Faster, Writer! Kill, Kill!

by Ian Clements


So I’m a bit late off the blocks on this one, but someone linked me to Hugh Howey’s blog where he discusses the ‘Liliana Nirvana Technique.’ I won’t reblog the whole thing, but the gist of it is that it’s far better to wait and release several books at once than one by one. The advice makes sense, after all, it’s long been accepted wisdom that your average self-publisher doesn’t start to see much, if any, return until the release of their third or fourth book. If you have several released at once then Amazon will link them together, suggest your other titles to the reader, and the reader has somewhere to go once they’ve finished the first book. For me, though, it demands the kind of productivity that would kill quality. I can only imagine the unique facial-tics I’d develop having spent five years sitting on a growing number of works, like a giant roosting hen, and hoping they won’t crack under my weight.

Some writers are fast, they thrive on it. Howey has a series of progress bars for different work on his site, exactly how many words he’s written, how many are left – the kind of gleeful accountability that brings me out in hives. Moreover, it makes me wonder if I’m suited to this arena. Is it rare that a writer has to coax and tease ideas out, rather than barricade the windows to stop them flooding in? Is there so much competition on the likes of Kindle, and no longer an ever-increasing number of readers, that when you do find a readership you can no longer afford to catch your breath? All the heavy hitters would have you believe so. Traditionally published authors find easy targets in the sloppily edited first drafts of new authors, it’s an image that still tarnishes self-publishing to this day, but is that any worse than a caffeine fuelled monkey on a typewriter? The Liliana Nirvana Technique demands absolute faith in your product, particularly in the case of a series. If your beta-readers/editor didn’t catch that a certain character is too meek in book one, then they’re likely to remain that way. By the time readers at large are able to complain about it, you’re already in too deep. Speaking of editors, even if you go for ultimate thrift and forgo that expense, do you have the cash to spend on five book covers in one go? Me neither.

I can’t stay submerged for long enough to pull off the Liliana Nirvana. It goes against one of the greatest attractions of self-publishing for me: on the spot feedback, course correction. I don’t want to assume what readers are after and wait until I have a massive, potentially useless, portion of it to dump in their laps. Writing is lonely enough as it is, and if you spend that long in the dark then it can be difficult to remember what your audience look like, let alone what satisfies them. I admire those who can follow the Liliana Nirvana, really I do. They’re the kind of writers who just go out and start working the water-pump, filling bucket after bucket and never fearing there might be an end to it. A brave, robust approach to writing which puts the muse in dungarees, gives them a sink plunger, and says ‘Get to work.’ Then there’s me, casting my runes and watching for those unnatural portents that Shakespeare loved so much: a bale of hay bleeding or a rat killing an owl. Both of us thinking we’ve got the inside track on what writing really is.