Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Prolific Author

Matters of literary quantity have been much on my mind since a new book of mine was published recently. A fair percentage of the reviews described me as “prolific” or “highly prolific,” in one case “wildly prolific.” Now, I’m not going to argue about the accuracy of this. I’ve published 20 books in 22 years (some quite short), and I’d say that’s not excessive, given that I don’t have a day job. But accurate or not, “prolific” definitely didn’t feel like an unalloyed compliment.
Why are we so suspicious of authors who are prolific? asks Geoff Nicholson in The New York Times.

He's found himself wearing the tag himself, and finds himself in some formidable company. Joyce Carol Oates, wrote more than 100 books in 45 years, Updike who managed "60 or so books in 50 years more if you include all the poetry", and Anthony Burgess who wrote 75 or so books in some 40 years and :
... used to say he never turned down any reasonable offer of work, and very few unreasonable ones.
But, Nicholson observes, there's a snob factor at work here :
Prolificacy is not just permitted in genre novelists, it’s insisted upon. ...If the likes of Dean Koontz, Danielle Steel and James Patterson (you can add your own favorites here) weren’t so prolific, they wouldn’t be nearly so popular. Supply and demand are mutually supportive at the “low” end: copious production thrives on copious consumption. If we start invoking Trollope or Dickens as popular, prolific writers who also have literary respectability, we’re only confirming that there’s something antique about the idea of creating a large body of serious yet popular writing.


Yusuf Martin said...
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Yusuf Martin said...

Prolific is a widely abused term.

Recently I picked up a copy of Malaysian Literature in English - A Critical Reader ed Mohammad A Quayum and Peter C.Wicks.

pp290 of said tome

Peter Wicks describes K.S.Maniam as...

'K.S. Maniam is a prolific writer, with two novels, plays, and numerous short stories to his credit.'


Chet said...

Maybe the "prolific" refers to the numerous short stories.

bibliobibuli said...

not prolific in the same way as updike, and that's for sure!!