How is it possible for an under-contract author to work on just one project at a time?

In the world of literary fiction, it’s extremely unusual for a writer to have more than one thing going at once. It seems like people write books, sell them, revise them, see them published, and then there’s a wait of 3-4 years before the next one. Other genres have other timescales. In YA, lots of people seem to be putting out a book every year. And in SF/Fantasy, you often see people putting out multiple books a year (or at least putting them out every nine months or so).

I always thought this was madness! Why were people working on so many things at once? How can they maintain the distinct voice of each piece? How can they keep up the quality of their work?

But now that I’m under contract, I feel the exact opposite: How is it possible to only work on one thing at once?

When you’re working on something on your own, the timeline is entirely under your control. You can basically work on it every day, and you can do it for years.

But when you’re under contract, that’s not possible. When I send something to my agent, he has to slot it into his to-be-read pile, along with the manuscripts of all his other clients, and that means he generally takes 6-8 weeks to get back to me. And it’s the same with my editor (with the added complication that she also needs to pass it around to other people in sales, marketing, and editorial). All of this means that when I send out a draft, it’s out of my hands for almost two months!

If I was only working on one thing at a time, what would I be doing in those two months? Starting other projects is almost a necessity–it’s the only way to utilize all your time. But then, of course, things come back from your agent and editor at unpredictable times. So your new project will inevitably be interrupted by your old project.

The result is that you have one project nearing publication and then you have the sequel and you also have something in a different genre and then you have your side project. It’s not that you set out to work on a bunch of things at once–it’s just that you inevitably find yourself with so much downtime! For instance, right now my debut novel is put to bed–there’s nothing to do there. And the proposal for my second YA novel is working its way through the halls at Disney. And my middle-grade novel is on my agent’s desk. So even though I’ve got one book that’s going to need another revision, probably (my MG novel) and one book that I haven’t even written (my second YA novel), I’m still left here with nothing to do!

The writing life is crazy.