout in KU is determined by numbers of pages read. There’s a big pot of money each month and Amazon divides that by the overall number of pages read (more or less – there’s some behind the curtain calculating that they won’t reveal), then authors are paid by their pages read. The authors that have the most pages read make the most money.
(One of the huge problems with KU is that this model is ripe for scams via bookstuffing. Authors add pages to their books via various means – putting several books into one, increasing font and decreasing margins to add pages, inserting blank pages, adding junk text, putting the table of contents at then end of the book, which encourages readers to go to the end multiple times, showing the book as “read” more often – which is unethical, against Amazon’s terms of service, and hurts other authors.)
So, a lot of authors, particularly in Romance, have conversations about learning to write faster, so they can release books more rapidly. Because the perception is that this is how an author can make more money.
However, is this really true?
I’m beginning to think NOT.
For example, when we negotiated my deal with St. Martins for the Forgotten Empires trilogy, they insisted on releasing the books one year apart. They said their research had shown this time span is ideal for building a new series and the audience for it. Also, Minerva Spencer and I have several times discussed a conversation we had last year with my former Kensington editor, Peter Senftleben, where Peter remarked on some authors releasing book after book after book. He said he kind of became exhausted and a bit resentful of those authors. “There are other authors I’d like to read, too,” he commented. I knew exactly what he meant.
This brings me to Ed Sheeran. Seriously.
So, I follow Ed Sheeran on Instagram because I love his music and his pics are entertaining. I don’t follow many celebrities – P!nk and Taylor Swift are the only other two – but I like seeing what these folks post. I’d call myself a big fan of Ed Sheeran’s music. I have all his albums, etc. I listen to them a lot. But there are other musicians I like to listen to, also. Lately, Ed has been working on this collaborations album. It’s all songs with other musicians – like Justin Bieber, DJ Khaled, Bruno Mars, and a bunch of others, many I’m not familiar with. I guess Ed has said he feels these songs don’t really fit on his own albums and I’m sure it’s fun to do the collaborations.
The thing is, I’m seeing his posts about this project on Instagram All The Fucking Time. For weeks now. He’s released the songs one by one, with sneak peeks, then bits, then the song, then the video, then the acoustic version. Then it starts all over again with the next song. Then the actual album went on sale through various stages.
At first I looked at the clips, listened to the new songs and watched the videos. Then I started to get tired of it. Then I got exhausted and annoyed. It got to the point that every time I saw yet another Ed Sheeran post or Story on Instagram, I’d roll my eyes. I finally unfollowed him. He has over 30 million followers, so I doubt anyone cares.
What’s relevant here is my exhaustion. He’s not the only artist to do this, ping repeatedly on social media for attention. I can see that this builds audience and raises profile in the short term, but what about the long term? This kind of practice affects the perception of the artist and their overall career.
Same with books and authors. Is it really worth it to go for that short-term (and possibly unethically acquired) wealth and exhaust your audience? I don’t think so. Not to mention that writing faster and releasing more leads to burnout. I know there are those out there insisting that doesn’t happen to them, but… I know too many authors who’ve burned out or nearly burned out to believe that some people are immune.
More and faster is a common war cry in this era, but it can lead to terrible places. Something to think about.