How Many Books?

- by Laura Resnick

StackOfBooksPeople always ask a writer, “How many books have you had published?”

I typically say something like “around twenty” because I don’t really have a firm answer. I’ve done various projects over the years that may or may not qualify as a “book”–at least on the basis of my own definition of what that is: book-length work for which I have made a professional sale and which has been published professionally.

For example, I wrote a novel that was published in 1997, then went out of print a couple of years later; the rights reverted to me, and I sold a substantially rewritten version of that novel to a small press another couple of years after that. Same title, same plot, same characters, but with changes to dialogue, characterization, point-of-view, and prose style that I by then thought it needed. So is that one book? Or is it two?

I also wrote a massive manuscript that I structured and delivered as one novel. My then-editor said the length was no problem and the book would be published that way. Then, after the manuscript had been sitting around on that editor’s desk for more than a year, the production department said it couldn’t and wouldn’t publish a book of that length. So about 16 months after writing “The End” on the manuscript, I had about four days to turn that book into two books that were released about six months apart, though it’s all one story. Does that count as one book? Or as two?

On one occasion, I wrote a pseudonymic erotica novel for a publisher that paid me in full… and then folded, without ever publishing the book. So when the rights reverted to me, I “sold” it to an online publisher on a no-advance, royalties-only basis. Thus, this novel initially sold for a standard advance to a house that never actually published it… and then subsequently, on a royalty-earnings-only basis, generated a tiny amount of income (less money than I usually make for a short story) in what I’d described as a non-publishing deal, since I don’t really count converting a free manuscript to PDF format and posting it on a website as “publishing” a book. So does this count as a book, or doesn’t it?

BlondeI also wrote a nonfiction book called A Blonde In Africa which was acquired for a very low four-figure advance by my father and a close friend of his who were co-publishing a line of African nonfiction books at the time. This suited me fine, so I never made a serious attempt to find another market for it. Which means I’ll never know whether or not it was a commercially viable book that I could have sold to anyone but my own father. Therefore, I’m skeptical that this is a book, in the professional sense, and I usually don’t count it.

I also wrote a work-for-hire novel wherein I discovered, when it was released, that the publisher had completely rewritten and replaced two chapters in the middle of the book. (In work-for-hire, the intellectual property belongs to someone else, not to the novelist. So the owner(s) of the copyright could do anything they wanted with the material—while leaving my name on the cover.) The result was a book that I never would have written, as a whole. And, indeed, between the wholly replaced text and the heavy line edit, I estimate that I didn’t write about 20% of it. As for what I did write, my work was based entirely on the company’s setting and characters, as well as on plot points that they asked me to include. The upshot is that I’d say I was a contributor to that book, rather than its author. So does that count as a book, or not, when I’m tallying how many books I’ve had published?

My nonfiction book Rejection, Romance, and Royalties, though sold andRRR published professionally, is a compilation of my articles, columns, and essays about the business. I organized and revised the material for publication in book format, but the book doesn’t contain a single piece that wasn’t previously published and paid for in other venues. So does assembling all that already-published material count as writing a book?

In all of the above cases, I’m not really sure.

If none of the above instances counts, then I’ve written [pausing for a moment to think] 17 books, and am currently finishing my 18th book, which is under contract.

If all of the above instances count, then I’ve written 23 books (and am currently finishing my 24th).

Which is why I tend to answer “around twenty” when asked. I’m never really sure what the firm answer is.

Comments are closed.